Shaky Pete’s Ginger Brew (x2): an old reliable, but utterly delicious. Like a turbo-charged shandy, with gin and ginger beer, and refreshing the parts that other cocktails cannot reach.
It is probably possible to visit one of the Hawksmoors, and content oneself simply with the bar, but it is not the usual practice; the restaurants pride themselves on their fine and comprehensive menus, full of steak and fine wine. But for one evening only, my chum James and I were indeed pausing in the vestibule and sipping on the finest spirit-laden libations, all of them courtesy of a new menu that had taken six months to put together. So the night was a night off the Malbecs and medium-rare meat, in favour of bar food and cocktails. How did we fare?
Le Crunch 75: a fierce but lovely number, boasting a calvados kick and ameliorated by some delicious champagne.
Sour Cherry Americano: a bit of a mixed bag this one; more likely to appeal to die-hard Americano fans than sour cherry aficionados.
We headed to the Covent Garden branch of Hawksmoor, because it had been an age since either of us had been there, and because it boasts a certain subterranean glamour, turning what may have been a dingy basement into a decent simulacrum of a Manhattan speakeasy. Inside the main room are dozens of well-fed, well-heeled guests (and all this on a Monday night), but the bar area is full and buzzy, as well. Tattooed barmen know their job, and execute their drinks with some chutzpah. And, oh, how we appreciate their chutzpah.
Apple martini: a spin on the sort of low-rent thing that you might find in an inferior high street bar. This is a delicious pairing of eaux de vie and Lillet Blanc – as they say, ‘clean, crisp and no fluorescent green stuff.’
Gin martini: whether you take this shaken or stirred, or simply with a twist, this is a delicious take on one of the great classics.
Obviously one comes here to drink, but the bar menu offers a copious smorgasbord of delights as well. (One can also order the full a la carte, as several people around us seemed to be doing, but we thought that it was better to stick to the actual options before us; of course, many are duplicated.) Yorkshire puddings with a kind of pate of beef and bacon were excellent, not least thanks to the onion gravy, and the belly ribs, always a highlight at Hawksmoor’s offshoot Foxlow, were fabulous. Oddly enough, the only thing that was in any way a let-down was the Hawksmoor burger; there was nothing wrong with it per se, but it didn’t have the ‘wow’ factor that most of the other menu items have. Perhaps the sheer preponderance of burgers in London has meant that the surprise factor is largely over.
Hawksmoor Calling: I wish I’d ordered this one and was jealous. A combination of gin, honey, sherry and champagne, it’s deliciously moreish and tastes deceptively light.
Nine Inch Nail: a very good pun for what is a fiery little combination of Scotch, amaro and rosehip. The perfect pick-me-up, short drink, but strong, and no mistake.
We just about manage desserts – a fine sticky toffee sundae, and a plate of Stilton for James, and then it’s time to head back into some sort of reality. What Hawksmoor does so well, and the new bar list is a shining exemplar of this, is to create something wonderful with flair, humour and aplomb. Coming here will never be a cheap experience, but the quality that you will enjoy will very much make up for any momentary dent to the wallet. And that is how hospitality, and dining, and drinking, should be.
Tom and Jerez no 2: has to be ordered for the pun, really, and this combination of gin, sherry and pear eau-de-vie is an intoxicating end to any night out.
Fuller Fat Old Fashioned: at last, I unequivocally won the cocktail round. The naughtier, plumper sister to Hawksmoor’s legendary Full Fat Old Fashioned has notes of tobacco and beurre noisette and tastes divine: the perfect conclusion to a memorable evening.
For more insight into Hawksmoor’s cocktails and their provenance, visit www.thehawksmoor.com.