How many restaurants make a chain? If the number is four, then Hawksmoor, the superb chop-house named for the Baroque architect Nicholas Hawskmoor, has collapsed on a pile of cheques, the dirty girl, and is now officially a chain, embracing the inevitable suck of cash. It has added to its venues at Guildhall, Spitalfields and Seven Dials a vast restaurant on the oddly named Air Street, right on the great curve of Regent Street, in what used to be an Asian fusion tapas bar. (In restaurant terms, this makes it haunted by shrimp and loss.) It is as large as a bingo hall in Streatham, or an ice rink; it echoes, whistles, knocks.
It is a handsome place; the other Hawksmoors are spit-and-sawdust, Wild West-ish cow haunts, so a jump to pretty would be madness. You do not come to Hawksmoor for table linen, or silverware, or women in hats plucked from Fortnum & Mason into puddles of cow blood, while they shriek; you come for meat and too much red wine and offers of sex from South American waiters. It is up a monster staircase, and through an empty bar, past eerie windows like eyes, to a room the shape of a boomerang, with a parquet floor, and stiff green leather booths as fresh as new satchels, and too much scarred dark wood. For some reason I think of John Huston strangling lions for fun, or perhaps a giant’s backgammon board, because this is a bloke’s restaurant with a bloke’s loves, and needs, and unspoken woes.
It waves its expertise at steak. All the cuts, so carefully sourced, remain (fillet, T-bone, chateaubriand, D-rump, rib-eye, porterhouse and the rest) but this Hawksmoor also specialises in fish; that is its pitch, assisted by Mitch Tonks of the Seahorse in Dartmouth, the Observer Food Monthly’s restaurant of the year, and a long blurb on the menu tells us exactly where they buy the fish, and at what time of day, and how cold it was outside when they did, and so on and so forth.