I would never normally pass much comment on a restaurant I try during a soft launch period; I don’t think it’s the fairest thing to do as it takes time for a restaurant to find its feet and iron out teething problems.
However, opportunity has proved irresistible when I found myself having the great fortune to try two new London heavyweights in the steak house stakes (as it were!) within four days of eachother. Both of which were in their soft launch periods so I feel like it’s a fair comparison.
Although its not. Not in the slightest. One was mediocre, one was amazing in every way. See if you can guess which was which!
First to MASH, short for Modern American Steakhouse. The restaurant is the first in London from an established quartet of venues in Denmark which come with good recommendations. The position at the corner of Brewer Street and the revamped Air street is bang on trend- opposite HIX and so ideally placed for pre or post prandial drinks. Having mentioned to a friend I was going, they said the had heard very impressive things about both the good and the decor. I was excited.
My excitement was short lived at being greeted on the door by a surly bouncer demanding to know if I had a reservation. Surely this is the job for reception, especially on an evening cold enough to take your breath away. No matter, coats taken, we descended three flights of a spiral staircase to what felt like the depths of the earth. Reception was cordial, but again, very cold.
Following our cheerful girl, we were led into what I can only describe as a truly vast space. The first thing I thought of was a casino, or the dining room on a cruise ship. What was immediately obvious that a huge amount of money must have spent on the space. Unfortunately you cannot buy true taste and the effect was a slightly more upmarket Aberdeen Angus steak house. Everything was either dark wood or red; acres of red carpet and red leather seating. There were flimsy looking gold swirls on the wood and mirrored panels, like someone had followed a paint by numbers book on how to create an Art Deco look. The lighting was strangely bright and the acoustics were awful. The tables are very spread out which made me feel like I was stuck on an island. Even though the place seats up to 240 covers, you feel very alone. I really wanted to give it a chance, but I have to admit I felt immediately uncomfortable.
So to the food, a quiet but very efficient waiter showed me the steaks, alongside huge carcasses hanging in vast fridges in the middle of the room. He explained that a Danish steak, aged for up to seventy days, was more ‘intellectual’ whereby an American steak needed less thought to eat it. There are so many jingoistic inferences there it’s hard to know where to begin! It did make me smile though! The meat is sourced from Denmark, Uruguay, America and Australia. Nothing from this green and pleasant land at all. Nothing really called to me from the starters so I chose the Danish sirloin as it had the fewest air miles and I had not tried ‘intelligent’ meat before. We also ordered the ribeye and various sides. My other half was very impressed that there were onion rings on the menu- what can you say? He’s easily pleased. Less so when they turned up, oily and undercooked inside, reminding me of those soggy donuts you sometimes buy at the fair when you should know better. The chips were fine, perked up by the smoked sea salt on the table. The meat, well, I will conceed the ribeye was tender and had a good depth of flavour, verging on gamey. Mine? Hmm, shall I be kind? No. It was awful- chewy and overcooked so the edges were a grey that Farrow and Ball would be ashamed of. This was after we had both ordered medium rare cooking, having been advised that anything more would ruin the meat. Well, I can confirm, yes it did. After trying to get anyone’s attention over the vast red sea of carpet for about five minutes, I gave up and tried to plough on.
Green salad was very nicely dressed and, I say begrudgingly, the macaroni and cheese was one if the best I have ever had. I said to my other half that I would have been happy with the pasta and salad. He pointed out that this rather negated the point of coming to a steak house! I suppose this is the point- there are other places in London doing the same thing, only much better.
Desserts are all priced at £10. Yes, £10. Goodman, a fab steak house in London, charges £6.50 for theirs. I gritted my teeth and ordered the cheesecake with strawberries, thinking it had better be the best cheesecake I have ever eaten. Slightly needless to say but it wasn’t. The three strawberries topping the cake were marinated to tooth-shattering sweetness. The actual cheesecake was creamy enough, but I could feel small lumps of cream cheese in my mouth, which hadn’t been mixed enough. The sorbet on the side was too sour and, oh, it was just so disappointing!
We had a very good Malbec for £27, but our admiration for the very well priced, varied and interesting wine list was soon usurped by seeing that the bottle of sparkling water (I know, I know- I drink tap- take it up with my other half!) was £5. This is what they charge in two Michelin Star restaurants; its bad enough playing that in those places, but to pay that in a mediocre Soho steak house just feels greedy and rude.
We left deflated, dissatisfied and a bit sad with the whole experience.
So onto the new Hawksmoor restaurant- a mere stone’s throw from MASH. I will admit straightaway that I have a big crush on Hawksmoor- I have eaten at all their other restaurants and have always had a brilliant experience. So much so that they have pretty much ruined steak eating for me anywhere else- it’s that good. So I was expecting something better than good- the pressure was on.
As soon you walk in you feel like you are in for a treat. The beautiful lobby with turquoise Art Deco furniture leads onto a sweeping staircase with an amazing pendant light hanging down. The bar is beautifully lit, buzzy and warm. Cocktails are well judged and very well made. Staff are great fun, although I was a bit surprised that when I asked the barman to make me up something off menu with vodka , he steered me towards a Hawksmoor Collins, which is gin based. It was great, but it would have been nice to have something bespoke.
The incredible dining room is like a gentleman’s club from an F Scott Fitzgerald novel. There are all the trappings of a true Art Deco gem- enormous windows like stained glass fans along one wall, cozy booths next to mirrored panels on the other. Beautiful green leather seating, dark wood, and gold accents. Its clear that there has been a lot of thought put into the room. It is not a pastiche- there are some brilliant quirky touches such as the parquet floor, reclaimed from an RAF base in the Midlands. The tables are all reclaimed science lab desks- with characteristic gauges and markings. Amazingly, it seats as many covers as MASH but the atmosphere couldn’t be more different.
This is a place that feels like it has always been there- comfortable, vivacious, lively and a bit sexy. You can’t help but want to have good time.
I challenge you not to want everything on the menu. As this is the first Hawkmoor to serve fish as I keen to try some. After some deliberation I went for the Brixham crab on toast- it came on a soughdour crouton with welcome addition of brown meat and a good mayonnaise. it was sparklingly fresh, with a great tang from the pickled cucumber in side salad. The white meat was abundant but if I had the tiniest criticism, it would be for a bit more brown meat as it was so gutsy and rich. The other half had the ribs, which fell off the bone. We shared an 800g
Porterhouse, which came medium rare as requested. The depth of flavour and tenderness of the meat is hard to describe. It comes from renowned Ginger Pig’s Yorkshire Farm, so there’s no real surprise at the quality, but it takes an real skill to bring meat to the table with such a beautiful charry outside and a meltingly soft centre. You could almost cut the middle with a spoon. The triple cooked chips were crisp and not at all greasy. Greens perfectly seasoned and gave a nice irony foil to the meat. We also had macaroni cheese which was a little claggy, but bursting with flavour.
Dessert was the now-famous Peanut Butter Shortbread with Salted Caramel Ice Cream. It was as good as the others I have had- reminiscent of a warm snickers bar in flavour, but so much better.
The wine list is extensive and starts from a very reasonable £18 all the way to a bank manager’s heart attack. We had a smooth Montepulciano for £30. I would also like to point out that a bottle of sparkling water was £3.50.
Service was warm and efficient. With so many covers it would be easy to be forgotten but we weren’t. It’s a tight ship they run here with that illusive quality of making everything look effortless. It’s not a cheap night out but it’s worth saving up for. Everyone deserves to eat steak like this once in their lives!
This is probably all very unfair; after all, you cannot compare Domino’s and freshly made wood-fired pizza sitting by the sea in Naples.