It was in 2006 that Will Beckett and Huw Gott opened the restaurant they would become known for, Hawksmoor. As they prepare to open their first out of London, as well as launching their second Foxlow restaurant in Stoke Newington, they reveal how they work together and how detailed things become
First things first, you clearly like being busy with the Manchester Hawksmoor opening and Foxlow Stoke Newington too…
WB: It’s kind of cool. We have never done anything this close. People in the restaurant industry tend to like the adrenaline, the excitement of doing a new opening, it’s when you get to be most creative, it’s when the teams are bonding, you are in it together – bit it’s also exhausting!
So why Manchester?
HG: It’s a city we have been to a lot and have liked. We have been looking for a long time and just couldn’t find the right thing, but then this beautiful site came up in an old courthouse in a good part of town and we thought it fitted really well with what we do interiors wise, so thought it was a great time to go and do it.
WB: We are probably a bit more reactive than sensible business people are supposed to be. One of the reasons we are doing Manchester and Stoke Newington so quickly is because two sites that we really liked came up in areas we really like. That sort of thing is as much a driver as to why we do stuff as anything else. We had been going up to Manchester for about two and half years and really liked the city, there was nowhere else in the UK that we considered opening a restaurant there. We found a cool building, we really like it there, we enjoy spending time there. If you have to go away for work and leave your wife and kids at home, you might as well like where you are going to go. Stoke Newington is the same. We used to live there together. We used to really like Church Street, used to have brunch at the likes of the Blue Legume, and Homa [where the new Foxlow is now based] was a nice restaurant. To me it’s the most beautiful restaurant on that street, so when it became available it felt like we should do it. It was more than just a grand plan.
Will there be no more Hawksmoors in London?
WB: I wouldn’t say there is a definitive plan. What we are really sensitive to is Hawksmoor is in this really nice situation where people seem to really like it, and a diverse range of people really like it. I am conscious you can have too much of a good thing, if you open too many you might start chipping away at that good feeling people have for it and we have no interest in doing that. I am sure we could open a few more and make money, but I don’t know if that’s what we want to do. Same as Foxlow, it’s a restaurant we really liked doing when we first opened it. Most of the conversation revolved around let’s just do somewhere we really like to have near our homes, where we’d go out with our friends. Most of our friends wouldn’t go to Hawksmoor regularly, but they would come to Foxlow regularly.
How would you sum up Foxlow?
HG: It’s great for everyone involved to work on something different. The key thing was to do something that was a bit more like a neighbourhood restaurant.
WB: We could have said, not literally this, we could have done Foxlow by Hawksmoor! We didn’t want to do that, we wanted to do something cool that worked on its own merits. Quite a lot of people come here without knowing there’s a link to Hawksmoor. There are obviously little bits if you know… The staff are pretty similar, there are steaks, it’s the Ginger Pig, the tiling, those things do exist in other restaurants. I like the idea that people like it for its own sake. I wouldn’t think of it as a steak restaurant, although we probably sell more steak than anything else. We just liked the idea of trying to do a really nice restaurant where it’s easy to look at the menu and think there’s a lot of stuff you like.
How did you approach the menu here?
HG: We wanted it to be a place where people would go regularly and for quite a wide range of reasons. Hawksmoor has become, mostly, a special occasion venue, whereas we wanted somewhere that local people could pop into for lunch, or come in with the kids on a Sunday. We wanted the menu to work for lots of different people and different reasons for eating. There are a lot more lighter options than at Hawksmoor, there’s more fish, there’s more veg, but we have applied a similar thinking to how we approach things at Hawksmoor. At Hawksmoor we are not doing anything revolutionary, we are doing steak and chips, but as well as we can. We spent ages sourcing the right beef, spent ages checking on it all the time and it is the best we can possibly get out there, we spent ages finding the right potato for the chips and getting the right cooking method, and tweaking it whenever we can to get it better. Here we do fried chicken, but we didn’t put it on for over a year after we opened. We tried it at the original tasting before we opened and we didn’t have it quite right. A year later and 50 different versions we tried in the interim we felt like we had got it to the best fried chicken we have ever tasted and we were happy to put it on the menu.
W: Quite often we are asked about what me and Huw do, and how we split up work. Attitude wise that’s something we talk about quite a lot. Huw has – and I usually say this to him taking the piss out of him – no sense this is good enough. And I do! It’s kind of like a nice dynamic we have. Quite often if we didn’t have the other one, either we have a lot of unbelievably good ideas and stuff wouldn’t get done, or stuff would get done on time and the standard wouldn’t be as good. Chicken is a good example. If I had been pushing we would have started with fried chicken, but Huw to make it 5% better takes another year.
Will there be anything different at Stoke Newington compared to the St John Street site?
HG: We want it to work all day, more so than here, so will open at 10am with some breakfast dishes and bakery stuff. We want it to work for people to pop in during the afternoon, we kind of want it to be like a community hub, where people can drop in and out of. The bulk of the menu will stay the same, but there will be little additions.
It’s some 12 years since you opened The Redchurch – how different are you? Do you miss anything about those early days?
WB: Sometimes you do stuff in your life that in hindsight looks brave or clever, but in fact was stupid or naïve and I kind of miss some of the things we did out of stupidity or naivety. The Redchurch was cool and tiny, it does still exist but is nothing to do with us, but we never made any money there. We opened Green and Red, a bar/restaurant, it was cool and won awards, but never made any money there. We opened Marquess Tavern in Islington and lost loads of money there, so you would have thought anyone with experience or a modicum of intelligence would think you’ve done this three times and you’ve failed three times, you should stop – but it didn’t occur to us. We just thought we would do another thing. We did some really stupid stuff that led to this happening. I do kind of miss that…
Foxlow, 71-73 Stoke Newington Church Street N16 0AS; foxlow.co.uk