How Manchester Created Al Capone

As Londoners, we’d been on the receiving end of out-of-towners from places like New York, Hong Kong and Paris, rolling into our patch and telling us how they were bringing enlightenment where there was only darkness. There was also the London factor – the city we love is rarely accused of being understated. The tone was,

This is great in our city, so you lot are bound to love it.”

Would our big destination restaurants come across in a way that we had never intended?

The fear was real and we asked everyone we could – Londoners, Mancunians, friends with restaurants in either or both cities and long-suffering family members – what they thought we should do, would our big-city restaurants come across in a way that we had never intended? The most useful advice came from a local who knew Hawksmoor well:

Just do what you always do. People will love it – it’s exactly the kind of restaurant we enjoy most, great food but with no pretension. And whatever you do don’t cheapen it – everyone bloody does that when they come here!”

So we knuckled down and did what we always do. We set about building a team of amazing people and sent them all down to London for a few months to help them get to know how we do things. We thought about how to create a distinctly Manchester-feeling restaurant both through the interior and the menus, and we got our geek on and unearthed beef-and-booze-related stories from the area’s past.

That’s when we discovered that Manchester created Al Capone. Kind of. We chanced on a mention of the intriguingly (and we soon learnt ironically) named Beefsteak Chapel in Salford, where the firebrand Reverend William Cowherd was preaching on the iniquitous effects of meat consumption on the human character. From his pulpit he began the first formal vegetarian movement in Britain. He was part of a surge in the Temperance movement, which had strong roots in the north-west before it jumped the Atlantic, leading eventually to what Churchill called an “affront to the whole history of mankind”: Prohibition. And Al Capone.

The way we found to mark the area’s abstemious past? By creating a cocktail. A few days before we opened, bar manager Richie West went to Fitzpatrick’s in nearby Rawtenstall, the last remaining Temperance bar in the country, and returned with a bottle of Blood Tonic. Richie tried swapping it for the violette in an Aviation, which gave the sophisticated classic a cheeky hint of Vimto (another Temperance by-product). The Fitzpatrick’s Aviation was born.

Looking back, the biggest lesson about Manchester came from a friend, Thom, who told us,

“All you need to know is that Mancunians are grafters with a good sense of humour.”

That sounded a whole lot like ‘Work hard and be nice to people’ and in the end that’s how it’s turned out – we’ve found a whole load of people who appreciate graft, kindness and a sense of humour, and they’ve made Hawksmoor a genuinely Manchester restaurant.