What time do you start drinking? 6pm? 5pm? Half five? Midday? Hell, it’s always cocktail hour somewhere. How about 6, 7, or 8am?
Drinking within hours of sunrise might sound like the preserve of the depraved and the deranged, the homeless and the can’t-find-home, but it’s a fine tradition in certain parts of London. Pubs, usually somewhere near a market and platoons of strange shift workers, have been throwing open their doors to eager drinkers for years, from Borough’s Market Porter to The Hope on Cowcross Street. 24 drinking isn’t a new invention, and the right drink (I’m thinking Guinness over flaming Sambucas) can set you up for the day.
Hawksmoor have just opened a new restaurant in Guildhall, and the third branch of the legendary steak and cocktail chain takes this concept and runs with it. They offer all manner of fizzes and fogmatics to lift the funk of the night before, and my juice and coffee came with several boozy asides. I hailed a Bloody Mary, always a good indicator of a barman’s capabilities, and this one was spot on with a cherry on top (or rather two cherry tomatoes). They also offer a do-it-yourself bar to concoct your own, a breakfast buffet of potent things. While that was being made I was coerced into laying into something called Shaky Pete’s Ginger Brew.
A frothy, murky jaundiced-looking thing with a crunchy shaved ice head, it was a devastating mix of gin, ginger syrup, lemon juice and lashings of London Pride. It’s created by Seven Dials barman Pete (who I presume is nifty with a shaker, or just has the shakes, which is a bit worrying – better keep drinking) and is described as “a turbo shandy for the discerning drinker”, a summation that highlighted the fine line between cocktail connoisseur and all-out vagrant. In fact, it brought back memories of uni days drinking Merrydown Vintage in the afternoon and thinking that the only difference between us inside and the less fortunate twenty feet away on Deptford High Street, really, was a student loan.
Before we go on, a warning: Hawksmoor will ruin your life. I didn’t think about steak that often before I dropped by their Seven Dials and Spitalfields branches. Now, thanks to more than a few chargrilled slabs of buttery flesh, it’s a regular occurence. It can’t be healthy – I’ve got the mindset of that animal from Man Vs Food and when I see the word “Hawksmoor” pop up on my Twitter feed I start salivating like Dominique Strauss-Kahn in a hotel cleaning cupboard. Put simply, they are Pavlov and I am their bitch.
This new one is located in Guildhall (take a tube to the campers demonstrating against city boys, navigate the surrounding streets full of oblivious city boys, look for a place that seems identical to the Seven Dials branch, you got it), apparently a few feet away from the original steakhouse Dolly’s.
The reason they’re getting London drunk at 7.30am is to promote a new breakfast endeavour, available from 7am to 10am and encompassing all manner of traditional treats done Hawksmoor style. To anyone familiar with their fare it’s textbook stuff, a subterranean cavern of wood panelling, comfy armchairs and low lighting reminiscent of a rural boarding school. Or rather, the staff quarters of a rural boarding school.
Tables are bedecked with the best of British – HP and Heinz 57 seperate individual kill zones – and most of our feast was flawless. Gripes first. They had no soya or low fat milk (make of that what you will) and one of a pair of poached was overdone. This was a soft boiled launch and if that’s the worst of their worries, they’ll be filling this huge place in no time.
A Full English is a subjective dish. Some prefer the £2.99 greaseball, others the fussy fine art concoction. I’ve wandered into Bendictine territory of late, tiring of heart-stopping fry ups in favour of lighter things. This plateful brought me back to where I belong. Charred bacon steaks shouted from the plate how they ought to be served – not streaky, not crispy, not diced or sliced as an afterthought for something else but big, salty porcine chunks that hogged (sorry) the plate. A Ginger Pig sausage did well at shifting attention onto what ought to be the star of the show. Eggs were present and correct, mushrooms not as black as iPhone suggests, tomatoes small and withered (which is a good thing; there’s nothing worse than slicing through huge raw hunks of the stuff). Devilled kidneys (usually on toast, I couldn’t take more carbs) were another treat from the Victorian age, little chewy nuggets in a thick Worcestershire sauce. If we’d brought more than one stomach each we would have annihilated the whole plate.
I like places that try to get you drunk – it shows a joie de vivre too lacking in our measured and miserly culture. And a morning snifter or two puts a spring in your step, hairs on your chest, wind in your sails and all those other phrases that whip round your head as you walk off the meal across the wobbly bridge, which is any bridge after a few Shaky Petes.
That said, I got bugger all done at work that day and crashed about lunchtime. It was worth it.