Hawksmoor makes me feel like a slightly degenerate final-year student in the middle of freshers week.
There. That took only about 2 years to write.
To be clear, within its short history The Hawksmoor has quickly become a fiercely loved steak and cocktails institution among London foodies and many of my City pals. What's not to like? Their meat is from The Ginger Pig, a highly regarded London butcher. Their cocktails are wide ranging, expertly made, and some have cute anecdotes attached. The ambience is smart without tripping over into poncy. The staff are disarmingly friendly despite their uber hipster outfits. And Hawksmoor's management sets the standard, frankly, in engaging and charming and winning over its community -- partnering well networked London food bloggers such as Eat Like a Girl to host a very buzzy Blaggers' Banquet fundraising dinner last year, as well as the Majumdar brothers of Dos Hermanos to publicise their new Covent Garden branch. According The Hawksmoor's website, you can even set up your own steak club, with a whole set of amusingly worded rules. Very savvy PR and marketing.
So what's my beef, so to speak?
The first time I dined at Hawksmoor -- at their original Commercial Road site -- I witnessed two of my dining companions ordering a quite dearly priced porterhouse medium rare, only to have it arrive a heartbreaking shade of cooked-through brown-grey. I had no complaints about my ribeye (my favourite cut for a steak since I took Ginger Pig's butchery course) but the disappointment and irritation on my friends' faces was tougher to stomach than their overcooked hunk of meat.
And then, while Babs and I were on the road, another dear friend who knows her beef emailed me with a similar lament. A Hawksmoor medium rare porterhouse arrived well done! It obviously riled her enough to write to me about it (though perhaps she should have written to Hawksmoor instead).
So amid the increasingly massive and raucuous Hawksmoor love-in, my attention span quietly drifted on to other things.
Until word wound down the grapevine that Hawksmoor was offering a kimchi burger.
Korean food and its subsequent K-pop cusine infusions have been on the rise for the last 5 years or so. In Asia, interest in edible Korea was set ablaze after the airing of Jewel in the Palace, a Korean drama serial about a female cook and later physician serving in the Chosun imperial palace. Bon Chon and Momofuko in New York led the next big charge -- birthing cult followings behind offerings such as Korean-style fried chicken and steak and rice lettuce wraps, topped with kimchee puree. (I'm going to guess that the Hawksmoor team encountered at least some of this during their research trip to New York last year.) Our own small effort in this movement: My last couple of visits back to Singapore involved several verrrry entertaining experiments with soju and frozen yoghurt.
Fastforward to this September: My friends Kopibren & Si recreate Momofuko's steak and rice lettuce wraps topped with kimchee puree. Bloody gorgeous. It was one of those moments where everyone around the table swore: "Why the hell didn't we think to do this before?!" The heat from the chilli paste and raw pickling garlic in the cabbagey mix gives an amazing lift to the richness of the beef (also from The Ginger Pig). This in particular was what piqued my interest in The Hawksmoor's kimchi burger.
Fast forward some more, and there I am at last day of The Hawksmoor's Covent Garden soft launch (i.e., 50% discount on food and wine, with generous gifts of lobster side dishes and extra chips and sauces etc when some items on the menu were no longer available). The kimchi burger isn't on the menu, but by now it is the worst kept secret in London's gluttonous circles, so I'm just going to ask for it, and probably throw a little fit if they tell me something like "we serve it only at the bar".
But they don't, obviously. Hipsters are more anal about the diagonal of their plaid than where you care to eat what. Thankfully.
There is some perhaps mandatory banter, however -- our waiter faux gasps, smirks and asks, "How did you hear about our kimchi burger? It's quite a hush hush thing."
I like banter, so I play along, replying coyly that I just know such things (probably the last person in town, really). Which then encourages our waiter to keep going, telling us that others who have tried the kimchi burger swear that there must be heroin in it, it's so good. I believe him. I've heard the goss about diners going back many more times than they are comfortable admitting; eyes rolling back with pleasure at the first bite; getting the shakes (not the milk kind) in between visits.
So. Fix me up.
While waiting I inspect the filet steaks around the table (we'd ordered late so missed the macho bone-in cuts). The rares were a lovely shade of purple and the medium rares were a lovely pink. Good. The salads -- which I do need to mention because how often do you notice a salad in a steak joint -- were sweet and crisp, with a pleasant touch of heat from chopped spring onions. We did a taste test of the triple cooked chips vs the beef dripping chips. I prefer the crunch of the former; the drippings in the latter weren't distinguishable enough to make it really special.
And now. To the kimchi burger.
In short, enjoyable. Full flavoured, juicy and drippy and decadently messy (don't wear white when eating this) without being over-greasy. Handsomely sized without crossing over into gross-me-out Man vs Food proportions. I like the crisp and the tinge of sweetness of the toasted and sesame-ed brioche bun, the salty charred crust of the patty that holds together but gives way to the juicy pink ground beef blend within. The inclusion of marrow in the patty mix is a better demonstration of arbitrage than I've seen in all of Canary Wharf and the City in a while -- it boosts the savouriness of the patty so that it doesn't just taste pink, for so little cost. The best burger in London I've had thus far (though I'll let you know when I make it to Goodman).
And the kimchi? Add a nice crunch and structure to the bite. Adds a nice gentle heat, an intriguing deviation from the traditional sharpness of raw onion and the tang of pickles.
But that's the thing. There's just too much "nice" in that last paragraph. Too little of the eye-rolling escatsy so many others seemed to have experienced. I want more chilli paste. A punch of raw garlic. Maybe a few more days in the fermenting jar. More heat. More stink.
So as much as I want to feel that same freshers-like enthusiasm and euphoria I've heard about from so many quarters, what I really want to do is ditch the happy frenzy, slink into the kitchen, and inquire out the side of my mouth about where they keep the hard stuff. Or, could we maybe get together and brew some shit up. It wouldn't be to everyone's taste, but I'm just talking about a small reserve batch, for which I bet I could find at least a few other equally degenerate hardcore kimchi users. I said as much to co-owner Will Beckett, who seemed happy to engage, as always.
So we'll see -- now that The Hawksmoor has kimchi-ed up its beef -- whether they can be moved to beef up their kimchi.
The Hawksmoor (Covent Garden)
11 Langley St
WC2H 9JG, London, UK
+44 20 7856 2154