Loosen those belts: no diets allowed at City beef-house

HOW much can one genuflect to the gods of steak? In London these days, the answer is a lot. And when an outlet of Hawksmoor opens up, it’s practically illegal not to sink to one’s knees in praise. And then sink one’s teeth in.

You’ve probably already been to Hawksmoor in Spitalfields or Seven Dials. If you haven’t, we have to ask where you’ve been over the past few years. After all, since opening the Spitalfields site, Huw Gott and Will Beckett have turned Hawksmoor into the uncontested king of cow in London (though Goodman and a few others nip at its heels).

Hawksmoor’s latest outpost is smack bang where it belongs: in the heart of the Square Mile, on Basinghall Street. This makes it a delightful option for post-work carousing and eating in what is still a relative wasteland for the finer things in life.

I’d certainly recommend starting with the carousing, as Hawksmoor’s oft-imitated cocktail list is crammed with historical treats. I fell hard for the Silver Bullet, an icy, martini-shaped glass of gin, lemon juice and a fennel liqueur called Kummel, and the Corpse Reviver No. 2, with gin, cuacao, absinthe and lillet blanc. Sherry shaken with fruit and topped with apple was a tart version of some kind of retro beach cocktail – great fun.

I could have kept knocking them back – that’s the problem with good cocktails, they slide down like sweets – but the massive, parquet-floored dining room, more of an eating hall than a restaurant, drew us on to our meaty fate.

The room is too large and canteen-like for my taste; it’s also very similar to the Seven Dials dining room, which I found disappointing, as I’d have thought that a basement in the City would offer different things to one in Covent Garden. There’s a slightly slavish sense of brand building, which could also be construed as a perfectly rational “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” move.

After a long, catwalk-style trek to the back of the dining room, we took our seats at the rear of a sea of people – mostly men ensconced in convivial dealings with red meat and red wine.

The waiter recommended the veal chop for mains, claiming that it was particularly outstanding just then, but we disobeyed him, opting for the sexy porterhouse steak for two. It was impressive to be sure: a marrowy bone laid on top of the rosy pink slices in their pewter dish, but it was too much a steakperson’s steak for me. Too much chewing was required, not enough melting, to put it crudely.

But I skip ahead, for the starters were utterly delicious, and I’ll return to the sides we ordered with the steak, which were also show-stealers.

We began with belly ribs from Plum Pudding’s excellent pigs: four melting wedges of carnivorous seduction, so moreish I nearly cried when they were gone. My grief was assuaged, though, by the home-made soda bread toasted and served alongside a whorl of “Hawksmoor” smoked salmon, a very promising first sally into seafood here.

So the porterhouse arrived – meat lovers will also relish the chateaubriand and the bone-in sirloin, perhaps served with two fried eggs or a half of lobster if they’ve ditched the diet. Our side dishes consisted of truly terrific onion rings – enormous, sweetish, golden, almost cake-ish – that quite frankly distracted me from the meat. But the real set-piece of the meal was the macaroni and cheese with lobster (“lobster mac ‘n’ cheese”), coming in at a cool £20. If decadence is the order of the day, Hawksmoor is the place to do it.

Once we saw the pudding menu, we were helpless, despite our now bulging guts and short breath (ladies beware: I actually had to remove my constricting dress and finish dinner in my slip; do come with loose-fitting clothes).

But peanut butter shortbread with salted caramel ice cream was an offer I couldn’t refuse, and it was just as sweetly legumous and salt-sharpened as I’d hoped. The popcorn sundae tasted shallower.

The Hawksmoor guys have this gig down pat – from the kooky, retro menu to the “wine guy” sommelier to the steak list to the dashes of excess (lobster and macaroni cheese indeed), to the dark and understated cocktail bar. There’s truly something for everyone here (apart from vegetarians).

Perhaps there is one twinge about the experience for foodies, though: in joining the throngs at Hawksmoor, you’re embracing a fast-growing brand and signing up to something that’s popular and cool. Which is to say that while it is a gem, Hawksmoor is far from hidden.