For a start, you have to take notice of people’s dietary requirements. Do they like fish? Can then handle spicy? Are they vegetarian? Are they semi-vegetarian? (Given we work in the City I tend not to consider options for vegans.)
Then you get into the question of ambience – is it fashionable enough? Is it too fashionable? And in these credit crunched times - is it appropriate? After all, these are colleagues, not clients.
With the trend heading back towards all things carnivorous, in recent years premium brand steakhouses have thrived on serving clients, punters and colleagues alike. Arguably the best out there right now is Hawksmoor of Spitalfields, and more recently Covent Garden.
Hawksmoor derives its name from Sir Christopher Wren’s sidekick, which implies that it’s not quite of the first order. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a much-raved about restaurant, and with good reason.
Hawksmoor’s exterior is misleadingly anonymous, which is a long-winded way of saying that it’s understated. If it weren’t for the punters inside, you might be going into a reprographics shop rather then a restaurant. The interior is simple but pleasing. Wooden chairs and tables are packed closely together and are framed by white washed walls and exposed brickwork features. There is a long wooden bar to the rear with leather-cushioned stools packed snugly together. You’ll get to know your drinking partner quickly enough. The music is noted for its absence, but not required as the buzz of diner chat and cutlery gives it a French brasserie-style ambience.
But people are here for the food, and that’s what this review will focus on. The starters include my favourite of bone marrow and onions, delicately fried and presented with the original beef bones and toast. Soft in texture and subtle, yet offal-like in flavour. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but I love it. A companion went for the pepper squid which had been flash-fried and seasoned with chilli, salt and pepper. It packed a nice punch and was perfectly cooked.
For steaks I went for the 600g Sirloin (medium rare) which was well seasoned and melt in your mouth delicious. For the first time in my life it was too much for me to eat in one sitting. Fortunately Hawksmoor does a great ‘doggy bag'. My colleagues tried rib-eye and rump variations which were smaller but equally as flavoursome. We washed it down with a few bottles of NZ Main Divide Pinot Noir (does New Zealand do any other kind of red wine?) which was light and peppery and perfectly complementary to the mains.
The staff are friendly, casual but very efficient. Service is swift and always charming. The cocktail boys are a force in their own right. The champagne-based Hawksmoor Fizz and gin-based Bombay Double are two of their better offerings.
Despite its cusp-of-Shoreditch location, the punters are City. So much, in fact, it's why Hawksmoor has never been a favourite of the Northerner's. There are far too many bankers for her liking. But the sheer quality of the food on offer more than compensates for Hawksmoor’s City-ness. And let’s face it, at the very least you can take your colleagues there.