Restaurant Hjem, Wall: restaurant review
Does a regular diner reach the same conclusion about a restaurant as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised? Food and travel writer Lucy Gillmore and olive reader Sue Taylor compare notes on this Scandinavian-style restaurant
About Restaurant Hjem, Wall
Hjem – pronounced ‘yem’ – is the Scandinavian and Northumbrian word for home, and the apt name of the new restaurant by Swedish chef Alex Nietosvuori and his Northumberland-born partner Ally Thompson.
Located in The Hadrian pub, in the midst of the northern countryside, the 24-seater space is the pair’s first restaurant after 20 years in the industry, across Scandinavia and the UK. There’s a six- or 12-course tasting menu available (£45 pp and £75 pp respectively), which is an expression of their multicultural experience and the land surrounding them. Ingredients are sourced from local farms and gardens, tableware is made by a nearby potter, beer is brewed down the road.
Expect little and large bites, featuring the likes of rabbit loin tartare, juniper canelé, bird liver tartlet and sweet toasted hay broth. Sommelier Anna Frost is in charge of the drinks and offers an alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks pairing – the former favouring minimum-intervention, often biodynamic wines. There are even rooms at the adjoining hotel, making for seriously appealing destination dining.
The pro restaurant reviewer
Lucy Gillmore was deputy travel editor for The Independent. She writes for olive and The Guardian. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @lucygillmore.
The punter restaurant reviewer
Sue Taylor lives in Newcastle upon Tyne and loves Spanish food. Her best dining experience was braised pigs’ cheeks at Restaurant 34 in Nerja, Spain.
Our pro's Restaurant Hjem, Wall restaurant review…
The interiors at Hjem mix up mid-century and Scandinavian design – all bare bulbs, retro tables and chairs, wooden floors and muted walls, and an open kitchen. We’re greeted like old friends. *I’m not recognised.
We opt for the 12-course tasting menu. The wine list has a great skin-contact selection and we order a glass of Georgian Chkhaveri maceration. The sommelier
also lets us dip into bottles opened for the wine pairing.
The menu is topped and tailed with rabbit. First, a cup of meaty wild rabbit broth and, to finish, mini bunny-shaped cookies, baked with rabbit fat. Steak tartare on an earthy mushroom tart laced with crunchy mustard seeds and sprinkled with delicate flowers has wow factor. Mussels and nasturtium leaves on a round cabbage leaf is wonderfully messy finger food but has a slightly strange salad cream tang. Smoked cod’s head on a small pancake with fresh oregano from the garden, however, is creamy bonfire unctuousness.
Panna-cotta-smooth fresh cheese with a blackcurrant leaf sauce and sprigs of mouth-puckering wood sorrel is dish-scrapingly good. As are soft scallops in a salty bacon broth, with piping hot sourdough and local North Acomb farm butter.
Elderflower sorbet, made from the first of the season’s blooms, is exquisitely floral and light, the caramelised milk crumb on top moreish. Fiery horseradish ice cream, grated horseradish and an apple caramel is an intense explosion of flavour. Singing hinny, a Northumbrian griddle cake, looks beige but slather it in homemade blackcurrant jam and raw cream and you’ll be going in for seconds.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Go now. You can sense their excitement (and it’s contagious) for the local produce, the chance to experiment and for the space they’re creating. It feels like a happy place, somewhere eating out will always be an adventure. I left smiling.
Total bill for two, excluding service: £174
Our punter's Restaurant Hjem, Wall restaurant review…
The welcome from Ally was warm and very friendly, setting the tone for the evening. We enjoyed learning about the unusual ingredients from the staff, and Alex the chef came over to explain some of the dishes. Service was smooth and efficient; the staff engaging and enthusiastic. We asked if their supplier sold his beef online, and were correctly directed to his Facebook page.
Our first course of savoury wild rabbit broth and roasted chicken skin made an intriguing opening. Then a chicken liver tartlet (the pastry light and crunchy) with soft rehydrated beetroot served on blackcurrant twig skewers.
The fresh cheese dish that followed was beautifully presented but a little bland for our taste; however, the smoked rabbit loin with broth jelly was outstanding, delicate meat with a punchy accompaniment. Raw scallop was a first for us, its bacon-infused cream a delicate base with pretty dried roe decoration.
Vegetables followed: potatoes perked up with pickled blackcurrant leaves, textures of brassicas, then asparagus with tender pine needle shoots. All fresh and local. Meat came in the form of steak tartare with crispy sourdough, then the same sirloin barbecued and served with wheat porridge and wilted wild garlic. We loved both: tender, well-seasoned meat with great contrasts of texture.
Dessert was served in beautiful wooden apple-shaped bowls with tangy yet sweet horseradish sorbet, apple caramel and crispy horseradish. This was followed by singing hinny, rejuvenated by cherry blossom syrup and blackcurrant preserve. And then, the finale: rabbit-shaped shortbreads made with rabbit fat.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The restaurant is in a lovely setting and felt very homely. It is Scandinavian in décor and North Eastern in its welcome. Although the price is high for the area,
it is worth the drive, and felt like a food adventure rather than a meal out.
Total bill for two, excluding service: £182
Restaurant Hjem Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) rating: 7
Swedish chef Alex Nietosvuori and his team have opened the door to Northumberland’s larder and are presenting their guests with a lovingly and meticulously chosen smorgasbord of the finest produce the county has to offer. Herbs grow on the roof and eggs are just about as free-range and fresh as they can – coming from the neighbouring field. They feature in every cake, pastry and breakfast served at Hjem. Most of the red meat on the menu, of which generally at least half the 12-15 dishes are vegetarian, is locally shot wild game. The beef they do serve is the epitome of quality over quantity, Whitebred shorthorn, Galloway and Blue-Grey, all of which live outside year-round. Not only does the menu make the absolute best of the connection between field and fork, but the restaurant’s website also heroes its fabulous farmers and growers, including the local potter on whose tableware the food is served.
The restaurant sends zero waste to landfill and have their own in-house solutions to any unavoidable food waste – repurposing anything that can’t be used in the restaurant in the adjoining pub, feeding scraps to their own flock of chickens or composting it to use on the vegetable patch down the road. When it comes to one of the other sustainability scourges of every kitchen, plastic, Restaurant Hjem refuses to take single-use packaging from suppliers and is on the road to only using reusable and compostable items.
Photographs by James Byrne Photography