When Will Beckett and Huw Gott signed the lease on their first Hawksmoor site in Spitalfields, they were facing bankruptcy. They didn’t even have a hot-food licence in place. Things were not looking good.
16 years later, and they’re undoubtedly one of London’s best steak restaurants, have a consistent annual turnover of almost £40m, and after opening seven Hawksmoor restaurants across the capital, have even cut the rope on a New York outpost. So you’d be forgiven for thinking the pair had simply always been destined for restaurant greatness, like a couple of beefy Hercules.
The dynamic duo were familiar with the industry, sure – Gott’s parents run a café and Beckett’s the son of Guardian wine critic Fiona Beckett. But to begin with, the pair practically did everything they could to avoid the business, having been counselled by the older and wiser in the family that they should go for ‘real jobs’ instead. And so the childhood friends spent their early 20s respectively teaching English and making cold calls, before, at the age of 26, Gott invited Beckett to open a tiny bar with him in Shoreditch. He accepted, seeing as he had “nothing else to do”. And the rest…
…wasn’t quite history. From there, they opened a couple of other places (a Mexican joint called Green & Red, The Marquess Tavern pub) that were popular, but didn’t set the world on fire. They signed on their next site – an old kebab shop in Spitalfields – before confirming funding, but the lack of profit on their other spots was enough for the banks to refuse a loan. Persuading Gott’s parents to remortgage their house and café, they had just about enough to save their skins – but with business skills they describe as “quite average”, it was a close brush with bankruptcy.
Luckily, this site – one for which they’d scraped a deposit together, shut down their other spots and raided eBay for furniture – was set to be the very first Hawksmoor.
They weren’t interested in creating something excessively innovative, they say, instead choosing to take something that’s pretty much universally liked – steak and chips – and then doing it really, really well. They meticulously tested cattle breeds from around the world before settling on rare-breed longhorn sourced from English butchers Ginger Pig; one of several suppliers they’ve been working with directly for the past decade. The result: top shelf dining without the pomp and circumstance – but somewhere that, somehow, is also a great place for a special occasion. And that’s because – despite opening seven sites in London alone – they’re committed to making each restaurant special, personable and unique. It’s one of those charming success stories in the vein of Dishoom, where a relative lack of restaurant industry nous has been buoyed by frankly, just being nice to people and doing your best. Because also like Dishoom, they’ve been voted as one of the top companies to work for in the UK, and raise considerable amounts for charity every year.
Time to pull up a chair…
Hawksmoor’s very first site recently underwent a huge refurb (to upgrade from all that eBay), and now bears the same glossy sheen as its siblings. The decor retains that classic East London aesthetic (exposed brick, moody lighting, distressed furniture) with a Hawksmoor twist (parquet flooring, old maps on the walls, and art deco stained glass windows)…
Details: 157 Commercial Street, E1 6BJ
Like a kind of Ancient Roman temple to beef, Hawksmoor’s Covent Garden spot is a sprawling lair filled with imposing columns left over from its previous life as a brewery. Its proximity to Theatreland means there’s also an excellent value express menu for lunch and early dinner…
Details: 11 Langley Street, WC2H 9JG
Sporting beautiful, wood-panelled, gentlemen’s club-style interiors, Hawksmoor Guildhall is the perfect spot for entertaining with Manhattans to share and a beef-focused tasting menu served in the 22-seater private dining room…
Details: 10-12 Basinghall Street, EC2V 5BQ
Dripping in 30s glamour, the fourth restaurant in the Hawksmoor empire overlooks Regent Street with majestic, arched windows, emerald leather booths and intimate lighting. The cocktail bar – separated by a wall constructed from reclaimed art deco elevator doors – is a romantic spot for a pre-theatre drink.
Details: 5a Air Street, W1J 0AD
Sticking to the tried-and-tested recipe, expect more elegant seating, marble and wood accents, and art deco-inspired windows in Hawksmoor’s most westerly incarnation – only with a caviar menu chalked up on a blackboard, too.
Details: 3 Yeomans Row, SW3 2AL
Taking over two floors of an old fruit warehouse, Hawksmoor’s South London restaurant finds itself a stone’s throw away from its suppliers, Ginger Pig, Chegworth Valley and Neal’s Yard Dairy over in Borough Market. There’s also a cosy Cook’s Room in the basement, a separate dining room where groups of friends can gather to sample feasting menus served directly from the private kitchen…
Details: 16 Winchester Walk, SE1 9AQ
Hawksmoor’s latest spot has a USP beyond the amazing steaks: it floats. It’s linked to land by a private bridge joining up to the docks in Canary Wharf. And inside, it’s every bit as plush as you’d expect, with one floor for eating, one floor for drinking, and a private dining room perched above it all…
Details: 1 Water Street, Canary Wharf, E14 5GX
NOTE: You can find out more about all of Hawksmoor’s London restaurants, and book a table or private dining room, HERE. All of the restaurants allow you to BYOB for £25 corkage, reduced to £5 on Mondays.
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