Sunday lunch at Hawksmoor

Sunday lunch at Hawksmoor

Stylebible goes to Manchester
Elliot Wilson

The Hawksmoor in Manchester is proof positive that simplicity, in life, love and catering, is both desirable and deceptive.

Desirable, because simple things are usually best. Good holidays, love affairs, books, nights out. The people in them may be complex, but the narrative of each is often elementary. Events unfold around you with ease and clarity, allowing you to relax and – to borrow a very modern phrase, allows you to live in the moment. And deceptive, because simple things decieve. Roger Federer makes tennis look easy, when the game is anything but.

So when you see a restaurant getting everything just right and making the process of serving up good food and drink look effortless, you know you’ve found somewhere special. 

The Hawksmoor in Manchester is one of those places. It isn’t flashy – there’s nothing remotely modernistic about the main bar or the two open-plan dining rooms, one slightly larger than the other.

What they are is solid and comforting, the dark wood and rich, old-red leather sofas counterbalanced by the gentle internal lights and, on a nice day, sunbeams streaming in from the skylights. There are just enough tables to offer both privacy and intimacy. And the clientele is, during our visit, spot-on. A healthy mix of families, young couples, older couples, a few big groups, no one shouting or glaring at their mobile phones. The Hawksmoor is a place that encourages bonhomie and chitchat.

We arrived a little head-weary after a long and spirit-soaked Saturday night, and facing a long-ish flight to our destination later that day. We were ushered us to a cosy little table at the rear of the restaurant, granting a long view down the centre of the building – which, unsurprisingly, with its thick leaded windows and high ceilings, used to be a five-star hotel – and out onto Deansgate outside.

Barney, who arrived with in a few minutes to take our drinks and food orders, was a concise dictionary. More a maître d’ than a waiter, he was a compendium of knowledge, strip-mining and leveraging our smallest grunt or facial tic to discern what we might or might not like.

And he was right every time. My dining partner had a pea gin spritz – not as bad as you might think – while I had a ‘very spicy’ Virgin Mary. (Barney’s radar even worked when my partner asked if the Tabasco had indeed, met my expectations. When he spotted my shake of the head – it has to be viciously fiery to blow my socks off, he promised to ‘have a word with the drinks waiter’.)

But to the food – the main reason we were here, reasonably hungover and looking for a proper Sunday lunch. Both of us decided to bypass the traditional roast – by all accounts, they do a top-notch beef-with-all-the-trimmings.

I went with the Brixham crab salad with brown shrimp – a mouth-watering combination, while my partner opted for the Burrata with asparagus, peas and wild garlic. Both dishes were light and super-fresh.

Then to the mains. My dining partner chose well, at least in terms of the food quality. Hake with romesco with a side order of macaroni cheese would have satisfied her every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Her problem was not her choice of dish but mine. I, you see, by plumping for the rib-eye steak with bone marrow gravy, had given her order envy.

And for good reason. My main was simply the best steak I have ever eaten: cooked to perfection (just the rare side of medium-rare), the meat perfectly marbled. If you choose this option – and you should at least consider it – throw in a side order of bone marrow. It might be fatty, but it’s what we ate when we lived in trees. Your joints, brain and bones will thank you for it. 

But all of that order envy disappeared with the arrival of the pudding menu. (And how nice to see the sweet trolley, now we were north of the Watford Gap, given its proper name. It’s ‘pudding’, not ‘dessert’, which is a horrible word). I had the trio of Neal’s Yard cheeses and a very nice small-batch coffee, while my partner ordered the ‘Ambassador’s Reception’, a lavish West End-musical of a pudding, a thick chocolate base containing a chocolate-and-hazelnut filling – a fabulously brazen tribute to the glories of Ferrero Rocher.

Before long, we were off, bellies full, heads tingling, bones properly marrowed. We will be back, and next time I’m going to shake off my own, lingering feeling of food envy, and go for the kimchi burger. Simple.