In a nutshell
Based within a 16th-century coaching inn, Hawkyns is executive chef Atul Kochhar’s latest addition to his collection of restaurants across England, Madrid, Mumbai and Dubai. Indian-born Atul is probably best known for a stint on BBC2’s Great British Menu and his new restaurant in Amersham is the chef’s first move away from Indian fusion, serving a British à
la carte menu. The restaurant is named after the East India Company’s Sir William Hawkyns who’s thought to be one of the first to import food from India into England. It offers good, thoughtfully sourced food at a decent price with a touch of theatre on a high street that already has a Michelin star and more than a few rosettes to go round.
Atul has put ex-One Canada Square head chef Ross Bott at the helm, and he has taken a modern British theme on with gusto, creating most of the British-centric elements in a Big Green Egg barbecue. Big, albeit single-portion, versions of banqueting-style dishes like BBQ guinea fowl (£24, with cabbage, chestnut and truffle), BBQ jacob’s ladder of beef (which was fall-off-the-bone tender that comes from being barbecued for 12 hours at 82C) and in-house cured smoked salmon (£10 starter plate) dominate the menu.
Indeed, smoke is a recurring theme. Mayonnaise is made with burnt hay oil, which gives it an almost fishy, metallic taste. Burnt cauliflower purée is served with pan-fried brill, brown shrimps, mussels, cockles and dill oil, and for dessert there’s toasted marshmallows (£7, with rhubarb ice cream and rhubarb jelly).
What are they cooking
The food is not all bold flavours and charred veg, though; there’s plenty of room made for delicate and subtle titbits on this seasonal menu, which changes according to what’s available. Saffron pickled shallots, salt-baked celeriac, pine tree oil and a leek ash, puree and terrine ensemble, with plump pan-fried scallops, which very nearly overshadowed the shellfish (and I’m not even a big leek fan) were the yin to the more heavier flavoured yang.
Sourcing is hugely important here, a fact given away on the menu: take the Thoughtful Producer chicken terrine for example, with saffron onions and purple crisps, made using the violet potato variety. Chef Ross, who happily dashed around serving the occasional table throughout service, explaining dishes and answering questions, told us that the company The Thoughtful Producer was a nearby organic farmer they had gone out of their way to visit and source from, proudly championing both quality of meat and ethics. Ross also believes in a less-is-more policy when it comes to waste, using every part of the vegetable for different stages of the menu.
The restaurant’s ethos is not local for local’s sake, but uses local produce when it makes most sense for the dish. Provenance is what’s key: salmon is from Scotland, seafood from Cornwall and the black truffles used at the time of our visit were foraged in Poland, all to ensure the best quality.
What’s the room like/atmosphere
The inn is just as charming as the market town that surrounds it. A tick-off-the-list for any film buffs, the inn was the setting for part of the 1990s movie Four Weddings and a Funeral. Clad with black and white Tudor beams, littered with open fires and with large windows looking out onto the market square, the restaurant spans the bottom floor of the inn and has a relaxed and understated kind of grandness to it. Finishing touches, like bespoke designer clay plates and tin cutlery, all add to it.
Menu must-orders and misfires
The sourdough bread at the start of the meal was a little too charred for my taste, but it wasn’t much to worry about. The must-have dish is the jacob’s ladder of beef (£23) – I experienced major food envy, despite eating practically half of my lunch date’s portion.
Your waiter will match your food choices with wine if asked. The wine list has a French bias and mostly holds old world bottles, ranging from £19.50 to £120. It would have been nice to see some English sparkling wine, at least, to pair with such English fodder. There were a few local ales and beers available, though, as well as some locally made biltong at the bar.
What else did you like/dislike?
Amersham itself is beautiful and well worth a day trip or weekend away, with plenty of cosy pubs, historic buildings and gardens and shops to meander through, as well as many countryside walk trails to work off all the food. There’s also a lot of competition in a small area for a new restaurant, although Hawkyns seems to have that gentle balance between familiar and unique that will keep people coming back.
This exciting new restaurant is worth going out of your way for. Happily situated, it has injected a bit of life into an Elizabethan inn, managing to complement its surrounds while bringing innovation and fresh ideas. The larger meals can be on the expensive side, but a smaller, less elaborate, weekly menu offering two courses for £25 and three for £29 could make Hawkyns a regular treat for many.
The Crown Inn
16 High St
Written by Liz O’Keefe, February 2017