For their new spot to be poorly received, the Hawksmoor guys would have to do something drastically different to what they’re doing at their other incredibly popular steakhouses. And while they’re mixing things up a little by giving seafood equal prominence to cow, it proves to be anything but a concession.
Previously Senkai, and before that Cocoon, this somewhat claustrophobic stretch of a venue curling around Regent Street hasn’t been blessed with good fortune. Hawksmoor will undoubtedly change all that though, with the designers breaking up what's been a troublingly long room with enough booths, nooks and crannies to make everything feel actually pretty private. A ground floor entrance leads up to a relaxed little bar, where doors swing open to an atmospheric, dark and downright gorgeous dining room that goes on - and on - past half-moon, stained glass windows and a décor decked out in the chain’s signature Art Deco look.
Those booths, the judiciously aligned tables and the low ceiling make things feel surprisingly intimate, with conversations kept private bar those from the odd braggart letting the testosterone take over. Staff are cherry-picked from the capital’s best spots, and as seems to be the Hawsmoor ethos, service is very American in standard but pretty Shoreditch (where the first venue opened) in style, so essentially you find yourself incredibly well looked after by some very cool young things without a supercilious sneer amongst them. It engenders, without exaggeration, probably the best atmosphere in town. Staff really know their stuff, too, with a knowledge of the menu that survives even the most pedantic prodding.
If you know anything about Hawksmoor then you’ll no doubt be aware the steaks are second to none, cut from (predominantly) Longhorn cattle and cooked over a flaming charcoal grill. Air Street is the first of the Hawksmoors to give seafood equal billing, teaming up with Mitch Tonks of The Seahorse in Dartmouth to bring some seriously, seriously good fish to town. It’s certainly not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but just as they get the best beef, they get the very best fish too.
Turbot, for example, might come in at £12 per 100g (with a typical cut served at around 300g – which is pretty big) but it’s bloody good. Served as a ‘Hawksmoor cut’ (from around the shoulder) and served on the bone, it’s lightly breadcrumbed so it can handle the heat from the charcoal grill and served as a huge slab that barely fits on the plate. There’s plenty of smokiness from the cooking, something that really does suit the firm, meaty flesh of one of the sea’s best pulls. The monkfish (£36 for a main or £18 for a starter/smaller serving) is huge too, cooked in the same way and served on its central bone. The equally robust flesh benefits from the char in much the same way as the turbot, giving that delicate fish flavour the kind of nod to the Neanderthal that makes Hawksmoor so darn appealing in the first place.
Other seafood options include Dartmouth lobster (steamed to order at £5 per 100g); royal bream (baked in paper with garlic, rosemary and chilli - £20); and a roasted shoulder of that very fine turbot (£35). There are, of course, all those steaks too, should you wish to keep things a little more carnivorous. And while you can spend more than a pretty penny here there are plenty of ways around doing so. An express menu available at lunch and early evening offers two courses for £22 and three for £25, which really is remarkable value for the kind of food you’re getting. And the salted caramel Rolos which have already entered foodie folklore are only just over a pound a pop… but you can pop a fair few without much trouble, so be careful.
Whereas the other three Hawksmoors obviously paid more attention to what turned out to be a brilliant selection of reds, the food here dictates that the whites have to be just as important. And they’ve done a sterling job on that front too, with the list kicking off with a perfectly passable ‘Le Coste’ Trebbiano at £19, going via a very good value Gavi di Gavi from Tacchino at £30 (one of the definite picks), and a cracking Domaine Girault Sancerre at £35 (perfect for that turbot) up to reserves and ‘fines’ that peak at £650. It’s a very accessible list, with plenty of inexpensive options that offer genuine value. Cocktails are, once again, impressive, even if the now legendary Shaky Pete’s Ginger Brew (£9.50) isn’t quite as precise as those knocked up at Seven Dials, but if you just fancy a beer then there are some good options from Meantime and Kernel.
The Last Word
For those that thought diversification might be to Hawksmoor's detriment, Air Street offers a resounding response. This, simply, is a brilliant restaurant.