21 Nov 2008

Flying Ginger Pigs

‘The widest prairies have electric fences / For though old cattle know they must not stray / Young steers are always scenting purer water…’
[Philip Larkin, ‘Wires’]
DUE TO malaise amongst the crew of Alitalia, my friend’s arrival to ‘Hawksmoor’ via Heathrow was delayed. The stylish staff sweetly let this pass, despite the fact that our booking for 8pm rolled into a rather “last orders” 10:30. This critically celebrated steak house is named in honour of Nicholas Hawksmoor, Baroque architect of Christ Church, Spitalfields, several steps down Commercial Street. You would probably not deduce the link: its design is the antithesis of God’s address. From outside, very little is disclosed: boring blinds, a simple nameplate straight off a yacht. It could be a snooker hall, strip-club or office (and wouldn’t a combination of all three brighten the working day?) The teak cocktail counter, with Bakelite straw holder, is recycled from a thoroughly un-divine dancehall in Hull. Stools look like zimmaframes. Chairs are of the curvy Christine Keeler variety. Prints of the cuts of meat are useful.
Enough has been written about Hawksmoor’s impeccable sourcing of dead animals. Apparently they led a free range, hedonistic lifestyle, especially the 35 days deceased, dry aged Longhorn, which existed on green, green grass. Suffice to say, the supplier is the ‘Ginger Pig’ of Observer Food Monthly fame, who operate an embassy on Borough Market. If you would like to know more, stop by their ‘Hog Blog’. The cocktail list is a Moonshine miscellany, providing over 2000 words of backstory into the 50 Punches, Juleps, ‘Tweeked Tikis’ and Expat Classics. My ‘Black Forest Sazerac’ was apparently ‘fruitier’ than the original, a sturdy and stirring merge of ‘Cherry and chocolate infused Rye and Bourbon shaken with sugar and bitters, served in a Chartreuse rinsed glass…’
Whilst awaiting our Foggian friend, we tackled overly substantial starters of Tamworth Ribs and Crayfish and Crab Cocktail. The Irish swine, famed for producing perky bacon, was tender and courteously seasoned. The cocktail was discreetly dressed, with moreish, meaty morsels, although the little monster on top took revenge when I cracked it open: viscera splayed over my new jumper. That is the price to pay for coming eye-to-eye with your food.The wine list is not really built for mere mortals and features a titanic tally of first growths or their equivalents. California is a recurring theme, with albeit gentle mark-ups on those already costly bottles. It is a great shame that the best U.S. wines, still administered by the same bureau which handles firearms and tobacco, put on serious financial weight when travelling to our shores. I had a friend who wanted to open a west coast wine bar in the capital but was defeated by the dollar loss in translation and tax.
We drank Joseph Phelps ‘Le Mistral ’01 which was utterly compelling: intense, inky, precise and plush. Black cherry, fresh vanilla and scents of spiky herb emanated from this lovingly produced Syrah and Grenache from Monterey. My Bone-in Sirloin (600g) was as thick as a tome so tumultuous that it would damage my foot if it fell on it. I have subsequently pressed 600g on a letter scale with my finger, which required considerable force. Half way through the easily cut, prime, moist, well-sealed steak, which was dumped on a dish rather than spruced on a board, I could have done with a coach to coax me along my meat marathon. My friends had also done well with their well-done Rib Eyes, although one turned out to still be haemorrhaging (the restaurant did offer more prostration on the charcoal grill). Garlicky spinach was crisp and glossy. Triple cooked chips were a little disappointing. Legendary restaurateur Fernand Point would have been pleased by the Béarnaise, ‘…simply an egg yolk, a shallot, a little tarragon vinegar, and butter, but it takes years of practice for the result to be perfect…’ Au Bon Climat’s ’05 ‘Knox Alexander’, a relatively European style of leanish Californian Pinot Noir, arrived in an outrageously heavy bottle. Apparently ‘Mind Behind’, Jim Clendenen, also a keen cook and broccoli thief, is a regular. I had the pleasure of meeting him at the Santa Maria winery last year where his empties have been turned into chandeliers.
After the protein protagonists, there was little chance of dessert exploration. I wonder how many people make it to the knickerbockerglorries?
Would I go back? –Are you paying? The bill was a catastrophe! For not dissimilar money, maze Grill has more variety and that kiln of a broiler (as well as a more uplifting setting). Hix’s Oyster and Chop House is cheaper, within the buzzy meat-market surroundings of Smithfield. And the Victoria Hotel at Sheen does generously cut, triple cooked chips properly, with memorably moist, fluffy centres...
'Hawksmoor' - 157 Commercial St., Spitalfields. E1 6BJ. T. 020 7247 7392
Nearest Stations: Liverpool St. / Aldgate East

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