I went along to the revamp launch of Hawksmoor's Spitalfield bar found in the dungeon beneath the main restaurant itself. They have also got a new food menu and as is traditional with Hawksmoor, the first month is 50% off food so I duly waddled along to partake in some inevitably meaty treats. On the meat overload I did not disappoint dear readers. Of course this ‘review’ should be taken with a pinch as it was only the second day of the menu and tweaks will (hopefully) be made. Until then there is the 50% off to offset some sub-par issues.
The bar has a ‘new’ entrance, which is clearly just the old exit but I understand the reason behind it, Separating the formality of the dining room and a more spontaneous speakeasy. Its all very Shoreditch – an unmarket door opens to a buffering of hot air from a large fan unit. The lack of an obvious entrance below causes a flicker of doubt that you may have opened the wrong door. However after visiting many a dank, distressed and secretive bar in the trendier parts of London I know it best to plough on until beggars start howling you've walked into their front room. The downstairs itself is the usual dim lighting and swathes of dark wood. The ceiling low it really does feel a little like a hideaway during prohibition. Down here there is no phone signal. For an hour or so I am cut off from the world – and I like it.
I start with the XO wings and ribs. Unfortunately the ribs are fairly dull. Although the meat is clearly high quality (we are at Hawksmoor) and soft and yielding and not been boiled like some dreadful places. the sauce doesn't quite excite. I'm not sure what makes these particularly Korean, as I taste no real Korean flavours. When I think Korean, I think spicy, fermented and garlic. Here all I get is a tangy tomato sauce. They are bad really, I polish them off with ease and they are tasty, just could do with some more oomph.
Luckily the wings are great. The XO topping make them taste like some great wings I've had at some of the better Chinese places. The skin isn't overly crisp like in Korean or Buffalo wings which is a shame but not the end of the world. Also the wings could do with a slight glaze so the crispy XO dust can cling on as I was left with most of the scraps at the bottom of the bowl.
From the larger plates I got the cheeseburger and added ox cheek as I'm a huge fan of cheeks. In fact the whole place overwhelmingly smelled of the braising cheeks which was slightly off-putting once I was full! Sadly although the burger itself may have been great, I couldn't really taste it as the overwhelming flavour was the ox. I didn't as what it was braised in but it was likely beer as they had a very powerful yeasty taste. The cheese was nice and sharp but the cheek overpowered the balance. Positives were that it was very juicy, the bun was very good as usual and overall it was tasty. However if you are going to add ox cheek you may as well order the ox cheek french dip.
The waitress recommended I try the pulled pork roll and unfortunately again I have to say I disappointed. This time first the positives. The pork itself was tasty, soft but still nicely sized chunks. It wasn't too salty and maybe only a touch too sweet. The slaw was also reasonably good. However the main issue I have is that everything was so DRY. The bun had no mayo or butter, the pork had some of its juices but there wasn't enough and it didn't come with any other sauce. The slaw again although good lacked a mayo/creamy element and so overall it was all a bit of an effort to eat. I ended up eating the pork and slaw with a fork by themselves. The kitchen needs to either add more juice, some BBQ sauce or even a side of pork juices as a french dip… hmmm we seem to have a theme here.
Overall the bill, minus a rather delicious cocktail and a punchy fruity Indian pale ale, came to £13.50. Ridiculous value, but not so great considering the work needed when after this month it'll come to £27. If some tweaks are made and some flavours tuned in a little then it will be a great little spot for an after work drink and bite. As it stands though, I'd recommend going this month, but perhaps not the next.
Where: Hawksmoor Spitalfield Bar (the entrance is the door next to the main entrance): 157A Commercial St, London E1 6BJ Nearest tube: Liverpool Street, Aldgate East with Shoreditch High Street closest.
Why go? Because they have an introductory 50% off food from the 10th June till the end of the month.