Pared-back opulence is what Hawksmoor restaurants have built up a name for – that, and for serving the best steaks in town – thanks to stripped-back Art Deco interiors and the very best beef served in a bare bones fashion. This uncomplicated approach to steak and a stiff drink is no different at the Seven Dials branch, you'll be pleased to hear, so loosen up your belt.
Unlike the brash, bright steakhouses in nearby Leicester Square, Hawksmoor’s presence is somewhat subdued, housed in a former brewery on a Covent Garden side street more famous as the home to Pineapple Dance Studios. Art Deco decor takes an earthy approach at Hawksmoor Seven Dials, and stylistic features from the 1920s such as gilt table lanterns, a back-mirrored bar and aquamarine colours meet with oak panels dividing the rooms, stylish parquet flooring and a long slab of polished wood for a table where bar visitors can perch. It makes the restaurant a relaxed place to eat but with an element of ceremony and excitement added to the occasion. And the old school, grand hall scale of the basement venue only adds to this sentiment.
The Hawksmoor brand is now renowned for its 21st century approach to service. Staff are so approachable you'll feel like pals by the end of the evening, and their jeans and scruffy tees are all a part of the visual concept of laid-back modern dining. They have no qualms with redirecting you on menu choices should they think you've missed a trick. Music reiterates the whole concept - expect none of that gramophone warbling or scratchy 1920s vinyl as in other Art Deco establishments. Instead it's music from indie bands as beardy as the service staff - Kings of Leon and the like. Diners are a real spread, from more mature couples and pre-theatre guests to work outings and celebrations, with the inevitable tourists who've heard a thing or two about the triple cooked chips.
Oh, the food! Chances are if you're coming to Hawksmoor you've had a tip-off too good to ignore. The idea is simple - the best British beef is treated with absolute care and takes centre stage on the menu. You'd be mad to overlook steak and chips for main course. Sirloin on the bone (£28) is practically the size of a human head and has been seasoned with such sleight of hand that it tastes rich and peppery but without ever disguising the supreme flavour of such well sourced beef. Cooked over charcoal, there’s a barbecue intensity, also found in the fillet steak (£34), which is a fat, juicy cut of meat so tender it melts in the mouth. Those triple cooked chips on the side are essential ordering – crunchy and crisp on the outside but fluffy and piping hot inside. Sauces are an excellent addition for £3 – a peppercorn sauce is ideal, but don’t shy away from more unusual accompaniments like anchovy hollandaise or the acquired taste of bone marrow gravy.
Starters aren’t quite as exceptional as those steaks, but they’re pretty damn good and are relatively light – mostly seafood options – allowing diners to save room for the star attraction. Potted smoked mackerel (£7.50) comes with a stack of toast and pickled cucumber and is creamy, smoky and spreads very nicely indeed, a cross between rillettes and pate in texture. Half native lobster with garlic butter (£17.50) is an appropriately decadent menu selection and little chunks of lobster meat are succulent and sweet. But you’re best advised to save room for dessert if you’re on a two-course limit. A chocolate salted caramel tart with popcorn ice cream (£7.50) is one of the best desserts you’ll find in the area. The pastry case is firm and buttery, a layer of sticky caramel sits on top and is cemented in place by a healthy (or not so) slathering of a dark chocolate ganache – it’s to die for. Not to mention the creamy, toffee-flavoured ice cream on the side, laced with popcorn for good measure. If you run out of room at the final hurdle, though, salted caramel rolos (£4) are the key – they’re like bite-sized versions of that heavenly tart.
You’re best off selecting a full-bodied red to match those full-flavoured steaks. Hawksmoor is hardly short on options in this department, with hundreds of wines listed, but they have a canny team of staff who are armed with recommendations for those less versed in fine wines. And if in doubt, you can select from a short list of options dubbed ‘Hawksmoor favourites’, all affordable French and Italian drops served by the bottle. If beer and beef is more to your taste, London-based Kernel and Meantime breweries supply to the restaurant.
But be aware that the bar staff at Hawksmoor are experts in their field, cherry-picked from the best London bars in town for their cocktail shaking skills. Drinks are divided up on the menu according to the scenario – if you fancy a refreshing pre-dinner drink, try a ‘pre-prandial’ cocktail such as The Dandy (£11), with Cognac, Maraschino and a Champagne top, dressed with a pretty sprig of berries. Or to get the party started, there are ‘disco drinks’ – mostly rum-based concoctions that will blow your head off. As the menu states, ‘you’ve been warned.’
The Last Word
In an area steeped in overpriced eateries, spend wisely and head to Hawksmoor. Thanks to a very modern take on dining, you can enjoy the finer things in life without any of the usual associated stuffiness. And that’s not even mentioning that the steaks are some of the best in the capital, as are the desserts. You can believe the Hawksmoor hype.