Lifestyle

A Big Bold British Steakhouse Named Hawksmoor Makes An Impressive Debut In New York


I’ve long since given up wondering if New York could possibly absorb another steakhouse, because the question is moot in the face of so many opening on what seems a monthly basis. Most follow the sacrosanct traditions of the New York steakhouse set decades ago, with menus deliberately very similar for the simple reason that those dishes are what guests expect and crave. And they are now the model for steakhouses all over the world.

Hawksmoor is something of an exception, first for being an import from the UK, where the first one was opened in 2006 in London’s East End by founders Will Beckett and Huw Gott. Second, there are several items on the menu you won’t find elsewhere in town. Third, the place eschews the usual design elements of so many steakhouses by virtue of it being set within the cavernous space of what was once the United Charities Building, gifted in 1893 by wealthy Scotsman John S. Kennedy.

With its majestic 26-foot-high ceilings, stained glass windows and spreading archways, the space allows for seating for 146 in the dining room and 35 at the boisterous bar, with two private rooms. Indeed, such a huge, echoing space makes for a very, very loud dining experience, not helped by the addition of piped-in pounding bass-and-drums.

Fourth, Hawksmoor differs in its dedication to American farming processes by sourcing hormone-free cattle and biodiversity that promises “the best beef comes from happy cattle.” Whatever.

Upon opening last fall, Hawksmoor served American corn-fed beef (though not graded USDA Prime) but also promoted beef raised wholly on grass, as is the case in the UK and Europe. The reality is that grass-fed cattle never develop the kind of fat marbling that cattle on a corn (or corn-finished) diet acquire. That fat provides flavor pure grass-fed cattle will never have.

Still, on my recent visit, I was told that now most of the cuts on the printed menu are, in fact, finished on corn. The grass-fed cuts are listed on a blackboard (by the ounce), with only so much of a daily supply as they can get, so they may well run out of them quickly. I had a 7:15 p.m. reservation, by which time they had eighty-sixed at least one of those cuts. Which left me to appreciate all the more the sweet, fatty beefy quality of the steaks I did sample.

You will be advised right off the bat that Hawksmoor’s steaks all rest for 15-20 minutes after leaving the grill, which is no big deal in terms of wait time if you’re enjoying cocktails and the exciting appetizers well worth ordering. There is a rosy-ink steelhead crudo ($22) laced with citrus, ginger and chili, and the half Maine lobster ($30 for about 12 ounces) is succulent, with a rich lavishing of garlic butter. Excellent fat sea scallops ($26) sit prettily on the shell, though without the coral, and are enhanced by being cooked over charcoal, with a garlic and sweet white Port sauce. Most of all I liked a glass jar of potted beef and bacon ($18), a layer of fat and beef trimmings, a hearty dish clearly derived from traditional British cookery; it’s rich and creamy and comes with a delightful onion gravy and Yorkshire pudding popovers (sad to say quite soggy).

In addition to those blackboard cuts (which range from $4 to $6 an ounce, so a 15-ounce steak will run about $75), there are nine steak cuts, with sauces extra, and six non-beef options. As noted, we ordered the corn-finished steaks, and they were first-rate in every respect, not least for the char on the exterior and the minerality of the dry-aging process.

The 14-ounce strip steak ($55) was excellent, as was the carved sirloin on the bone ($4 an ounce). The rump steak is not just the cheapest cut on the menu at $32 for 12 ounces, but for my money the most interesting, not because it has more flavor than the rest but because it has a fine chewiness and savoriness of its own you won’t find at other steakhouses. Every cut, overseen by executive chef Matt Bernero and delivered by executive grill chef Paddy Coker, was cooked with obvious care and a critical sense of timing.

Side dishes like “mash & gravy” ($10) and creamed spinach ($10) were par for the course—they were already out of the butterball potatoes—while the mac & cheese ($10) could have used some spicing up.

Among the desserts, by Carla Henriques, hers is not the only sticky toffee pudding ($14) in town, but it may well be the best, equally matched by a Grand Rocher ($18) of chocolate and hazelnut. For something less sweet, the Meyer lemon “bomb” ($12) with lemon-ripple ice cream will serve well.

The wine list is outstanding in every category, with a judicious selection under $100, and on Mondays “we encourage you to bring your own bottle of wine and we’ll cork it for only $10.”

There is, in fact, a generosity of spirit at Hawksmoor that begins with a very cordial greeting at the front, led by managers Melanie Greenblatt and Niamh Scott. The waitstaff, however, is hard put because they seemed to be short-handed, which is a problem in restaurants everywhere these days, and you’re likely to have to hail your waiter if you need something.

The London critics of Hawksmoor have owned up to the superiority of its beef to what is traditionally the case in Britain, where thinly sliced beef with pan juices is more usual and corn-fed beef a great rarity. That the founders knew they had to go even further with sourcing American beef for the New York restaurant they have set a self-imposed bar that may be self-limiting. For now, Hawksmoor is unique in New York on several counts and certainly one of the most beautiful new restaurants to open in the city in the past year.

HAWKSMOOR

109 East 22nd Street

212-777-1840

Open nightly for dinner



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