Some restaurateurs spend weeks doing everything they can to get things right before formally opening to the public. Heston Blumenthal, for example, served many meals to “friends and family” ahead of the first lunch at his new London venue on Jan. 31.
Others aim to sort out shortcomings in the first few days or more, addressing issues as they arise. Anything that goes wrong is a “teething problem,” meaning the restaurant is too new to criticize yet established enough to charge full price.
When Hawksmoor Seven Dials opened before Christmas, it set a standard other London restaurants would do well to follow: friendly and efficient service, attention to detail, great cocktails and memorable dishes were there from day one, plus the fabulous steaks that are Hawksmoor’s trademark.
(This new establishment is an offshoot of the original location in Spitalfields, where the service sometimes fell far short of the food in the early days. My way of coping was to order one of the sharing cocktails served in a receptacle the size of a bucket: If you’re not going to see the waitress again for quite some time, you might as well enjoy yourself.)
The new basement restaurant -- housed in a former brewery -- retains original features such as a vaulted brick ceiling and Victorian cast-iron columns. The parquet flooring was salvaged from Christie’s auction rooms and there are tiles from the London Underground. The feel is of a slightly rundown private club, and the lighting is subtle, rather than annoyingly dim.
The space is divided into a bar, which can accommodate 50, and a spacious dining room for 142. It can get noisy.
The food is everything a carnivore might hope for. My favorite dishes come from the bar menu: the unlikely hit of the kimchi burger -- Korean pickled cabbage atop a cheeseburger -- and the warm lobster roll. The burgers come with heart-stopping triple-cooked or beef-dripping fries and an English lettuce-and-herb salad and cost 15 pounds. (Order a burger and a fruity cocktail and you’re halfway there on your five veggies a day.)
The lobster roll is based on a dish at Red’s Eats in Wiscasset, Maine. The whole grilled lobster is packed into a soft toasted bun and doused in garlic and hazelnut butter. If that’s not enough pleasure overload for you, there’s a pot of bearnaise on the side into which you can dip your fries.
I’m sure the vegetables are fine. Personally, I stick with fries and macaroni-and-cheese for sides, and maybe two fried eggs.
I should mention the main feature, the steaks -- all British. The favorite cuts -- bone-in prime rib, porterhouse and chateaubriand -- are large. Options are posted on a blackboard and the general standard of flavor is of a level you are unlikely to achieve without that winning combination of great-quality meat cooked on a Josper grill. I have about as much understanding of the Josper as of the offside rule, but I do know that if there is one in the kitchen, my expectations are high. (The latest adherent is Blumenthal himself at Dinner.)
Desserts are well made and unashamedly retro, with options including sticky-toffee pudding and apple-and-quince crumble with cinnamon ice cream (both at 6 pounds or $9.64). The mini-sundaes are cornflake, sticky toffee or chocolate. A selection of Neal’s Yard cheeses is priced at 9 pounds.
The cocktails, including a deeply spicy bloody mary, are great. If you are planning a night to remember that you don’t mind forgetting, the Zombie (16 pounds) is a jumbo mix of rum and absinthe that is so lethal, you’re only allowed one.
I tried one, and I can’t recall how good it was.
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? Easy to spend 100 pounds or escape for less than 50.
Sound level? LOUD: 80-85 decibels and rising.
Inside tip? The best tables are 13, 14 and 61.
Special feature? Private room with sliding screen.
Will I be back? Yes.
Date place? Yes.
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. (No stars) Poor.
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 65-70: Office noise. 70-75: Starbucks. 75-80: London street. 80-85: Alarm clock at closest range. 85-90: Passing bus. 85-95: Tube train.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)