CONFIDENCE oozes out of every pore of Hawksmoor. This is powerhouse food, delivered by a kitchen with its chin out and its shoulders back.
These golden Hawksmoor wonders (£12.50) are one of my favourite dishes of the last couple of years mingling full-on flavour with depth and luxury.
The same goes for the fit out which is generous in the use of tiles, wooden flooring, wall panels and 1950s lights sourced from the States. The spaces created within this former courthouse are cut and chopped with skill from the reception area (with its old-fashioned coat storage) to the intimate bar and onto the three dining rooms including one for private dining.
The dining rooms have a feel about them that makes you want to say, "Bugger it, let's stay for another hour, hunker down and watch the evening come on."
The food does something similar. I wanted to say after one starter: "Let's eat these scallops with tarragon, rosemary, buttery sauce and the lick-able crust that forms against the shell for a decade.” These golden Hawksmoor wonders (£12.50) are one of my favourite dishes of the last couple of years mingling full-on flavour with depth and luxury.
Depth and luxury characterise the steaks too. These are the Hawksmoor signatures, the element which drags in punters by the thousand every lunchtime in the parent restaurants in London.
There's a cute paragraph on the Hawksmoor website about the meat: 'Before trying to open Britain’s best steak restaurant we travelled the world in search of the perfect steak, from Kobe in Japan to Argentina’s Pampas by way of Italy, Australia and Texas. And our verdict? That the best steaks come from carefully reared native cattle breeds right here in Britain.'
From Yorkshire, in fact, which means in Manchester the White Rose is feeding red meat to the Red Rose. The meat is at least 28-day 'dry-aged', a good thing. They are not vacuum-packed and 'wet-aged', a process which retains the weight but leaches minerals that add flavour.
I digress but the comparison between beer and beef is curious.
In the seventies the fashion was for breweries to produce keg ale that reduced production costs, eased delivery and storage and almost destroyed the artisan values of good British beer-making. The same happened with beef. Food production was - and still frequently is - all about putting up a V-sign to customers while lying that it's actually better and more convenient for them. Conmen.
The recent fight back in all walks of British food production is encouraging but needs to go much further. The beer revolution of recent years shows how the battle can be won.
I shared a Hawksmoor T-bone steak with a friend. T-bone's are a delight, fillet one side, sirloin the other. As Fearnley-Whittingstall writes in his flesh-bible Meat: 'The joy of this cut is that it retains and absorbs flavour from the bone'. This is exactly what our mighty cut of 800gms did (£8/100gm).
Cooked perfectly medium rare it so filled the pair of us we couldn't finish it so I asked for a doggy bag to have another go at home. There was no fat left in the doggy bag by the way, I'd torn into that like a wolf who'd not eaten for a month.
The sauces (£1 each) with the steaks are labours of love and things of marvel. The best two in terms of distinctiveness are the anchovy and the stilton. I suggest you get them both.
Starters of bone marrow and onions (£7) and potted Brixham crab (£8.50) were exceptional, the salt-baked beetroot with hazelnuts and horseradish (£8.50) was dull - sorry vegetarians. I'm looking forward to the potted beef and bacon with Yorkshires (£8.50).
Another main of veal rump with fried oysters (£24) looked lonely on its vast plate. Hawksmoor’s ‘honesty’ sometimes extends to a lack of presentational care. Maybe a bit of greenery on the plate might help as long as it isn't bloody rocket or cress. This is not to say the veal wasn't good and the oysters very good, but it all looked a little lonely. The chips helped when transferred from the side order but I'd like a tiny Northern concession here.
The chips (triple-cooked of course, it's a fashion thing) sit next on the menu to the dripping fries (both £4). Hawksmoor should take a trip to the chippy on Bridge Street in Ramsbottom and buy a portion of dripping cooked chips (not triple-cooked - why would they be?). This would reveal how proper chips would be better in dripping, the poor skinny fries simply can't cope with the power of the flavour.
Other recommended sides include creamed spinach, baked sweet potato and roasted field mushrooms.
As for puddings you can't go far wrong with the custard tart with Yorkshire rhubarb (£6) and the peanut butter shortbread with salted caramel ice cream (7.50) which performs a cunning sweet and salty waltz. In other puddings Hawksmoor has fun with Rolos and Ferrero Rocher.
The drinks menu needs a separate review of its own. There are classic cocktails and 'Sharpeners' such as the very fine Hawksmoor Collins - gin, lemon, campari, bitters and soda (9.50). Champagnes and proseccos cover the range topping out with a 1990 Krug at £700. Wines do the same up to a 1982 Château Mouton Rothschild for £2,500. Where's Nick Leeson when you need him?
With the T-bone steak we grogged on a 2011 Michele Satta, ‘Diambra Rosso’ Sangiovese 2011 £30. This Tuscan red smoothly matched our gnawings and mashings.
Service standards are high from a young crew. The policy of letting staff wear their own clothes helps remove steakhouse stuffiness although does mean you only know who the staff are because they're not as smartly dressed as most of the punters. Fortunately they make up for this with their knowledge and training.
Hawksmoor is named after Nicholas Hawksmoor the 17th and 18th century London architect famous for his bold Baroque architecture, with its rich rhythms and theatrical massing. That architecture fits this food. Hawksmoor Manchester is a powerful, assertive, bold restaurant. Confident as stated above.
It's not a cheap place in the slightest but then the Baroque never was a cheap style. Book in a visit and clear some time, take it slowly, bask in these beautiful raw materials cooked deceptively simply. And if you go on Monday evenings you can take your own wine for a £5 corkage charge.
You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter @JonathSchofield or connect via Google+
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commerical relationship.
Food: 8.5/10 (bone marrow 8.5, crab 8.5, beetroot salad 6, scallops 10, T-bone 10, veal 8, chips 8, dripping fries 5, spinach 7.5, sweet potato 7.5, custard tart 7, peanut butter shortbread 7.5)