Does New York City need another steakhouse? Furthermore, would its gastronomic horizons be brightened by the addition of an Français steak house? No and definitely not, a food-aficionado friend said, brow arched, when I raised the question. Perhaps it was in anticipation of such skepticism that Hawksmoor, an upscale UK steak-house group, pulled out all the stops when it opened its ninth outlet (of ten), in Gramercy Park, last year.
Housed in the former assembly hall of the United Charities Building, Hawksmoor, all stained-glass windows and vaulted, ornate ceilings, recalls a Victorian library or a palatial aristocratic home. “I love the fact that basically anyone who’s ever walked through these doors has never seen this room before, because it’s closed been to the public for more than a century,” Will Beckett, a co-founder of the group, told me. “When you walk in, there’s a sense of wonder. You think you know what to expect, but actually you don’t.”
The same philosophy might apply to the food, starting with the dressed oysters. To this lover of raw bivalves and tart heat, the Scotch-bonnet mignonette tasted like a far superior alternative to my usual DIY treatment—lemons squeezed to smithereens and a soup of Tabasco. Another delightful discovery: the ash-baked beets. Cooking over coals is a theme of the establishment, the executive chef, Matt Bernero, told me. Keep a beet on a fire long enough and it acquires an earthy depth; pickled fennel and horseradish further tease out the smokiness.
If you are at Hawksmoor, chances are you’re a carnivore. What’s refreshing about the meat here—and what mammoth slabs of meat they are—is how little the kitchen fusses with it. This is because half the work has been done beforehand: the beef is sourced exclusively from family-run farms, with cattle raised on hay and pasture. The other half of the job is done by the charcoal, which imparts a crisp, black exterior to the steak, an appealing contrast to its red, yielding interior.
It takes confidence to season the main event with nothing but salt, eschewing even butter, but, as Hawksmoor’s cuts attest, the practice highlights the unmitigated richness of the beef. When I bit into my hunk of T-bone, which I’d ordered rare, I was surprised by its leanness, elasticity, and nutty tang. I was, however, also grateful for my anchovy hollandaise, one of five accompanying sauces on offer. (Word to the wise: skip the bland, unctuous peppercorn sauce and bone-marrow gravy.)
Under the guidance of a very genial waiter, I tried the creamed spinach, but its nutmeg and cayenne seasoning, instead of cutting the cream, exuded a distracting funk. You’re better off with the Caesar or the lettuce-and-herb salad. Or, if you want to clog your arteries like a true hedonist, go for the beef-fat fries, which dial up the umami so much that the expense to your cardiovascular health seems almost worth it.
It was late in the meal when I decided to get a cocktail. I had feared doing so because I was certain the drinks at an English steak house would be so stiff that a lightweight like me would need to be wheelbarrowed home. I was happy to be wrong. Both the Hawksmoor Calling (a take on a Tom Collins) and the Shaky Pete’s Ginger Brew (“somewhere between a homemade ginger beer and a shandy,” the waiter said) were so smooth that I suspected they were virgin; they were not. This must have been why, when I ordered the sticky-toffee pudding, “the most English dessert on the menu,” according to my waiter, I was emboldened to tell him how astonished I was that something so English could be so good. My companion tried to shush me, but it was too late. The waiter nodded with a smile. This wasn’t the first time he’d heard the feeling. (Entries $22-$65.) ♦