19 February 2015

Hawksmoor Air Street

When a restaurant's described as the best steak place in town, it'd be rude not to try it out, right? Hawksmoor's been on the scene for a couple of years now with five restaurants across the city and one in Manchester about to open but I still hadn't found the time to go. Until last week.

After a killer start to the evening at Aqua Kyoto and Cats, we hoped that Hawksmoor would live up the hype. Skipping down Regent Street for a 10.30 table at the Air Street outpost, we had high hopes - and boy, were they met. The hosts and hostesses in the marble stairs ushered us in, sweeping us up the stairs and into the deeply seductive restaurant that's all dark wood, green leather and stained glass, towards our own little booth. So far, so good.

Onto the food. We'd spend the last couple of days gleefully emailing possible choices and they didn't disappoint. After a last minute addition of salmon tartare crisps - thins topped with the chunkiest, smoothest salmon perfectly seasoned with dill - we dived into the potted beef and bacon with yorkshires. Two huge and puffy puddings were ideal for scooping up the smooth meat and topping with the bacon and gravy, and we passed forks back and forth across the table hungrily. I opted for the Brixham crab on toast - a generous portion of white meat with the smoother brown hiding beneath, it was light enough to counter S's beef but so flavourful I ate every last scrap.

Next up were steaks. Naturally. S went for the fillet which was expertly served rare-medium whilst I had the steak tartare - it only comes as a starter portion and I didn't think to order two as a main but the portion size was just right in the end. Many wordless minutes were spent as we savoured the brilliantly seasoned dishes (mine, of course, had a perfect egg yolk on top and S's steak lived up to its reputation as the best steak in London, of course, ) - and then greedily spooned the truffled macaroni cheese onto our plates. We ordered the triple cooked chips too but the best side had to be the creamed spinach - a dense pot crammed with creamy, nutmeg laced leaves that we've both been dreaming of ever since. The stilton hollandaise deserves a mention as well - a rich, tangy sauce that saw frequent dunks from chips and steaks alike.
At this point, two bottles of wine down, we were completely defeated but couldn't resist the Salted Caramel Rolos to take away; these homemade chocolates come served in a beautiful box and were achingly naughty, keeping us going all weekend.

Hawksmoor really does pull out all the stops. From the buzzy atmosphere and the fantastically friendly and attentive staff to the impeccable food, this is one place I'm glad I've finally made it to. Definitely a five out of five - all that's left is to try the others, just to make sure, of course.

17 February 2015


Good things come to those who wait, right? And surely what feels like all of my 25 years is long enough. Let's start at the beginning though. Ask anyone who knows me to describe me and quite possibly the words 'cat' and 'lady' may recur. I grew up in a house of animals (cats, dogs, chickens, horses, hamsters, sheep, errant stoats/rabbits/voles brought in by aforementioned cats etc) and will still find any excuse to talk to anything that passes me on four legs. Friends would probably also mention 'books' - I devour books at an insatiable speed and as a child used to read TS Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats cover to cover, as well as the programme of the poems-brought-to-the-stage-production Cats that I'd swiped from the bookshelf.

Cats left the West End back in 2001 and my dreams of meeting magical Mr Mistoffelees were shattered until S bought me tickets to see the reboot for Christmas. Almost two months later, the time had finally arrived and I was off to The Jellicle Ball.

One of Andrew Lloyd-Webber's most successful musicals, Cats is a riot of Eliot's poetry brought to life through incredibly feline dance and Trevor Nunn's award-winning score. There's a loose story woven around the characters and each appear on and off stage as languidly and louche as the very best cats do to tales of Macavity (the mystery cat), Growltiger (who's a cat-pirate) and my favourite Mr Mistoffelees (an entertainer through and through with a brilliantly adorned costume).

Despite not having read the poetry for many years, I found myself knowing all the words and loving that the grandfather in the row in front of us was singing along to Journey to the Heaviside Layer. I had goosebumps through Memory and overheard the granddaughter ask whether the cats were real.

The production is brilliant and I'm loathe to reveal too much because you absolutely must go and see if for yourself before it disappears from the stage once again. And if there's one thing you'll definitely take away (other than how can people look so good in catsuits and costumes) is that The Naming of Cats is a serious thing.

16 February 2015

Aqua Kyoto

Not to be confused with the restaurant on high in The Shard, Aqua Kyoto is a luxe cocktail bar and Japanese restaurant a stone's throw away from Carnaby Street. Across the street from Five Guys, and tucked behind two pillars, you'd be forgiven for passing by this slick operation without ever knowing it's there.

We were here to kill time before seeing Cats (more on that this week!) so whisked out of the rain, up in the elevator and into the moodily lit bar for an aperitif. A decadent hive of activity, the smartly attired bar staff busily whip up their concoctions, serving some in china cats and buddhas and others in heavy cut glass tumblers.

S was hankering for rum so chose a cocktail that had a decidedly seafaring name (absent from the online menu) that, when tasted, conjured up tastes of the Caribbean with the a fruity, tropical base that had just enough citrus to keep it from being sickly sweet. I reversed roles and went for the rye sazerac that was smokey without being too dry, and rubbed with citrus as a finishing touch.

Good drinks, good atmosphere but definitely a place for pay day. Best bit? Go in the summer and make the most of their lovely rooftop garden and perhaps indulge in a spot at the sushi bar for that extra bit of decadence.

13 February 2015

Five Guys

I'm a little late to the party, I know, but I finally made it to Five Guys. After a very disappointing experience at Floridita (the three tiniest bowls of 'tapas' for £9), we were still ravenous and had our sights on losing this particular burger virginity.

You know the story - rock up to the bar, order from a relatively short but sweet menu and add as many topping as you want for free. We started with a cheeseburger then loaded up with tomato, fried onions, relish, mustard, mayo, lettuce and pickles and took it away in its brown paper bag to devour greedily.

This is obviously not your high-end high-brow food establishment and it's not about to win a Michelin star but it does fast food well and it doesn't break the bank. Yes, it's a few more pennies than your McDonald's Saver Menu but the brown paper bag looks ever so slightly more chic on the post-night out bus ride home.

12 February 2015

The Cocktail Trading Co

It seems London's been having a love affair with anything that's not at street level - from the likes of The Shard, Sky Garden and Tower 42 towering above the city to places like WC, a wine and cheese bar that's popped up in former facilities underground. Whilst this is nothing new, I think a few places are stepping up their game. Take The Cocktail Trading Co, for example. A downstairs speakeasy, yes. Like all the others out there? No.

We stepped inside on a Wednesday night with an hour to kill before a dinner reservation (that's another story). Most of the tables were already busy save for a spare couple that were booked out - but the friendly waiter said we were free to perch until their real owners arrived and happily for us, they never did. This gave us the perfect opportunity to check out the decadent decor - framed caricatures of familiar faces along one wall, a curio of objects along the other and an upright piano by the bar for those who fancy tickling the ivories.

Turning our thoughts to the booze, we were quick to choose. I went for the Urn-aged Corpse Reviver No 2 which came served on a grassy tray complete with grabbing zombie hands and a thirst for more. Mixing Egyptian embalming gin, fortified honey wine, mandarin liqueur, lemon juice and absinthe this was a dream - not too fruity, not too sweet, not too sour but with enough depth, smokiness and warmth to have me hoping for a refill.

S went for the No 42 (also called the Welcome to Kentucky, have a nice day) which blows any previous efforts at presentation straight out of the water. A Chinese takeaway box is filled to the brim with Jim Beam, ginger and plum infusion, yuzu juice and matcha tea then topped with crunchy noodle bites and edible flowers. This is cocktail genius - and well suited to the bar's self-proclaimed productivity.

The waiters were not only attentive but genuinely some of the friendliest I've ever been served by - a real testament to a bar that's smack bang in the middle of the most stressful shopping streets in London.

We would gladly have stayed for more (especially as the drinks are an unbelievable £9 each) but had to move on to catch dinner, but we'll definitely be back. This, by the way, is a perfect little place to impress your Valentine's date this weekend, just be sure to book a table as this is one bar you won't want to miss.

© thenotsosecretdiary . All rights reserved.