A sunny bank holiday weekend comes with mixed blessings. While many of us fire up the barbecue or head to the coast for a few days, town can be very quiet.
But not in Hawksmoor, the British steakhouse that recently opened in the former National Bank building on College Green, Dublin. Looking at the full room, it appears that no one was tempted to cancel their booking in favour of a warm evening outside. It is 7pm and light pours in through a soaring 40-ft dome. Nowhere in Dublin can match this space for grand-scale magnificence.
It is my first time in the room, and indeed my first time in a Hawksmoor restaurant. I had been expecting more formality, not quite at Shanahan’s on the Green level, but the prices indicate that this is special night out territory.
Beef is meticulously sourced from small producers around the country, with rare breeds from the Burren and Dexter herds coming on to the menu soon. This is very much what makes Hawksmoor, well, Hawksmoor. And if top-end steakhouse dining is your thing, you’ll know that it doesn’t come cheap.
So let’s get the money bit out of the way. Unless you’re going for the express or Sunday lunch menus (which are exceptional value), you’re looking at the type of prices you’ll pay in the city’s premium steakhouses.
Beef on the bone is priced by weight and chalked up on the board, and while a 700g bone-in prime rib for two is seriously tempting (€13/100g), I want to explore the fish options as well. So we opt for the rump, the least expensive cut at €26, and the Dublin Lawyer, a full lobster for €75 (allegedly so-named because it’s rich and full of whiskey).
But first it’s starters, a classic, nicely-made Caesar salad (€11) with Cantabrian anchovies (a few more would be good), and bone marrow with onions (€12); two gargantuan slabs of bone laden with deeply flavoured onions. Rich, tasty and delicious slathered on Bread 41 toast, it is a portion size that would definitely feed two. You may prefer to start with something lighter, perhaps the Flaggy Shore oysters (three for €9), as the main courses are also very substantial.
Charred and crusted from the searing heat of an open-pit charcoal grill, the dry-aged rump has been allowed to rest so that the juices have settled, and cut across the grain so that each medium-rare slice eats beautifully. Sides are additional but reasonably priced. The triple-cooked chips (€6), have a shattering crunch, the creamed spinach (€6) has been given a light twist of nutmeg, and the Young Buck hollandaise (€3.50), from a choice of six sauces, is delicious with the steak.
The lobster is absolutely huge, enough for two, and all the work is done with every bit of lobster loaded back into the shell. The sauce is rich but balanced, flecked with sautéed leeks. You can really taste the whiskey, which is rounded out by cream and Cais na Tire cheese. Personally, I prefer my lobster straight up (and you can get it that way too), but this is going to be a big favourite.
Sinéad McCarthy, one of the country’s top sommeliers, manages the wine list, which includes plenty of steak-friendly Bordeaux and Barolo heavy hitters. But you can keep it at an accessible level, as we do with a Fiori Montepulciano (€35). If your budget doesn’t quite align with your taste, it is worth keeping in mind that corkage on Mondays is €5 for all bottles, Champagne, magnums, whatever.
Irish coffee tiramisu (€9.75) is a delightful end to our meal, and yet again, definitely for sharing. A mound of light mascarpone cream covers layers of sponge that have been soused in whiskey and topped with coffee ice-cream, which lifts the richness with its chill.
So the questions is, do we need a new steakhouse from a British restaurant group? The cynic might think not, but this one is a serious addition to the city, and not just because Will Beckett and Huw Gott have poured a multimillion pound fortune into the restoration of one of Dublin’s most notable buildings. The room is spectacular, the food and service is top notch, and the prices are not out of kilter with similar restaurants. And there are of course, the bargain Sunday lunch and Monday corkage options.
Dinner for two with a bottle of wine was €182.85.
The Verdict: This is as good as prime steakhouses get.
Music: A mix of barely audible rock.
Food provenance: Beef from select Irish producers, Ring’s Farm chicken, Andarl Farm, SSI fish, Keelings.
Vegetarian options: Ash-baked beetroot, heritage tomato salad, and Ballylisk Wellington (celeriac and cheese). Vegan options are starters only.
Wheelchair access: Accessible with accessible toilet.