The Hawksmoor group has been one of London’s (and, more recently, Manchester’s) most stirring success stories. I’ve written about them beforehand, but essentially their offering of top-notch steaks, fantastic wine and cocktails, really interesting side dishes and general bonhomie has won them many fans. Yet their diffusion offshoot, Foxlow, has struggled to make an impact in the same way. After closing their Stoke Newington outpost, the whiff of, if not quite failure, but lesser success has clung to the group. Can Soho make the difference?
On a recent visit, the answer is, happily, ‘almost certainly’. The excellent minds behind the operation seem to have grasped what visitors to Foxlow, as opposed to Hawksmoor, want, and have delivered it in spades. A visit a couple of years ago to the Balham outpost of the restaurant essentially replicated the Hawksmoor model entirely, but here, the prices are lower, the atmosphere – all leather banquettes and stools – is far more casual and there’s even a £5 happy hour, something that you can’t imagine the rather grander nearby Air Street outpost of Hawksmoor boasting.
But what’s the food and drink like, you ask, excitedly? Thankfully, pretty damn good. Kicking off with a Shaky Pete’s Ginger Brew – which, I must be honest, is not quite the equal of the other restaurants, being too foam-heavy – the menu offers a selection of very fine small plates to start, including squid kara age of sorts, excellent pancetta and pork meatballs and a moreish carrot hummus that can be gobbled up in seconds. Washed down with a carafe of decent Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc, it’s satisfying without having the almost exhausting quality of a Hawksmoor feast; a feeling carried onto the mains.
Of course, we have steak (ribeye and sirloin shared; the ribeye is slightly better if you’re interested), and of course, all the trimmings are excellent. Yet the best things that we eat are a series of oyster mushrooms in Madeira sauce and soy-drenched Cavolo Nero. Both are delectable, and cost about £4 each. You must have them.
Puddings are on a short list and so depend on your inclination; sticky toffee pudding comes with a clotted cream so rich and thick that it ought to be at Harrow, and malt pannacotta that does all the things that excellent dish should, and well. None of this is at prices that will trouble anyone other than those who believe a meal that costs more than £5 a head is extravagant; two could happily dine here for little more than £30 each, including wine, if you stuck to the slightly cheaper cuts of meat. In central London, that represents a considerable bargain.
At last, then, Foxlow has its own identity. Only the most blithely optimistic would head here expecting Hawksmoor mk 2, but in many respects, this casual, laid-back venue, which will get you in and out swiftly, is what a lot of time-pressed Londoners want now. And, for that, let’s be profoundly grateful.
Foxlow Soho, 8-10 Lower James Street, London W1. For more information, including details of news, menus and other venues, visit www.foxlow.co.uk.