I love meat. I really, really love it. My vegetarian wife will attest to that, most probably with a resigned sigh.
So, picture the scene. I arrive home from work after a 15-hour day working in a boiling hot kitchen. I crack open a beer, put the tele on, and check my emails. There’s one from my Editor (and sister-in-law) asking if I’d like to try the classics menu at Hawksmoor in Manchester.
Now celebrating its tenth birthday since opening its first restaurant in London’s Spitalfields, this award-winning steakhouse has been a big hit since it moved North nearly 18 months ago. To mark the occasion, Hawksmoor is offering a classics menu, comprising dishes created over the past decade.
Available for lunch and dinner (£70 per person or £110 including drinks), six courses have been (re)created by Richard Turner and Mitch Tonks (executive and consultant chef respectively) with drinks pairings by Fiona Beckett (Guardian wine columnist). It sounded right up my meat-eating street.
At the end of that long day cooking for other folk, I don’t think I even finished reading the invite before replying ‘YES’. I’ve wanted to try Hawksmoor since it launched its first place outside London.
Three weeks later and I find myself in a welcoming bar area on Deansgate. As it was only 5pm, the room was pretty quiet, just one other couple and three blokes having drinks. While I was waiting for Helen, the woman opposite spilled her drink all over herself and her partner’s phone. One of the guys at the other table jumped up, grabbed some napkins from a dumb waiter and started cleaning it up. It transpired that he’d just finished his shift in the restaurant. Even when the waitress came over, he insisted on helping. You don’t get that level of service in many places.
Back to the classics menu. To start, a choice of two gin-based cocktails: Shaky Pete’s Ginger Brew or Marmalade Cocktail. I’m not a a gin/cocktail man but I cast my doubts aside and opted for Shaky Pete which was thoroughly enjoyable and easily quaffable. I could have downed a few more – no wonder it’s Hawksmoor’s biggest seller. This was followed by a shortrib nuggets with kimchi ketchup, a heavenly combination of slow-braised shortrib of beef mixed with lots of parsley and wrapped around a delectable cheese. Holy cow, I want a bottle of that ketchup. I finished the ketchup with my finger. I wasn’t wasting any of that bad boy.
Once we moved through to the main restaurant (a light-filled gift of a room, sympathetically modernised from its earlier incarnation as a Victorian courthouse), we were presented with whole scallops roe cooked perfectly in their shells, topped with a herb breadcrumb and flavours of tarragon and garlic, all of which matched perfectly with the muscadet.
Two courses down, four to go.
Tamworth pork belly ribs with a vinegar slaw flavoured with fennel and coriander turned up next. Blimey. I’ve never had belly ribs so tender; slow cooked with spices and herbs, salty and sweet. I don’t think I stopped once I started. This was accompanied by an unusual wine, a Mathis Bastian Riesling from Luxembourg, a country which exports very little wine, and a bold choice to accompany pork belly. Pure genius.
With the choice of fillet or rib-eye, creamed spinach or garlic and lemon spinach, and either anchovy hollandaise, Stilton hollandaise or peppercorn sauce, the main course is served with triple-cooked chips and bone marrow. Matching wines are Au Bon Climat ‘Knox Alexander’ Pinot Noir for the fillet and a Château du Tertre Margaux with the rib-eye.
Fillet for Helen and rib-eye for me, both cooked medium rare, lemon and garlic spinach each, Stilton hollandaise for Helen and peppercorn sauce for me. My rib-eye was tender although it needed a bit more salt. But that’s my personal preference (Helen reported that her steak was perfect). Both arrived with the largest portion of bone marrow I’ve ever seen, topped with sautéed onions, and crispy, fluffy chips.
Unlike some other restaurants, the Stilton hollandaise was not remotely over-powering, just distinctively delicious. And top marks to the tender spinach, not a big soggy mess so often served up. I was curious about the wine choices, so I asked for a glass of each. Why, I wondered, offer different wines with different steaks, surely that’s not cost effective? Praps not but it was a sound decision. The Bordeaux suited the rib-eye perfectly while the Pinot Noir was totally over-powered by the flavour of the meat, and a far better companion for the fillet. Hawksmoor knows its stuff.
Four courses down and Helen called it quits. I ploughed on.
Hello sticky toffee pudding with clotted cream! The dessert was light and moist and perfectly matched with clotted cream (although I would have preferred ice cream). To finish – salted caramel Rolos. Sorry, ‘tributes’ (a solicitor got involved and they had to change the name), with Hawksmoor’s own whisky (Clerk of the Works). Smooth and easy drinking, even if you’re not normally a whisky fan.
Replete, full-up, stuffed, happy, Helen and I rolled out onto Deansgate. A final thought: well done that member of staff who’d finished his shift but still jumped up to sort out a problem. Just goes to show that showing you care about someone’s dining experience goes a long way.
Hawksmoor Manchester is on Deansgate in the city centre. For more information, click here.