Editor's note: Foxlow closed permanently on 28th June 2019.
Foxlow opened in November 2013, set up by the founders of the Hawksmoor group Will Becket and Huw Gott. The pair sold their successful steak chain a few months ago to a private equity firm for a handsome valuation of £35 million – not bad given the humble beginnings of Hawksmoor back in 2006. Foxlow is a different format, a more neighbourhood restaurant, on the site of the deservedly short-lived North Road.
Fortunately the décor has been completely rethought, the room having cream walls, wooden floor and close packed tables with no tablecloths. The dining room, in several sections, seats just over one hundred customers at full capacity. It is dark, and I needed to employ the very useful MagLite iPhone app to be able to read the wine list, which was printed in a surprisingly small font. The photos match the gloom of the dining room.
The menu offered five starters (£6.50 - £9), eight main courses (£10 - £18) plus three steaks (£18 - £22) with side plates at £3.50 to £4.50, and five desserts at £5 - £6.50. The wine list started at £16, with plenty of choice under £30 and the vast majority of the list was under £50. Example wines were Pharos Rioja Bianco 2012 at £22 for a wine that you can find in the high street for about a tenner, Simcic Pinot Grigio 2011 from Slovenia at £30 for a wine that you can find in a shop for about £12 and Cos Cerasuolo Vittoria at £45 for a wine that retails at £19. There was then a leap to a few much more ambitious wines, such as Ridge Montebello 1990 at £200, which is actually a bargain given that this wine currently retails £196. Similarly, the Vega Sicilia Valbuena 2004 was £120, yet this wine costs £100 in a shop.
Five pepper squid (£7) was deep fried, though not really “crispy” as described, but it avoided chewiness and the chilli was just enough to usefully lift the dish without killing the squid, and came with a nice garlic dip (13/20). Brixham crab (£9) came with Cos lettuce and devilled mayonnaise, the latter properly made, the crab meat avoiding any pieces of shell: a simple but pleasant dish (13/20).
Main dishes are served without any garnishes, so you need to order those profitable side dishes. Monkfish actually had quite good flavour, but was a fraction overcooked. Still, this was still a nice piece of fish, marinated in chermoula, a north African spice blend involving herbs, lemon, garlic, cumin and salt. If this had been cooked properly I would have scored it a point higher than the 13/20 it deserves.
They had run out of the Iberico pluma that I requested, so switched to a steak, supplied by the Ginger Pig company. This was good, a nice piece of meat cooked to order (a tricky thing to score, but certainly at least 13/20). On the side, fries (£3.50) were thin and reasonably crispy, properly seasoned (14/20), while broccoli with chilli and anchovy was pleasant rather than inspiring (13/20).
Desserts were less good than the savoury dishes. Banoffee split had some banana and toffee taste, but the ice cream lacked enough flavour. Its texture, made with a Mr Whippy machine, had that airy feel ess that was doubtless intended. However the absence of much vanilla flavour at all was an authentic reminder of the grim ice creams at British seaside towns, rather than something positive (barely 12/20). Similarly an apple crumble ice cream sundae had the same ice cream issue, albeit with a reasonable attempt at apple crumble flavour in and amongst the tasteless ice cream (12/20). Coffee was quite pleasant.
The bill, with a good but not excessive bottle of wine, came to £84 a head. Service was friendly and reasonably efficient, though taking the wine away and topping up only works if you can actually be bothered to spot when the diner’s glass is empty, and this rarely happened – they would have been much better just leaving the bottle on the table. As with Hawksmoor, the overall impression is of a well-run restaurant where the food is simple but capably produced, yet where the size of the bill is just a bit too high for the quality of food appearing on the plates. The evident success of the Hawksmoor formula means that plenty of people choose to eat here, and Foxlow was very busy even late on in service just weeks after opening. It would not take a leap of imagination to contemplate a roll-out of the format followed by a private equity sale.