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With its peacock blues, burnished art-deco brass, glazed Victorian tiles, recycled teak parquet and cosy-up, blue leather booths, the convivial cellar at Hawksmoor is a beauty to behold. Bag a high
stool at the zinc bar for similarly handsome mixology. Live-wire staff know their stuff, and individual members decide each month's ‘Desert Island drinks' – their list of personal favourites from
Hawksmoor's vast cocktail anthology. Nuclear banana daiquiri, the puritan (a dry martini based on Plymouth gin and orange bitters) and Monk Antrim's Manila julep are just three suggestions worth
revisiting, should the appeal of classics such as tobacco old fashioned ever wane. Meanwhile, Hawksmoor's magnificently meaty burger with beef-dripping chips, hot dogs, lobster rolls, curious
Canadian poutine (fries, gravy and curd cheese), jalapeño coleslaw and short-rib nuggets make this the tastiest dive on the Spitalfields strip.
I’ve eaten at and written about the Hawksmoor mini-chain of steakhouses at length before on this blog. What makes Hawksmoor so interesting, apart from the sheer quality of most of the dishes, is that each branch is a little different from the others. For example, the Air Street branch does some excellent seafood dishes in addition to steak, while the Guildhall branch does a stonking breakfast. The Spitalfields branch is the original and one of its distinguishing features is it handsome bar which has a unique steak-free menu all its own. I’ve dined at the Spitalfields bar before, but a new menu necessitated a new visit with the aid of Templeton Peck and Vicious Alabaster...
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When you go out not intending to eat, let alone drink double shots of mezcal, but leave somewhere feeling full, smiling, you know the place you've been was special. And, so it was, last Thursday I was going for two beers, then home to enjoy the treats my lovely neighbours had given me to celebrate the end of Ramadan. So, two turned into three, it always does. Then of course we had to finish the round. The Italian suggested a cocktail at Hawksmoor's bar, underneath their Spitalfields restaurant. Okay, just one more then...Who was I kidding? Walk into a Hawksmoor and not eat? That was never ever going to happen. One step into the achingly cool bar (the de rigeur metro tiles have even been aged!), I knew my Ramadan feast was going to have to wait for another night.So let's get one thing straight, there are no steaks - if that's what you're after, go upstairs. But there are ox cheek nuggets (I was sold!), burgers, pulled pork rolls, chili dogs, wings and ribs - need I say more.We opted for a burger, pulled pork roll, ox cheek nuggets and pig's head poutine. And a cucumber and watermelon salad also turned up - we weren't complaining, respite for the arteries.As you would expect, the burger is good. Very good. Rich, juicy beef, perfectly cooked medium-rare, topped with cheese in a beautifully soft brioche bun. Best of all, it is only Â£8.50. That is the same price as GBK. One can only imagine GBK's margins are significantly larger. Seriously, Â£8.50? It is an absolute steal! The Italian had the pulled pork which went down a treat.The sides are where things started to get really exciting. I had no idea what poutine was when I ordered it, I was lured in by the pig's head. Turns out it is a perfect dish for two Scots to devour following a night on the beers. Originating in Canada, it is made up of chips, cheese (yes, okay, not the holy trinity of mozzarella and two types of cheddar you get at BBQ Kings in Glasgow, but good nonetheless) and gravy. Not content with that, Hawksmoor have added pig's head. Filthy, yes. Healthy, no. Worth it once in a while, absolutely.We also had the ox cheek nuggets - slow-cooked cheek, encased with some mozzarella in breadcrumbs, with some kimchi dipping sauce. I could have eaten these all night long. And, to freshen things up, a salad of large chunks of cucumber and watermelon, with a touch of ginger, chili, garlic and, I think, some fish sauce - this was a refreshing counterbalance to the rest of the meal. Excellent in its simplicity.So the bar is cool and the food is great, but it is the drinks, or, more specifically, the barmen, who really make this place really stand out. Excellent cocktails (butter infused bourbon old fashioned anyone?) served up by a tag team from Turkey (Mr Pinky, you know who you are!) and Wales - we were kept in stitches for most of the night. If you like fun, go. If you don't, well, that's your loss, this place isn't for you.
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Well, no surprises here really - Hawksmoor was AWESOME with a side of awesome. I loved it. I loved it even more that we managed to get in before the 50% off deal came to an end (yesterday) but I would happily go back and pay full price for what we ate, and there are some of the bar snacks/starters that I would like to try.We had tried to get in last Sunday but there was an hour and a half wait (and you weren't allowed to put your name down and come back close to when tables might be ready - that constituted booking somehow) so we ended up at MeatMission instead. But I was determined not to miss out so we went back on Saturday, making sure to get there as close to its opening as possible - 12pm. This worked a treat as we got there and were seated straight away, watching smugly as the rest of the seats filled up and people started having to wait.We made perhaps a slight mistake. We're not early morning people so what we were eating at Hawksmoor was actually our breakfast. And I normally like to breakfast light. So, whereas I had planned a starter each, a main and then at least sharing a side and then a dessert each, we just weren't up to eating that much food. But we managed to try all the dishes that I'd heard about and considered the must-haves.So, we ordered the ox cheek nuggets, the ox cheek french dip and the pig's head poutine. For dessert we had a sticky toffee pudding and some of their famed salted caramel rolos.The food all comes at once (it's meant for eating while drinking, not as a sit down meal) which was fine by us. All the dishes that the food was served on were perfectly sized to fit the food on it, but left no room for drippage. And there were a lot of juices to contend with.Stephen had expressed doubt about the ox-cheek nuggets, worrying that they might turn out to be dry. I assured him they wouldn't be, but I didn't realise that they ensured extra moistness by having melted cheese in the middle. In fact, everything we ordered ended up having cheese in it. A fortunate happenstance. The ox cheek nuggets came with a sambal dip which was delicious, but overpowered the flavour of the nuggets themselves. They were so tender and gooey with the cheese, they didn't really need a dip. Which lead to the dilemma - enjoy the nugget on its own, or make the most of the sambal by eating it with the nuggets. Oh these tough, tough decisions!The French Dip was my favourite of all three and was an amazing sandwich in its own right, never mind with the rich, savoury jus that it came with. I would take a bite and decide I didn't want to 'sully' it with the accompanied gravy, but the gravy was so moreish that I would end up dipping the sandwich in it time and again. A similar conuncdrum to the aforementioned. The bread itself was very soft and inside was the shredded flavoursome cheek meat topped with, yeah, you guessed it - melted cheese. It put the steak and cheese sandwich I had at MeatLiquor to shame. I'm going to have to let my face get at that again some time soon.The poutine also came with gravy, but a much lighter, sweeter gravy which was also pretty addictive. Towards the end the chips that it had been covering had been completely soaked in it and were a little soggy, which normally I don't really like (and Stephen moaned a bit about it) but it did mean you got a bit more of the gravy flavour as I spooned up the last sodden scraps of chips, cheese and meat. I've never had poutine before, the idea of gravy with cheese and chips didn't appeal but I'm happy to say I was a fool to think this way. And with pork's head scattered all over it, this dish is a main event in its own right, don't be fooled by it being listed alongside the chips and coleslaw.I had to get the rolos for 'dessert'. I put that bit in inverted commas because what they really are, are three chocolates, as you would get from Paul A Young or something - they're not a proper 'pudding' as the English say. They were lovely, and the caramel was indeed very salty, but if Stephen hadn't ordered the sticky toffee pudding that I was then able to have some of, I would have been annoyed at myself for ending my meal with them. I could easily have had a real dessert and then ordered these as well.The toffee pudding was magnificent, the caramel sauce was a light cinder toffee in flavour, leaving a pleasant slightly burned aftertaste. The pudding itself was warm and just like a pudding should be - dense and sticky. And it was topped with a completely unnecessary quenelle of clotted cream, which nevertheless was appreciated as an extra touch of decadence.Just as anticipated, for me anyway, were the drinks (well, it is a bar!). As it was our breakfast and we were heading to a festival straight after, we didn't want to drink loads while we were in there but I just had to try the full fat old fashioned (rather dear at Â£12.50 - good job the food was so cheap!). This was butter-infused bourbon with sugar and I could have drank that all day. It mostly just tasted of whisky of course with just enough sweetness to take away any harshness or burning you might get from drinking hard liquor neat. Is it wrong of me to be proud that was the first thing to pass my lips that day? Gorgeous. Stephen had a Kernel Pale Ale which, at 7% and only costing Â£5 was quite a good deal.The bar itself has apparently been redone a bit and is all dark wood and low lighting, meaning we could easily forget it was midday outside and that we shouldn't be drinking whisky cocktails at that hour. And our waitress was incredibly friendly and smiley. I'm so, so happy I went.
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