Recession? What recession? At the rate that restaurants are opening in London, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we were in a boom, particularly with the surge in new openings in Soho and Covent Garden.
More interestingly, many of the recent openings have been second offerings (and sometimes third) from new London favourites. Places that have a solid following are opening new siblings, and not identikit chain restaurants, but ones styled along the original with a twist and with great care.
Which? The folks behind Polpo have opened their second restaurant, Polpetto, tucked away above one of my favourite London bars, The French House. Their third restaurant Spuntino is rumoured to open soon. Actually Polpetto was supposed to be the third, but that is a long story. Les Deux Salons arrived recently, from the folks behind Michelin starred Arbutus and Wild Honey. St John’s open St John Hotel just off Leicester Square in former stalwart Manzi’s. The folks behind Salt Yard open their third, Opera Tavern, in Covent Garden in January. A little further East Jamie Oliver has opened Barbecoa, his much talked about BBQ restaurant.
So many options, how to choose? I went first to Hawksmoor. Younger sibling to, well, Hawksmoor in Spittalfields, and now also in Covent Garden.
Why? Well, I love Hawksmoor. I had heard of the new one late last year and have been impatiently waiting since. Is that a little sad? I am mainly excited that there are finally decent dining options in Covent Garden, more than that, we have a choice. It has been a bleak culinary wasteland for too long now, more fond of my wallet than my belly. Such a great shame, for a central and otherwise attractive part of London.
I am a little biased as I now know them quite well, following on from their support for last years blaggers banquet, but really I was a devoted customer before then and a quick search online would reveal that I am not even close to being their number one fan. I have been to the new branch once, not bad as they’ve only been open a week. But wait! Tehbus had been five times when I visited on Thursday and I was told of one kimchi fan who has been everyday for the kimchi burger.
Am I meandering? I fear I am. So, Hawksmoor. Seven Dials. Behind some forbidding wooden doors, that speak of science fiction underworlds crossed with a secret members club, lies an underground lair that looks like it has been there forever. Previously a brewery, and following that until recently unused, it looks like Hawksmoor has been there forever. All deep brown wood and warm lights, a welcoming bar greets, with science lab tables behind, scorched from bunsen burners and now bearing cocktails. A bright lighter room waits beyond boasting blackboards with steak offerings, a tempting wine room, and a lovely private dining room to the side of the semi open kitchen.
The menu is similar to that offered in Spittalfields, but it has been expanded. Impressively there are several attractive seafood and vegetarian options (this is a steakhouse after all). Most noticeably, there are three burgers offered (at £15 a pop with chips, but really they are very good, the champion artisan burger in London for me) and a much lauded lobster roll.
It was lunchtime, and I had been reading all about the kimchi burger, so I had to have it. Other choices were the classsic burger and a burger van burger with sweet onions. I really wanted the slippery bright intoxicatingly orange fermented cabbage (yes, that’s right) with mine, and really, I was curious how that would work with a burger? The combination was tried by a member of the Hawksmoor team on a trip to Seoul, and he fell so in love with it, they have created a version, and it’s now on the menu.
There is no avoiding it, the kimchi dominates, but that’s ok, I love kimchi. The burger is big and bold as before, very intense and so very meaty. It fights your teeth, is very filling, and it’s big. I loved the bold aggressive flavour of the kimchi underneath, forcefully calming down the normally bolshy burger. The cheese worked well, I wasn’t sure it would. Like a soothing gentle murmur in the background.
Dan loved it too. Elly thought that maybe the smell alone overpowered her delicate lobster. That’s the kind of obstreperous flavour we are dealing with here folks (and I am sorry Elly!), but I promise, most of you will love it. The downside of that, is that it is polarising, and some of you won’t. I suspect it’s a LOVE/HATE thing.
Beef dripping chips came with the burger (there are also triple cooked chips) and they were perfect with crispy outer shells and fluffy yielding interiors. We washed it all down with a very reasonable bottle of Grenache (£19) which tasted like it cost a lot more, and we ordered a second. Well, that’s ok, isn’t it? I was only in London for a couple of days, and it has been an intense few weeks, I needed to let my hair down just a little, but not too much.
We didn’t stop there. Who can resist the new bar? I’d like to meet them. Maybe I don’t, I doubt they’d be much fun. Coffee Martinis were stellar, Corpse Reviver No 4 frightening in a delicious way, and I am certain it would wake the dead. Manhattans for two speak of Victorian laboratories and taste of New York.
I liked it. I liked it a lot. Next, I really want to try the lobster roll, and shall do as soon as I get back. Go, try it. You’ll love it too.
HAWKSMOOR SEVEN DIALS
11 Langley St
Related post: My first post on the Hawksmoor Burger.