Archive for December, 2017

Restaurant Review: Hawkyns by Atul Kochhar, Amersham (Dec 2017)

Posted on: December 14th, 2017 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood


Atul Kochhar, the twice Michelin starred chef, continues to impress the restaurant world with his latest opening, Hawkyns. Named after Sir William Hawkyns of the East India Company who pioneered the import of Indian food into England, it is housed in the Crown Hotel, originally a 16th century coaching inn used in location for Four Weddings and a Funeral, in Amersham, Buckinghamshire.

Such a quintessentially English market town, set at the eastern end of the Cotswolds, is far removed from the West End glamour of Mayfair where Atul Kochhar made his name at Tamarind and Benares, let alone his restaurants in Madrid, Mumbai and Dubai. But Amersham is in Betjeman’s Metroland, a prosperous London suburb noted for its attractive mix of well-established restaurants and pubs, in many ways is similar to Marlow, where his much lauded Indian restaurant Sindhu is located in the Compleat Angler hotel.

Inside, a long, low ceilinged oak beamed room with cream walls, dark wooden floors and open fires is lit by large sash windows which look onto the Market Square. The décor and furnishings have an understated contemporary look which retain a country pub feel, with well-spaced chunky wooden tables, black and white wooden cushioned chairs and floor lamps with designer shading. The overall ambience is warm and cosy.

Atul Kochhar and Arbinder Dugal, a former finalist in the Roux Scholarship, and head chef since September 2017, have teamed up to create an exciting seasonal menu that is proving popular with the well-heeled clientele. Each dish combines modern British with Indian elements in a creative yet retrained way. Combinations are harmonious, with a balance of tastes, textures and temperatures. Spicing is judicious, often used to add a lively flavour rather than heat. It is never overwhelming, so enhancing the main element of the dish. Presentation on bespoke designer clay plates is refined and uncluttered. This is creative but not outlandish cooking which fuses the best of both cuisines.

Prices are realistic given the quality of ingredients and skill in cooking. On the carte, six starters range from £8 to £12, seven mains from £14 to £24, and four desserts from £7 to £9, with a cheese option at £12. A six course tasting menu is competitively priced at £45 with an optional wine flight for additional £45. Those coming for lunch benefit from a good value set menu, two courses for £19, three for £23.50

Fine Dining Guide visited on a busy weekday evening in November, choosing dishes from the carte and being won over by the food and service.


A starter of well-seasoned and softly textured chicken terrine flecked with coriander and lifted by Ras el Hanout was balanced in texture by crispy chicken skin and in flavour by the gentle acidity of pickled radish and shallot. A mild creamy curried mayonnaise and a flourish of spring onion lightly dusted with more of the Moroccan spice completed this accomplished dish.


Equally impressive was a seared fillet of beautifully fresh mackerel anointed with a Madras masala which complemented a fish which could take the moderate spicing. These soft textures and aromatic flavours were juxtaposed against a remoulade of mouli and fennel which gave a pleasing aniseed crunch and compressed apple which added a lively freshness.


A main course featured pork cooked two ways. A braised cheek, succulent and tender, was enveloped in a rich vindaloo sauce that was mercifully moderate in its heat. It was paired with a portion of roasted belly, which, although flavoursome, would have benefitted from a little more cooking time to capture totally its melting porcine deliciousness. Nevertheless, other components of the dish – spiced savoy cabbage cooked with grated coconut and chorizo and buttery potato fondant – were exemplary in taste and texture.

Hawkyns Lamb Shoulder

It was pleasing to see lamb shoulder, the most flavoursome of cuts, on the menu. Charred to give a heady smokiness, the generous portion was perfectly timed to maximise the moist sweetness and yielding texture of the meat. Autumn vegetables including turnips, carrots and cauliflower along with pearl barley gave a deep earthiness and contrasting texture. These elements were bought together by a rich, aromatic broth which, when poured at the table, added an element of theatre to the dish.

Desserts did not disappoint either, showing the strength of the pastry section of the kitchen

Hawkyns Mille Feuille

A mille feuille featured delicate crisp layers of buttery puff pastry sandwiched and topped with a fragrant saffron yogurt and dressed with blueberries and blackberries. Accompanied by a tonka bean ice cream of velvety smoothness and a taste best described as “vanilla caramel with honey,” this dish was well executed and visually stunning.

Hawkyn's Dessert

A more exotic offering saw a light, not over rich coconut mousse dressed with a pineapple and chilli salsa which worked well by cutting its creaminess and adding a gentle hint of spice. To balance this, a refreshing lime and mint sorbet gave a necessary fragrant citric lift

Good expresso completed this memorable meal, enhanced by paired wines chosen by the charming and engaging Operations Manager Richard Martinez. Service under his direction was courteous, informative and helpful, without being intrusive.

Clearly, Hawkyns is a welcome addition to the dining scene in Amersham, and, given its unique offering, will hold its own in a highly competitive market. Being on the Metropolitan line and Chilterns Railway, it is also accessible to those from further afield as well as locals.

Fine Dining Guide will follow the fortunes of Hawkyns with interest and hopes to return, perhaps to sample the tasting menu or to book a table for a special Chef Season dinner:  Paul Ainsworth and Nigel Howarth are all guesting in the first three months of 2018!

Feature: Harrods Taste Revolution. Alex Dower Interview.

Posted on: December 1st, 2017 by Simon Carter

Alex Dower, Director of Food and Restaurants at Harrods Interview, Vision and Practice of The Harrods Taste Revolution. Interview took place at Harrods during November 2017.


The core of the vision for the Taste Revolution is for Harrods to start leading again as a food business.  Should you look back into the history of Harrods, the business has always had an innovative, pioneering and leadership role to play and we want to re-emphasise these roles in the present day.  For example, Harrods was the first to innovate air cooling for produce; employed chefs to work in the department store kitchens in the 1920s; first to build a chocolate factory in the 1900s; first to start roasting coffee in the 1920s – Starbucks was not formed until the 1970s!  So overall very impressive and in comparison you might look at the last 20-30 years and feel that perhaps the store has not had the same impact as at other points in its history, well that’s about to change: The Taste Revolution is about “We are going to lead again!”

We have carefully looked inward and outward to establish the right path – that is tap into our depth of heritage and history as well as what our very diverse and significant customer base demand from a store like Harrods. From the customer perspective, we draw clients from all over the world and the store has naturally done great work to service the international customer.  The opportunity here, however, will be satisfying the local customer – the discerning London foodie! 

We started as a food business in the 1830s and the store was 50 years selling primarily groceries so our heart is as a food business.  A part of our aim through the Taste Revolution is to become the go-to; the destination; the relevant place for local London foodie customers.

How do we achieve this?  Well in the current times there are specialist offerings in every category; customers are more knowledgeable, discerning and demanding in their quality needs than ever before and whilst we’ve been strong in certain areas, what we must do is provide credibility and authority in the key areas that are required by our discerning local London customers.

The first hall opening as a launch to The Taste Revolution is The Roastery and Bake Hall, which will feature a number of offerings but with a focus on important categories such as Coffee and Bread. 


We will do it in a way that makes us relevant again; particularly through a focus on creating as much as possible in front of the customer!  Harrods history is about creativity; for example, we’ve had chefs since the 1890s – currently over 150 chefs and Harrods! – and perhaps hid them away behind closed doors for too long!  The importance of bringing out our creative talent in front of the customer is the ultimate provenance so when people can see, touch and taste what is being made it will also serve to build trust and satisfaction in the products.

So putting that into practice, the bakery is going to be a full scratch bakery with true preparation, quality execution and some theatre – every 15-20 minutes a bell will ring whenever something fresh has come out of the oven.  There’s an interactive immediacy to the process, you can see what is coming out of the oven and when, all your senses become engaged with freshly baked bread!  Wherever you may be around the world, you look at research on the most emotionally engaging product, it is without exception freshly baked bread!  It is actually hard to get right and with our accent on highest quality that’s exactly what this new scratch bakery will deliver; we’ve hired a lead master baker, Lance Gardner who will bake 15 types of sourdough loaves per day all day.  So in terms of time of day for the shopper it won’t matter they can come they will be able to purchase the best fresh bread. 

Note: On the preview evening I sampled the making of a personalised loaf of bread which was a learning and exciting experience which juxtaposed the historical process in the context of a sympathetically restored (to 1925) room with the ultra-modern state-of-the-art equipment of an up to the minute bakery.

In terms of coffee, once again, our customers are incredibly discerning about quality, freshness and provenance.  We’re doing a first in a department store in that a rather large, Probat shop roaster (Probatone 25) as a showpiece in the middle of the room!  We will roast all our own coffee, which enables the store to do our own bespoke blends, the customer can take fresh bean home, the store can grind it for customers or even pod it for a coffee machine. 

In fact, if you can’t wait and you want to consume some coffee there will be an art deco coffee bar next to the roaster where you can consume any of the coffees.  Great provenance builds great trust and having the experience of everything created around you is the kind of value-added impact that is sought after by our customers. Consuming between 24 hours and two weeks is optimum for coffee, we have our own blend from four countries which is 100% arabica beans and called Knightsbridge blend – the combination of the quality and freshness sees the notes sing and provide a great experience.

Another example in the first room will be the tea tailoring; tea is a product of great historical importance to the store, with the Taste Revolution we can personalize an experience to produce a bespoke blend for each customer.  Tea Tailoring  brings a little of the magic back to tea, the customer buys an experience lasting 15 to 20 minutes (for £30) with the tea tailor, the customer will  interactively be smelling various infusions that can be blended with tea to produce a bespoke end product which is personally labeled and packaged in beautiful tins and boxes.  The chosen blend is then stored on our books and can be purchased at Harrods at any time in the future.

Note: On the preview evening I enjoyed the ‘experience’ of the tea tailor helping me to choose an infusion blend that worked perfectly – Vanilla and Rose petals in the name of Helen Louise Carter which I gifted as a 22nd Wedding Anniversary present

We also have a bar in the Taste Revolution where people can sample fresh coffee by day and try coffee cocktails from late afternoon, evening.  We’ve also wanted to combine hospitality with retail, where the shopping experience is interactive, bespoke, educational and many customers can come to a social meeting place where they happen to shop!

Note: Amazing cocktails sampled on the preview evening.  Recommend: Espresso Martini!!

The first food hall in Harrods was 1884 and this room has been stripped right back to every painstakingly restored detail to 1925.  So for the first transformation in our food offering in over 30 years, we are ensuring we are utterly relevant to the modern local foodie, we are being creative and innovative, we are bringing customer experiences that are interactive in a hospitality meets retail setting and we aim to be utterly consistent in delivering the strongest provenance to our customers.  Bread and coffee, providing total sensory engagement will be the anchors of the first room of The Taste Revolution, ably assisted by gourmet grocery, patisserie and the like.

Because we are one store and not able to close everything down at once, we have this first room then the second hall to be refurbished and launched will be the Decadence Room then the third and the fourth and within two years we will have transformed the Harrods food business!