23 West Register Street, Edinburgh EH2 2AA
0131 526 4790 www.thehawksmoor.com/locations/edinburgh
Express Menu (Mon - Sat 1200 - 1800 and after 2130)
2 courses; £25.00 | 3 courses £28.00
A la Carte
Starters: £7.50 - £18.00 | Mains: £14.00 - £34.00 | Desserts: £7.50 - £9.50
Cooking 7/10 | Service 4.5/5 | Flavour 4.5/5 | Value 4.5/5
You may only know us for steak, but we're pretty proud of our seafood too. We took everything we learnt from steak and applied it to the fruits of the sea. Source sustainably and cook simply.
These are, I think, the words of Will Beckett and Huw Gott, founders of Hawksmoor. Is it a group, is it a chain? More anon. But first some architecture. The name? From Nicholas Hawksmoor, 17th century architect, pupil of Sir Christopher Wren, and designer of Christ Church, Spitalfields (pictured left), near the site of Messrs Beckett and Gott’s first restaurant. The property? Don’t be confused by the address, this is part of 42 St Andrew Square, formerly head office of the National Bank of Scotland, now luxury apartments Edinburgh Grand. So, part of James Craig’s New Town plan? Well, no. Despite the palazzo front and giant recessed portico the building in fact dates from 1936. It features fabulous etched glass in the windows by Scottish artist Sadie McLellan. Don’t miss them – I did on my first visit.
Beckett and Gott are correct. You do think of Hawksmoors as steak restaurants. This is due in no small measure to the nice things said about them by people with surnames such as Coren, O’Loughlin and Parker Bowles, all of whom have raved about the quality of the beef. But whisper it, Messrs B & G are no longer in control, having sold a majority shareholding to Graphite Capital six years ago. The good news is that they remain shareholders and, by all accounts, very much hands on.
The space is cavernous. The furniture is very much in keeping with an old style bank, comfortable, luxurious and, I suspect, horribly expensive. I liked it a lot. I also loved the look of the menu. How can you fail to warm to a list which contains Old Spot Ribs; or Bone Marrow with Onions: or, a first for me, even in Scotland, which is noted for its odd culinary combinations, sausages (beef & bone marrow) as a side dish?
On my first visit with the Cold War Spook, I was pipped to the post to order the Eyemouth Crab on Toast. Crab, as with many fish and crustaceans, presents a serious challenge and quandary to a chef. Do too much, and you can ruin the basic ingredient: do too little, and risk the diner asking why he bothered coming out. This was the perfect compromise. A chunk of sourdough toast had two layers. The first was some sort of brown meat mayonnaise, the upper, plain white meat: the end result stunning. Another shellfish starter is a plate of Isle of Mull scallops, roasted with white port and garlic. Three big fat specimens came proudly out of the grill, a very light breadcrumb crust singing with butter and garlic, and whispering hints of tarragon. Expensive (£5 a pop) but worth it. On the meaty side potted beef and bacon sounded interesting. A Kilner jar had no obvious signs of pork, but contained a generous helping of potted beef. Served with a little toast this would have been an ample starter. No such restraint here. This came with two cricket ball size Yorkshire puds and a half pint or so (284ml to you millennials) of fabulous gravy. I’m reasonably sure that this also featured our bone marrow chum. (When I was a boy, I think the only mention we ever had of bone marrow was in a dog food advertisement, promising to prolong active life.)
Charcoal grilled monkfish was well flavoured and succulent. At lunchtime (and as part of the Express Menu) you can have rump steak and chips, a steal at £15. Much steak is on offer. Thankfully, about half of these are at set prices. Having been horribly ripped off once in Spain, being charged by weight (that of the dish, not mine), I have a real aversion to the price per 100g option. In the former category, £28 will buy you a Cast Iron Fillet Steak with Bone Marrow (yes, again, chef clearly got a job lot) Skirlie. Done correctly, skirlie is a way of enlivening oatmeal, once the Scottish staple food, with a little onion and dripping. Here, it comes in the form of a great dollop of slow cooked onions topped with toasted pin head oatmeal. Very tasty, albeit not authentic. The steak – I forget why they call it cast iron – should be the star, and lives up to its billing. I had read about the care Hawksmoor takes in sourcing its beef. This is the proof. Rare indeed to eat a fillet steak with so much flavour. Chips, though, are a wee bit of a let down. The triple cooked variety are fine, but there is no obvious inkling as to why the dripping fries are so called. McDonalds-esque, and a bit dry.
Produce sourcing is, of course, a major issue; however, in so many places the difference comes from the small things, the attention to detail. One notes the fact that they make their own tomato ketchup, and very good it is too. And that for cloakroom tickets they use cigarette cards from the 1960s. And the staff are attentive. Mind you, on my two visits, the place was pretty empty, perhaps a dozen or so diners in a place which will hold, at a guess, a couple of hundred. I hope they haven’t got their market wrong. Tom Eats! is always looking for the carte, but at lunchtime in Edinburgh, where there are so many lunch options which are unbelievably cheap, the bottom line seems to rule. For the quality of the produce, and the way that great ingredients are simply yet skilfully handled, my assessment is, pricey but worth every penny.