IT’S easy to work out why Hawksmoor got called that. The first one opened (in 2006 in a former kebab shop) in Spitalfields – where the great architect Nicholas Hawksmoor’s Christchurch dominates a decidedly atmospheric corner of East London. Now, much as my kids couldn’t believe Beethoven wasn’t just a movie St Bernard, the name Hawksmoor is synonymous with upmarket meat and Art Deco-influenced dining rooms rather than the glories of the English Baroque.
Still there is something monumental about the 950g porterhouse steak flexing its muscle at me from a cast iron skillet in the Hawksmoor that has landed in Deansgate’s late Victorian Courthouse building. Before abandoning the architectural theme, to salivate over beef naturally, note what a gorgeous, integrated conversion this restaurant/bar is compared with, say, Gusto across the road where, attractive bar aside, the fittings seem merely to be squatting and the menu equally random.
Hawksmoor, in contrast, exudes an air of confidence in its own specific culinary mission, the Manchester newcomer distinctly in debt to its five London siblings but ready to forge an identity of its own. The meat, for that is what we are inevitably here for, is supplied by the legendary Ginger Pig farms in North Yorkshire where Tim Wilson rears grass-fed traditional breed British cattle.
As in London, the available weights of prime cuts are chalked up on boards in the dining room. The menu tells you how much per 100g and you weigh prices against the respective merits of each cut – chateaubriand, porterhouse, T-bone, bone in prime rib. Which can lead to a major case of Carnivore Indecision. Hence I’d Googled like some virtual butcher to plump for the more affordable, 300g, 55 day aged D-rump – ‘chewier but three times the flavour of fillet’.
Then on the night the rare (medium rare as it turned out) prospect of sharing an on-bone steak combining sirloin and fillet won out. Step forward the largest porterhouse on offer at £9 a 100g. Our server Hannah persuaded us we could handle it – she had – and so it proved. It was a stupendous piece of meat, given a further dimension by two pots of hollandaise – anchovy and Stilton.
I toyed with a supplement of bone marrow but that would have been greedy. As for half a native lobster (£16) to make a surf and turf, well I toyed with that too, but that’s entering trencherman territory. I’ve long been a huge fan of Hawksmoor’s nutmeggy (with a hint of anchovy) creamed spinach; add now to the adulation their roasted field mushrooms, another highlight from an array of sides, mostly around £4 a shot. Thrice cook chips were fluffily fine – the burgeoning trencherman in me regretted not demanding the dripping-fried alternative.
I’m glad then my starter was the delicate wild sea bass, raw with ginger and chilli (£9, above) – a true palate-keener. In contrast the intense roast scallops (£12.50, below), baked in the shell with garlic and tarragon, were cruiserweight – a rebuke to all those rubbery queenies masquerading under the name so often.
I do wish the Manchester menu featured oysters and ‘shoulder’ of turbot, as in London, but that’s to quibble. The wonderful wine list will certainly take many re-visits to even scratch the surface of. On this occasion two glasses of floral, slightly peppery Josef Ehmoser grüner veltliner 2013 (£7.50) served us well with the fish, while a bargain on the list at £50 a bottle, the legendary Mas de Daumas Gassac 2012 from the Languedoc was just the red to tackle the smoky sear and rich savouriness of the porterhouse with its own quota of pepper, spice and dark Cabernet-led fruit.
One alcoholic disappointment was our Hawksmoor Tom Collins cocktails in the bar beforehand – a palsied version of the one I recall from the chain’s London Seven Dials bar. Consolation comes in the shape of bottled beers from Manchester’s new Runway Brewery. Well done for not just importng the London regulars, however good (in the case of Kernel, magnificent).
On our visit to London’s Hawksmoors I remember vividly meeting their pastry maestro Carla Henriques. The legacy of Lisbon custard tarts surely lives on in the pud I chose – custard tart with Yorkshire rhubarb (£6), thin pâte sucrée, gossamer light filling and rhubarb with attitude. For 50p more a passionfruit creme brulee across the table also asserted its right to acidity – in a good way.
Coffee was good. The whole experience was great and on a very busy Monday evening (it is BYO, £5 corkage day, which might have helped) the appreciation of this welcome newcomer seemed general. The foundations are laid, as the meticulous Nicholas would have said.
Hawksmoor Manchester, 184-186 Deansgate.