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.
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
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.
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!