Review: Foxlow, Clerkenwell

Julian Harris
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67-79 St John Street, EC1M 4AN Tel: 020 7014 8070
FOOD Three Stars
VALUE Three Stars
Cost for two with wine: £100

HERE at City A.M. we are big fans of private equity buyouts – largely because they give us something to write about. They’re also a cracking excuse to construct headlines such as “MEWNORTH CAPITAL SPLASHES $700M ON SWIMMING POOL FIRM”, as well as allowing us to awe our readers with eye-watering figures that show how exceedingly rich the selling shareholders have become.

This was pretty much the prospect faced last summer by Will Beckett and Huw Gott, founders of the superb Hawksmoor steakhouses which became the object of Graphite Capital’s desire.

Had I been in their position I would have grabbed as much cash as possible and spent the rest of the summer watching the cricket, drinking gin, and generally blowing the lot on a ridiculous assortment of garish Italian supercars.

Beckett and Gott, however, decided to be grown-up, injected a load of their own money and worked on the opening of another restaurant. Branching away from the steakhouse theme, Foxlow is a bid to be cheaper, more varied, and even less formal.

New investors Graphite say they are “pursuing a roll-out opportunity” already for both brands, suggesting that more Foxlows could be popping up soon. If I were them, I’d pause for a moment before expanding Foxlow. The idea, certainly, is a good one, and very much on trend. But unlike its older sibling Hawksmoor, the new restaurant is yet to get everything right.

Let’s play a game. It’s called “Hit or Miss” – I name the dish and you guess if it’s a hit or a miss. (Bear with me here…)

Starter – Iberico pork ribs (£8.50). Sounds good, eh? We all like a bit of Iberico, hanging from the ceiling with salty promise. Surely the equivalent meat in the form of grilled ribs would be delicious?

Well yes, it was. Possibly one of the best starters I’ve ever had, I would describe it as “finger-licking” if that wasn’t such a disgusting cliché. One point to anyone who said hit.

To accompany this we decided to give their salad bar a shot (£7), but were disappointed to discover that you couldn’t go up and pick your salad assortment yourself, and also that – once the mix had been delivered – it was certainly sub- Ottolenghi, and a tad reminiscent of the concoctions I shove in a tupperware box to take to work. The beetroot with hazelnuts and horseradish was satisfyingly punchy, but the rest, while perfectly acceptable, did little to extend itself beyond being just a salad. File under “miss”.

Alas the ten-hour, slow-smoked beef shortrib with kimchi was also a bit of a disappointment, particularly because my guest and I spent most of the afternoon salivating like hungry dogs at the prospect of getting our jaws into this great-sounding dish. The meat was too dry, however, and I found myself wanting a wetter, subtler accompaniment.

Furthermore – and I never ever thought I’d hear myself say this, let alone put it in print – there was too much of it. Massive chunks of meat are modish these days, I know, but this rib would have been a challenge for the most zealous of protein-binging bodybuilders. It got boring after a while. Hits 1-2 Misses.

An equaliser came in the form of the monkfish with chermoula (£18), a sterling example of the proprietors’ ability to excel beyond the realm of red meat. Casting the rib to one side, we vied with our forks to steal chunks of the fishy flesh, strong yet flakey, neatly flavoured in north African herbs and moistened with lemony oil. 2-2.

For dessert, it seems Foxlow has decided to target precocious seven-year-olds. It offers “peanutella and sweet toast”, for example, while we indulged our childish hearts with a banoffee split and a chocolate and popcorn sundae.

These are what they are – big, indulgent sugary treats. And be warned – if you want the banoffee split then you’ll need to leave a big hole in your stomach, and I’m not sure that’s possible at Foxlow.

With regards to the hits and misses, the purpose of this admittedly frivolous exercise was to explain that Foxlow is capable of great things but needs to sharpen itself up a little. Let’s call it a score draw.

It is packed with nice ideas – kimchi ketchup and salted caramel popcorn, to give two, diverse examples – and has the potential to offer a great meal for about £50, but there are still too many “buts”.

I’m aware that it’s fashionable these days for food to be big, bold, and meaty, but – for all its considerable strengths – Foxlow could do with a touch of good old-fashioned refinement.