Hawksmoor’s first restaurant on Commercial Street was opened on the premise of great steaks and brilliant drinks, from its innovative cocktail menus to its lengthy wine lists. With such a successful formula, expansion was inevitable and now the group boasts venues across London, one in Manchester and an international openings in the future.
Alongside the world class cuts of cooked meat, from fillets to sirloins, rib-eyes and aged rumps (not forgetting the melt-in-the-mouth native lobsters grilled with garlic butter), the restaurant has a great wine list with plenty of interesting, rare and tasty bottles to immerse yourself in. And while all Hawksmoors have some wines in common, each restaurant has its own bottles as well. We sat down with Spitalfields sommelier Martina Larnach to discover the best-sellers, the rare gems and the bargains.
As a famed British steakhouse, Hawksmoor has some local sparkling wines among the French and Italian classic fizzes. The list sits around 15 bottles with four available by the glass, ranging from £42 a bottle to £400. Martina picks out Hambledon Classic Cuvée NV Hampshire, England as a favourite among English sparkling wines. Think light floral notes, rich fruits and a vivid, ripe palate. The wine, a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, sells for £10.50 per glass and £60 per bottle.
Further down the list is Nyetimber, from Sussex, which recently won plaudits in a blind tasting against French Champagnes with its nose of bergamots and apples and its zippy minerality. Heading to the classic home of fizz, Raphaël & Vincent Bérêche 2001 is great value for money Champagne, selling at £110 for the bottle.
While reds dominate the steak-orientated restaurant, white wine is well represented and the basics are all ticket off, throughout the new and old world. There’s a deeper focus on fuller-bodied wine, in particular Chardonnay, because if you’re going to drink white with red meat this is one varietal that can hold its own.
“The wine list is the right size for this restaurant, I wouldn’t want to expand it much more. You’ll find bigger, more expansive lists at the other Hawksmoors. Here we keep the top sellers and shuffle the rest, in fact I’ve just added five new ones,” says Martina.
At the entry level diners are looking at a Sauvignon Blanc, from the Loire, selling at £23 a bottle. Of the best sellers two wines stand out, the Cave de l’Ormarine Picpoul De Pinet, 2015, Languedoc, France which sells for £7.50 a glass and £29 for the bottle – floral nose, exuberantly fresh and long on the palate – and Isabel Estate Sauvignon Blanc, 2014, Malborough, New Zealand – ripe yet tangy flavours including gooseberry, grapefruit, and orange blossom – £12 a glass / £47 a bottle.
Further up the list you have Chardonnay from California, where the annual sunshine prevents such great fluxuations in quality as European vintages, and some rich yet pricey bottles from Burgundy. “I try not to judge where a wine is from, but I do love the diversity of Italy, it has everything from its crazy, rich southern wines to the light northern ones. You can also still find great deals in Italy.”
This is where Hawksmoor’s wine list really shines, and rather than boxing themselves in with traditional steak wines such as Malbec, you can find some truly interesting varieties and vintages to get your palates watering. Flying off the shelves, best-sellers in the reds include Ramón Bilbao, ‘Black Label’ Rioja, 2013 – intense fruits, blackberry and red cherry – from Rioja, Spain (£9.50 / £37.00) and Pulenta Estate, Malbec, 2012 – round, soft tannins – from Mendoza, Argentina (£12.00 / £48.00).
“People think of rioja as a safe wine, and for many guests malbec from Argentina is an automatic association with steak,” says Martina. “In fact both the best-sellers are good wines, but personally I think there are more interesting, better bottles on the list.”
One of Martina’s favourites is the Domaine Lacroix Vanel 'Fine Amor' 2014 – a blend of grapes which is rich, smooth and floral – from Côteaux du Languedoc, France, selling at £41.00.
Into Reserve Reds the Burn Cottage, Pinot Noir, 2012, at £98.00 from Central Otago, New Zealand is a wonderful Pinot Noir which can stand up to steak with its richer, almost Bordeaux-like, style.
“Quite a few of the wines are only available in Hawksmoor. We call these house wines,” explains Martina. Working with winemakers to create exclusive wines has led to two stand-out bottles on the current list, both which are also available by the glass; the Viano Vineyards, ‘Private Stock’ Zinfandel, 2011, from Contra Costa County, USA (£9.00 /£36.00) and the Rosso Braida Monferrato Rosso, 2009 from Piedmont, Italy (£11.50 / £45.00).
One wine that doesn’t attract as many drinkers as it deserves is the LDN CRU Grenache, 2014 which is made in London and sells for £52.00 a bottle. While the fermentation happens in London, the grapes are shipped from Spain, resulting in a beautifully rich Grenache. “People skip it on the wine list because it’s from London and they tend to find that slightly alienating perhaps, but we like to support small businesses and it’s an interesting wine.”
If you have a bit more cash to throw at your wine choice then the Marietta Cellars Armé Lot #2 at £65 is great value for your pound. It’s a non-vintage, Bordeaux-styled blend of Cab Sav and Merlot which can put drinkers off as a blend but is in fact a great wine with plenty to recommend it. Think chewy, rich flavours of black currants, cherries and fine tannins with a long finish.
When asked how much we should be looking to spend on wine Martina has this to say; “for £50 you can get a decent bottle of wine. For £60 you can get a very good bottle.”
At the top of the list are the bottles for the big spenders including wines priced into the thousands of pounds, however as the list shows, you don’t have to spend exuberant amounts of money for a splendid and engaging wine at Hawksmoor.