Poor Hawksmoor. So obviously the genius of English Baroque, and yet he always comes last in the histories, behind flashy Vanbrugh (duh) and dull Wren (meh). It was probably a class thing — what isn’t? — because Hawksmoor was from Nottingham, and a clerk. So it feels good to walk into a chophouse bearing his name. It isn’t much, but it’s something.
Hawksmoor Guildhall is the third of three restaurants from Will Beckett and Huw Gott. The first is in the shadow of the Christ Church, Spitalfields, and the second is in Seven Dials, Covent Garden. Perhaps a chain beckons — Beefeater, but more joyful, with fewer hostages, I mean day-trippers. Anyway, Hawksmoor is famous for meat. Giles Coren cried here, but he cries everywhere.
Along a medieval street, now glassy, and into a basement. It used to be a strip club but I can find no details of that heartbreak, except that Russians were involved, because hating Russians is the new racism, and so visceral that the haters sound like communists. And, like the brothel boulevard in Amsterdam which sports a butcher’s shop, it feels grotesque, but right. Both deal in flesh but the strippers have been rubbed out, replaced with other animals with slightly fewer employment rights.
The room is long and low and smelted with wood, so you feel in the belly of a ship bound for cardiac arrest; there are no windows or mirrors and it feels, of course, more purposeful than a West End joint — more mooing, less twittering. There are no chi-chi touches: no silver salt cellars, or fey waiters, or girls wearing shoes for cars, that is, shoes that do not work, so are best for sitting in cars. The waiters are handsome and blokeish and wearing their own clothes, which sort of works. Psychopaths tear flesh, drink wine, or blood.
Hawksmoor has a breakfast menu so edible I must type it: bacon chops, kippers, black pudding, veal kidneys, bubble and squeak. Perhaps it is the typescript of the yellowing menu, or the etymology, but this place feels entirely 18th-century, minus typhoid, and I love it. Why? Maybe it is because it is what people ate when they were ‘doing’ the Enlightenment. Or maybe I am a pig. Hawksmoor too loves this imagined past and polishes it, littering its publicity material with the history of food, which is much better than having Piers Morgan, who I wouldn’t eat dead or alive, on your leaflets (see Hotel Du Vin). It even has a poem:
No more shall Fame expand her wings
To sound of heroes, states and kings
A nobler flight the Goddess takes
To praise our British Beef in steaks.
Breakfast ends at 10 a.m. and is, therefore, a hopeless quest; we mourn the meal that could never be. So, lunch. Cow is the superstar here — as is fashionable elsewhere, the waiter will tell you which part of the cow your steak came from, so you feel a bit like a serial killer that has it in for cows. If you prefer pictures, he will even provide a diagram that looks like a cow jigsaw, which is revolting but fascinating: ‘I want the piece near its bum.’ Or you can have a lobster.
My companion chooses bacon chops; the meat is so pink and soft I fancy he is eating Barbie. The waiter says it came from a Plum Pudding Pig that weighed a ton; my companion adores this. ‘Not even the Empress of Blandings weighed a ton,’ he says, happily, because men like large things, and he likes large things from Wodehouse. My steak — from a Longhorn reared in North Yorkshire — withers slightly behind such ravishing pig, but not much. Everything — mussels, sundaes, potatoes, sprouts — is wonderful. Poor Hawksmoor. Builder of modernist cathedrals, remembered for a steak.
Hawksmoor Guildhall, 10-12 Basinghall St, London EC2V 5BQ, tel: 020 7397 8120.