Friday, 16 November 2007
It ought to be a cause of national shame that despite having some of the best small producers and fishing grounds in the world, British and Irish produce is generally ignored by our own restaurants and supermarkets. The finest fresh lobster and langoustine from the south coast, Welsh lamb and Scottish pedigree cattle are sold abroad, earning French and Spanish chefs the reputation for gastronomic excellence off the back of our own home-grown talent. Thankfully in recent years there has been a bit of a fightback, as interest in locally-sourced ingredients has increased and more restaurants and supermarkets (especially Waitrose, who deserve a special mention for their 'Local foods' section) are confident enough in their customers to market British food properly. But we are nowhere near equilibrium, and I still find it shocking that some uniformly beet-red slabs of 2nd-grade beef flown halfway across the world are regarded as the best you can eat in London.
So like a guardian angel sent from heaven to fight for British food on earth (or at least in our nation's capital) comes Hawskmoor on Commercial Road. All their meat is from a company called Ginger Pig, who regular Borough-market goers will recognise from their stall there. The menu is smallish - just a few different cuts of beef, a lamb and pork cut or two, and a scattering of sides. And it's not cheap either, my 600g sirloin coming in at a whopping £26.50. But if there's one thing that's self-evident as you cut through the charred crispy flesh into the rich, moist pink inside, is that it's worth every penny. There is simply nowhere else in the capital - nowhere in Europe I would hazard a guess - that has steaks of such stunning high quality, cooked perfectly. They are huge things too, thick with ribbons of fat that provide flavour and texture, almost a meal in themselves, but you'd be foolish not to try some of Hawskmoor's excellent side dishes, such as the rich garlicky spinach and the creamiest baked sweet potato you will ever have. Unfortunately this lunchtime the chips weren't up to the usual high standard - they tasted a bit dry - but this is not the norm based on numerous previous visits. Also the service can be hit and miss - one time we waited a whole hour before the food started to arrive, which was blamed on the macaroni cheese taking too long to make. Why they didn't have "up to an hour waiting time" stamped next to this item in the menu wasn't clear.
As if Hawksmoor wasn't happy enough with serving superb steaks, they also have a fantastic bar with a list of heritage cocktails that you will find nowhere else. My "Daiquiri No.2" was apparently one of Ernest Hemingway's favourites, although to be fair I've heard this about most cocktails. Boasting that your particular drink was favoured by Cuba's most famous alcoholic is a bit like saying you are attractive enough to sleep with Russell Brand. He wasn't that fussy, believe me.
I am told that even the non-meaty items on the menu such as the scallops and swordfish are worth having, so clearly there is talent in the kitchen beyond timing a 2-inch thick rib-eye to medium-rare. But it is the steaks that keep people coming back here. Knowledgeably sourced, perfectly cooked and honestly presented, there is no doubt that Hawksmoor serves the best steaks this side of the Atlantic.