In many respects, I am a low-net-worth individual. I am also confident that my understanding of high finance is the lowest of anyone who has ever written for this August publication. Therefore, when I surface from the car park into the center of Canada Square, my first thought is not of the magnificence that man and money have wrought, but of the exterior scenes in the 1993 Sylvester Stallone vehicle Demolition Man – great locations, bloody awful movie. The area seems in a constant state of development, the latest of which is a “floating pavilion” housing a Hawksmoor restaurant.
From the outside, it’s impressive. A louvred cube that, if it ever gets nicknamed in the same way as the Shard or the Gherkin, will probably get called “the Dehumidifier”. On the inside, it’s been done with Hawksmoor’s trademark Gentleman’s Club chic. This may be the first time they’ve tried this in a light, airy building with plenty of windows and, if I was being hypercritical, I’d say it works marginally better in a lugubrious, subterranean setting.
It’s counterintuitive to go to a meat temple like Hawksmoor and start with a salad, but I was drawn by their pluck in centering it around kohlrabi, Orphan of the Veg Box. Micro-thin slices of everyone’s least favorite liquorice-flavored radish, combined with slivers of celery heart, Spenwood, a hard sheep’s cheese, and a dressing, douce to mollify. Purifying, not punitive.
Devon crab on toast was a construction of elaborate cunning that looked like a big old dome of fresh-picked claw meat on a slab of sourdough, but tasted about 14 times better than it deserved to. Blunt dissection with the butter knife revealed a thick layer of mayonnaise under the white meat and a substantial smearing of the brown meat on to the bread and under the mayo. Sometimes you can not help but smile at a dish because it tells you something, in this case that whoever dreamed up this treasure had an unwavering and borderline indecent lust for crab.
Some people might look at “Old Spot belly ribs” in the starter section and think them a little too much. These people would be wrong. It might be difficult to imagine that pork ribs could be dainty, but that they are. The meat is taken off the bone in chunky slices, which are crisped on the outside in their own abundant fat. The insides stay juicy, creamy and. . . you know that thing on a pork chop, where the meat ends and the fat begins but you can not tell exactly where? Yeah. That. There’s an Asian-inflected red cabbage slaw, served warm, to fend off guilt or scurvy, which was lick-the-plate delicious and I bet there aren’t many Hawksmoor-goers who ever thought they’d say that about a salad.
I want to digress for a moment to talk about sauces. Hawksmoor used to do a horseradish hollandaise that was merely breathtaking. Now they do a Stichelton hollandaise that reduces grown men to gibbering. But imagine my unalloyed joy at seeing anchovy hollandaise on the menu. The waiter actually congratulated me. “Not many people get that one,” he said, a brief look of sadness clouding his eyes. It was just a split-second, but between us passed the silent understanding that humanity is ultimately doomed by its failure to comprehend the true and glorious benison of the anchovy. Oh, unhappy world! This stuff is the Wonder of the Age. I once saw a fatter man than me complete a marathon in a muck-sweat and a toweling nappy – which I would have cheerfully eaten, given a bowl of anchovy hollandaise.
I’m still thinking about the spinaches. There was one bowl of it, cooked to the “velvet yet still just recognizably leafy” stage, dressed in olive oil, garlic and lemon, which was a far better thing than creamed spinach. Or at least I thought it was until I tried bowl number two – cooked until all structural integrity surrendered to the rich cream and nutmeg fragrance. The jury remains out on that one.
You’ve noticed that I have not mentioned the meat. You might have been to a Hawksmoor before, and it’s certainly not fresh news that they are masters of meat. I’d be mansplaining if I told you again. What delighted me about this latest incarnation, though, was the quality of everything else. Creative ideas, flawless execution, terrific delivery.
That, I hope, is inside information on which you can act.
1 Water Street, London E14 5GX; thehawksmoor.com; 020 3988 0510
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