Foxlow, Stoke Newington

I will admit I’d love to Hawksmoor, not necessarily just for steak either.  The breakfasts look sumptuous, but that will have to wait for a very special occasion to justify the cost.  There are other, cheaper ways to gain some of the Hawksmoor dining experience though. Foxlow is the baby brother of Hawksmoor, likewise owned by Will Beckett and Huw Gott of the Underdog Group.

Where Hawskmoor is unashamedly seeking to be the flagship of the best steakhouse chain in London and quite possibly the world, Foxlow is a slightly cooler, more downbeat brand (and yes, I do still detest the concept of branding with a passion.)  I make no apology for quoting from the Foxlow website on the philosophy behind this venture, and to point out that while the hunt for top class ingredients is as intensive as ever, the pricing is a couple of notches down from Hawksmoor:

It also means being a restaurant that’s not too fussy or trying too hard to be fashionable and trying to be as involved in our neighbourhood as we can be.  Most importantly it should be a nice place to while away a few hours and get looked after by people who love what they do.  Steak and red wine with friends, a lazy (and boozy) brunch, Sunday roast with all the family, a first (or 151st) date, a quick mid-week lunch. Or as Time Out put it, “food that will comfort and soothe: the sort that you want to eat after a break-up, or after watching too many episodes of Homeland.”

You could call this a date, I guess, though I’ve lost count of how many!  I walked by Foxlow earlier in the day before deciding on a whim to book there for the lady and my good self for dinner.  At the time the sun was out and brunch diners were occupying the outside tables.  One such had before her a dish of waffle topped with fried chicken and a fried egg, reminding me that Paul Simon famously wrote his song Mother and Child Reunion after seeing a restaurant dish containing chicken and egg.

Foxlow is another example in the current trend towards open-all-day metro dining experiences fashioned after the traditional French brasserie.  You can get what you want, mostly when you want it.  As the Timeout description implies, it errs towards comfort food, of which waffle, chicken and fried egg – and indeed steaks – sound perfect examples, thought ironic fish and chips, curry, spag bol and pizza have given way to House Cured Salmon New Potatoes, Spinach & Crème Fraîche, Hake with Saffron White Beans & Roast Tomatoes, Jerked Middle White Pork Ribeye with Apple Slaw and Salt Marsh Lamb T-Bones with New Potatoes, Bacon, Little Gem & Peas.  It’s separated from gastropub largely by virtue of not being a pub, but retains enough nods to France and America that you could best describe it as “modern English” in the very widest sense.

“Not trying hard to be fashionable” may be one thing, but Foxlow may offer comfort food but is not an especially comfortable dining experience – though the building it occupies in Stoke Newington is classical neo-Georgian brick with large windows and an excellent view through the evening rain towards the old cemetery over the road, where I hear the Booth family are largely buried.  It veers in the direction of stripped back floors and tables, the odd anonymous light fitting and a few walls painted in dark green, a number of pictures and blackboards and the obligatory central bar.

Perhaps the greatest benefit from dining within the same ownership as a truly memorable chain is that the policy towards ingredients is certainly no less exacting, of which Will and Huw say this:

As at Hawksmoor that means food that always revolves around the best ingredients we can find. Steaks come from well-loved native breed cattle reared by the multi-award winning The Ginger Pig in North Yorkshire. Sustainable seafood caught off the South Coast comes straight from Brixham fishermen each morning. And our fried chicken is made with slow-grown herb fed Yorkshire Ross chickens. We also use charcuterie from Cobble Lane in Islington, raw sheep’s milk ‘London Fettle’ from the fledgling Kupros Dairy, Brockley’s amazing Graceburn cheese and sourdough from the Little Bread Peddler in Bermondsey. A good drink is also important. So we have a range of carefully crafted cocktails that don’t take themselves too seriously and a wine list made up of bottles by passionate (mostly small) producers.

We tested this out by choosing dry aged steaks (the second I’ve eaten this week, following the Blue Anchor.)  You know that the provenance will be spot on and the ageing process exacting, so we ordered with confidence one 35-day aged New York Flat Iron steak with harissa mayonnaise and a 55-day aged d-rump with roast bone marrow, the latter because I was curious to taste the effect of an additional 20 days of ageing – and bear in mind that some restaurants around the world have been known to sell steaks aged in hundreds of days (see here.)

The flat-iron, sliced rare and served snuggled up to a roast tomato, certainly appealed to its consumer.  I was not convinced by the harissa mayo, though she found it a spiky accompaniment.

However, my thick slab of d-rump possibly took the prize, on the grounds of flavour if nothing else.  It had a rich, deep, almost gamey flavour, offset by a very decent buttery béarnaise sauce that came on the side (inclusive, peppercorn as an alternative, though you could have left it for an unadorned steak.)  Not the best steak I’ve eaten, but far from being the worst.   I’ve heard long-aging described the blue cheese of steaks is certainly worth a try.

Accompaniments of fries (not even the best I’ve eaten this week, let alone ever) but moreish Little Gem with Twineham Grange Dressing completed the meal.  I’d have tried macaroni cheese (note: not the unwelcome Americanised “mac and cheese” that seems to have invaded these shores), but since my partner had already ordered fries that was maybe a carb too far.

We shared for dessert a malt chocolate panna cotta that arrived deconstructed on the plate, as if someone in the kitchen had attacked it with a hammer and squirted chocolate sauce over the remains.  Most panna cottas arrive fully gelatined and moulded into a bowl shape, though this example was a much softer and gooier consistency, mingling with a hard chocolate crumb which had the texture of a cantuccini biscotti.  This was pretty much the highlight of the evening, including the aged steak.

Service was quietly efficient all evening, justifying the 12.5% service charge added to the bill.  Credit too, since the waiter happily confirmed that all the service charges are divided out between the staff, which ethical consideration features highly in my restaurant selection policy.  I hope they were also paid well above minimum wage.

In hindsight, my estimation of dinner at Foxlow has gone down slightly, though I can’t put my finger on why (other than that the fries were so-so.)  I don’t think they did anything wrong, but somehow it was not an occasion as was, for example, our visit to Rubedo, not far up the road.  Maybe Foxlow is just a touch too far laid back to hit the heights, and maybe that is what its loyal East London clientele want, but somehow this was truly the experience I wanted.  Slightly less than the sum of the parts is the best way I can describe it, certainly not worthy of a real rocket but somehow much of a muchness, a restaurant that fails to stand out from the crowd.

The answer is clear:  Having tried Hawksmoor-lite, I think we need to save our pennies and go for the real deal next time.

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