It’s meat ... and so much more
‘HAVE you been to a Hawksmoor before?” The question that precedes our rather-too-fulsome reception at what looks to be Edinburgh’s best steak house. Put it this way, our waiter is the opposite of vegan. He’s itching to give us chapter and verse on cuts, sourcing, cooking technique, to transmit his well-schooled enthusiasm for the Hawksmoor beef manual.
Happily he gauges our level of knowledge, so we’re not given the whole, though doubtless interesting, treatise – the detail of Hawksmoor’s careful, thought-out process to serve “ethical dry-aged beef from native breeds that live a good life eating their natural food: grass” – and instead receive the executive summary.
To be honest we’re distracted by the Mussolini-like monumentality of this marbled building with its lofty coffered ceiling, too taken up with the pleasurable ergonomic relationship between the chairs and the table, a relative rarity in restaurants. He puts his foot in it, though, by addressing the 29-year-old at our table as “young lady”, and hovers around the female side of the table too much. But we all agree that he’ll learn because Hawksmoor, although it is a small chain, is a thoroughly professional outfit, despite the misspelt “chataeubriand” (sic) on the blackboard.
Hawksmoor isn’t just about meat, no way. If we’d been labouring under that delusion then the sublime langoustine scampi, with its featherweight batter and glorious tartare sauce that’s punchy and sharp with of lots of capers, dill, and just enough shallot, has disabused us. “Tarbert crab on toast £12.50” undersells the reality of this hefty serving of magnificently fresh white crab meat mounded on proper sourdough toast that’s been spread with orange crab roe (or pincer meat), beside a Scandinavianstyle marinated cucumber salad, stippled with caper and tangled up with spritely watercress of a freshness rarely seen in Scottish restaurants.
Burgers I usually bypass, but I’ll make an exception at Hawksmoor. The bun is sweet – I don’t get the sweet bread with burgers thing – so I more or less ignore it, but the consistency of patty instantly locates it in the Ivy League. It seems to be made with chopped steak not mince.
Flavours of beef dripping and the charcoal grill fill the mouth, and they aren’t obliterated by the garnish of finely shredded kimchi that I’ve added. This is a double cheeseburger and once again, sourcing shines out: whatever cheese Hawksmoor is using, it chose well. The fact that we can’t coax the house-made ketchup out of its bottle gives us all a laugh.
In my book, our 350g rib-eye (£26), nominally a one-person portion, is a twoperson job, but then a little steak goes a long way for me. Its anchovy Hollandaise tastes more like Béarnaise to me, and it could do with more anchovy for my taste, but this is an indisputably great steak, impeccably cooked.
And just how great is our nod to greenery, the butter lettuce and herb salad? Crisp heart of this underrated lettuce, heaps of herbs, every leaf glistening because it has been attentively tossed in judiciously balanced vinaigrette. Triple-cooked chips are fine, not exceptional, and what happened with the dripping chips? I can’t believe ours are Hawksmoor’s finest; they’re too dry, the spuds taste workaday, dull. There’s work to be done here.
Warm peanut butter shortbread is a coherent conception, a warm, dark chocolate-hearted chewy cookie with salty, fudge-like ice cream that has a powerful vanilla sub-taste that reminds me of French cafeteria crème caramel. White chocolate cheesecake, not in the conventional form, but deconstructed, is a real looker. A plump, loosely made quenelle that amalgamates cream and chocolate, chunks of something that tastes a million times better than a Hobnob, shavings of white chocolate, a whole squad of raspberries and blackberries, and crimson coulis that tastes of berries and lemon over sugar.
We leave replete, content, having clocked up a tidy bill that we consider to be fair, and labouring under the misapprehension that we won’t feel like eating again for days. Watch out Edinburgh steakhouses, Hawksmoor is in town.