22 July 2018
I came away from my meal here wondering what was the real difference between Hawksmoor and the once ubiquitous Berni Inn and similar chains that dominated UK eating-out in the 1960's . Atmosphere? Well no, Hawksmoor looks a similar standard of place if rather less "red". Food quality? I'd hoped so, but the rump steak I ate yesterday wasn't a great piece of meat and I think some would say that it was a little away from an accurate "medium rare". Sophistication? Well its another "no". It certainly doesn't look or behave better than some of the chains like Cote for example, and our starters yesterday of potted beef , bacon gravy and massive Yorkshires , and a mackerel terrine , were both rustic and large rather than smart or particularly interesting. My wife's chicken was huge and very ordinary. We left full, but delight was harder to get. Certainly Hawksmoor is nothing like the sort of steakhouse you see in USA cities.
Got it. The difference is pricing/positioning. Berni Inns was a place that the not so well-off would see as a special occasion restaurant- and indeed I think a lot of those using it wouldn't eat out very much at all. Meanwhile a more affluent clientele would see it as a place to go whenever cooking at home was simply too much to contemplate. Berni's weren't great, but in the days when there wasn't a lot of competition for casual eateries better than a caff, they were pleasant, affordable, and decent. Our bill yesterday was just shy of £100 for two courses each, a pleasant bottle of Aglianico from the lower reaches of the wine list, and coffee. The starters & mains we chose were amongst the cheapest available. It would have been very easy to make that £150 . Unlike the "steakhouses" of old you pay for potatoes and any veg you deem necessary. Quantities for these sides aren't great and neither are they cheap. They don't bring bread.
So here's the thing. In my view Hawksmoor's a bit expensive for the food and quality on offer. Certainly much too expensive for most to consider it a place to substitute for home cooking. And not really good enough for special occasions. The ground it occupies price-wise brings it lots of competition and some places that cook very well. It seemed that a lot of yesterday's clientele were tourists , and I do wonder whether Hawksmoor is set up to attract repeat business, and instead relies on location and an easy to understand menu to attract custom. But I don't think we need a place like this in our repertoire, and to be honest its not really hard to find restaurants who cook a steak or chicken as well as we ate yesterday. It wasn't bad, certainly not unpleasant, but simply not notable for quality, interest, or value.
I will say that our service yesterday was pretty good- not intrusive but certainly friendly and decently brisk.