Tuesday, 17 March 2009
The Hawksmoor Burger
It's really felt like Spring in London the last couple of days. Mornings have been clear and bright, the daytime air is dry and noticeably warmer than before, and it's even been light on my journey home in the evenings. And with the change in the weather the restaurants in the capital - well, the good ones - will start taking advantage of seasonal ingredients and revamp their menus, so it's out with parsnips and hotpots and game, and in with asparagus, spring lamb and lemon sole. Which is all very well for French restaurants, gastropubs and bistros, but how do you keep your menu fresh and relevant if you're a steakhouse and essentially serve the same premium meat and chips all year round? Top-end beef purveyors Hawksmoor have answered that in style by knuckling down and creating the best burger in London.
I realise that's quite a claim to make. After all, the marketplace for what is cringingly known as the "gourmet burger" has exploded in the last couple of years, starting with the Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Hamburger Union and the like, and more recently going all top-end with Haché and Byron. And yet, while most of these places serve perfectly serviceable food (Haché in particular is worth checking out), nowhere has quite the obsession with quality and sourcing as the boys in Hawksmoor. They have, I'm reliably informed, been eating more burgers than are good for them in the last few months, honing and perfecting the recipe and paying detailed attention to every element, from the lightly-toasted brioche bap to the mixture of unusual cuts of meat from the Ginger Pig's superb longhorn cattle. The end result is worth every penny of its hefty £15 price tag.
Served with their famous triple-cooked chips, the Hawksmoor burger comes with a couple of slices of delicately sweet pickle, a slice of fresh red onion, a slice of meaty beef tomato, some crispy lettuce doused in a whole grain mustard mayonnaise, and surrounded in billowy pads of sweet (but not too sweet) toasted brioche buns. But despite these excellently judged accompaniments, the real star is the meat - juicy and complex, with an almost metallic flavour and satisfying, gelatinous bite. The beef from the Ginger Pig has, in my own humble opinion, a flavour rich and earthy enough to challenge anything USDA-branded from across the pond, and is the single most important factor that lifts this burger above all the competition. It is also, I would imagine, the reason why it's more expensive than all the competition too, but hey, you get what you pay for. Also, and I realise it's early days, but I would have liked the option to customise my burger slightly. In the interests of research, and despite the suspicious glances of the serving staff, I removed the vegetables from the bun and ate part of the burger au naturel - just the bread, meat and cheese. It was wonderful.
This was already my favourite restaurant in this part of town, and now they just happen to be serving up the best burger money can buy is not about to change that. Hawksmoor has long been a perfect example of how passion, technical skill and an almost dangerous obsession with quality and providence can create stunning results. The fact that they are beginning to apply that energy to the creation of new dishes is a most exciting trend. I can't wait to see what they come up with next.