Please note, Foxlow Clerkenwell has now closed. Time Out Food editors, July 2019.
It takes special magic to lift a curse. One held over a restaurant site, doubly so. The previous time we dined at this address, the (Nordic) cooking was excellent, but the atmosphere dreary. The building was – and has always been – a doomed sow’s ear of a site, a corridor-with-annexes. It would, we thought, take a sorcerer of Potter-like talents to turn it into a silk purse.
But Hawksmoor founders Will Beckett and Huw Gott have reversed the hex. Having sold a majority steak (sorry, stake) in their four-strong restaurant chain, they’ve opted not to go shopping for a a superyacht or the penthouses at One Hyde Park, but to create this new enterprise. Removing internal walls with ‘DIY SOS’-like enthusiasm, they then gave it a cosily masculine (though not blokey) vibe: all warm woods, low lighting and comfy retro-themed furniture. Finally, in went a small cocktail bar and a deliciously posh salad bar (it’s not self-service, more’s the pity, but they’ll let you hover and gawp).
The cooking, on the whole, is terrific. There’s a daily specials board of impeccably-sourced steaks – but unlike Hawksmoor, Foxlow is not a steakhouse. Instead, a compact menu offers 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’. A dish of ‘smokehouse rillettes’ saw a smoky mound of beef, turkey, pork and pig fat (lardo) knocked into shape by a tart jumble of cucumber, pickles and capers. A slab of bacon, around eight rashers thick, had been basted in maple and chilli and roasted for eight hours. As if the sweet, smoky, spicy meat with its strata of juicy fat wasn’t succulent enough, it came with a dinky jug of fiery, sweet and smoky barbecue sauce. From the salad bar, our two-cabbage slaw sported whole fennel seeds and a delicate vinaigrette. An individual sour cherry pie had a soft, almost cakey pastry lid, and a side of soft, sweet ice cream.
There were blemishes: the bacon salt added to our fries made them taste like novelty popcorn. Sauces cost extra, yet the thoughtful wine list is fairly priced (from £16).
But what makes Foxlow special is the service. On our visit, not only did the youthful staff know their menu better than their phone numbers, but they threw in bags of personality, beaming smiles and a nothing-too-much-trouble attitude. They could have made a cheese toastie in a grubby caff seem like fun. Alakazam! At 69-73 St John Street, the evil enchantment has been broken.
NOTE: Since this review was published, Foxlow has modified its opening hours to serve brunch at the weekends. They will be serving brunch from Saturday December 6.