Hawksmoor landed in Dublin some months ago with an almost imperceptible thud that a certain cohort of diners doubtless felt as a portentous twinge in the gut and wallet. A disturbance in the food force, a stitch in time. Think of the spell that the tolling of the Angelus bell casts upon the televisually pious, but imagine instead that those pausing meaningfully are worshippers at the temple of Mammon. Rather than a weathered fisherman momentarily not knotting his nets or a farmer interrupting his farming to hold the rheumy gaze of his old terrier, picture a senior Deloitte guy involuntarily standing bolt upright during a Zoom call, his two thumbs catching at his braces. In Rathgar, meanwhile, a woman who once sat two tables over from Katie Holmes in Pastis is frozen on her yoga mat mid-Gomukhasana. Not only has Hawksmoor arrived, but Dublin has too.
For the elites of the food-media-industrial-complex, though, the event had been well flagged by an impeccably orchestrated PR campaign. We’d been observing the near-earth approach for some time. I actually attended a ‘hard-hat tour’ of the site some months before opening. The crushing disappointment of not getting to actually wear a hard hat was softened by a later preview of the cocktail programme where we got to chew the fat with co-founder Will Beckett amongst others. He’s a very genial man at the helm of what is now a very serious business indeed.
Since opening their first restaurant on London’s Commercial Street in 2006 the Hawksmoor portfolio now encompasses almost a dozen (I don’t know if Chi-Town is open yet) outposts. There are seven in London alone and the New York opening preceded our own. I suppose we’re beginning to see the outlines of a successful formula here. The people who compile those Best Steakhouses in the World lists certainly agree, although I believe they’ve slipped to second place in the latest reckoning. I won’t be heading to Buenos Aires to dispute their findings. That formula is a relatively simple one – repurpose and revivify notable (often stunning) spaces, source the best independent beef producers locally and grill those cuts over charcoal for people with appetites and money. Piece of cake. The Dublin location might be one of the most breathtaking of them all, occupying the former National Irish Bank building on College Green. That’s the bank founded by Daniel O’Connell, The Catholic Emancipator.
Justice has been done to the space – the fit-out is nothing short of spectacular. It’s clubby without being too masculine, there are accents of rich petrol blue throughout, on the velvet of the banquettes and the leather of the barstools. All of this is capped off by the dramatic domed ceiling supported by corinthian columns. Dublin dining has not had a space so special since the halcyon days of La Stampa in the ‘90s. If you have a problem with an historically important space housing a restaurant (and a British one at that) you must admit at the least that it’s an improvement upon the previous tenant – an outpost of loathsome apparel brand Abercrombie & Fitch. I only have to look into my heart to know that The Liberator himself would approve of Hawksmoor. He would certainly recognise much of the food.
High-end steakhouses do present a more catholic proposition than hifalutin fine dining establishments. For many they are easier to navigate. You can dispose of money with great ease without being simultaneously intimidated. There’s no need to fear the faux-pas of using the wrong snail calliper. Sometimes you want to inhale dashi steam from a conch shell while a waiter blows jimmy-joes table side. Sometimes you just want a bloody steak. That’s not to say that dinner at Hawksmoor is not an event, it very much is but you’re not going there for the thrill of the new. Places like this are about execution rather than innovation. Hawkmoor executes at the very highest level and that of course comes at a price. The large format cuts like Prime Rib and Chateaubriand are sold by weight so go in with your eyes open. Good meat doesn’t come cheap.
Is it possible then for regular folks to do Hawksmoor on some kind of budget? I think so and there are a couple of options. You could go the Sunday Roast route when a very reasonable €23 buys you roast beef (rump) with all the trimmings. You could belly up to the ineffably elegant bar out front and pair some peerless native oysters with a couple of unreasonably cold and stiff martinis. That’s a fun time. Or you could do as I did and book yourself in for dinner on a Monday when you can bring your own wine and have them open it for a mere fiver! Better still – if you bring a bottle from The Corkscrew wine merchants (in their swanky new digs by The Westbury) there is no corkage fee at all. I did just that and walked out with a bottle of brawny, silky Rioja Reserva from Bodegas Cornelio (€44.95). (Cheers Paul, it drank beautifully.) If you ordered this from a list you could expect to pay north of €150. Bring whatever you like. You could bring the bottle of Blossom Hill that lives under the stairs and have a swell time.
The drama of the room with the theatre of service in full flight is really quite something. You’ll find yourself peering over the rim of that bracing dirty martini for a few minutes before you can bring yourself to read the menu. The honeyed light is as flattering as in any of Keith McNally’s places in Manhattan. Wear something nice. While you wait for the wine to open up you might enjoy one of the best Steak Tartare preparations in town. The roughly chopped rump tastes boldly of itself – that’s followed with the acid tang of capers and a sting of tabasco. Heap it onto a piece of shatteringly crisp sourdough toast and feel pleased with yourself. You’d be equally pleased with the gossamer thin slices of Fillet Carpaccio which come with tartly pickled mushrooms. A Caesar Salad is always a good move in a steakhouse and the version here features good, fat Cantabrian Anchovies and fluffy drifts of Kylemore Cheese rather than parmesan. We split a well proportioned, flavourful Ribeye (€42) and padded out the order with double carbs – excellent Beef-Dripping Fries and mashed potatoes slicked with top-drawer Bone Marrow Gravy. Some Creamed Spinach hit the table too.
The signature dessert here is the Peanut Butter Louie and you need to have it. It’s kind of like a Snickers bar that’s been sent to finishing school. I finished with a glass of Sauternes. There are minor nits to pick – the Béarnaise was far too sharp and the Creamed Spinach needs a less enthusiastic hand with the nutmeg. These are minor quibbles. Service is affable, well drilled and plentiful. Wine service is notably engaging. For most Hawksmoor will be a special occasion destination but a bill of around €115 for two (sans wine and tip) doesn’t seem particularly punitive these days. This is a finely tuned hospitality machine that’s been calibrated just right for an Irish audience and you really don’t need to break the bank to experience it.
34 College Green