“Hawthorn, we’ll call it Hawthorn,” said the owners of the reincarnation of The Glasshouse in Kew. It’s a beautiful name, redolent of nearby Kew Gardens and natural abundance, although, by sheer chance, it is also the exact same name as the restaurant in The Menu, the recent Ralph Fiennes horror-satire about a murderous chef.
We can, however, move quickly past this, because chef and co-owner Josh Hunter certainly means his guests no harm. No deaths occurred while I was there. It was Kew on a Saturday evening, after all, and the place was filled to bursting with the sort of jocund, elegant sorts who favoured the Glasshouse in the 23 years leading up to its closure last September. The Hungry Horse in Basildon this is not; we’re talking three courses for £65 at dinner – for example, oxtail ravioli with a winter vegetable ragout and bone marrow crumb, followed by Ryeland hogget and forced rhubarb souffle with stem ginger ice-cream. This is fine dining, but not the painfully fancy sort with which, by course nine, you find yourself staring at a bowl of fluid gels on an aerated bisque and wondering when real dinner will get going.
The Glasshouse stayed open for so very long because it was classy, never edgy and had more of a neighbourhood vibe than a Noma one. People who loved it will warm to Hawthorn, too, because they’ve changed very little– not even the tables and chairs. It’s still a dramatically bright, single room in which there are no nooks or booths to hide, with tables close enough to hear your neighbours’ primary school admissions woes and who has stolen whose babysitter gossip.
Take that hogget: some of it’s served pink with crisp fat, and there’s some shoulder meat smoked over fir, silky jerusalem artichoke, sweet onion petals and a rich, madeira sauce. The dish is aesthetically sublime, yes, but it’s also a very good roast dinner. I’m still perplexed as to what, exactly, Hunter did to the very good tiger prawn that came grilled in ’nduja butter and with delicate, pale pieces of pickled cucumber and a heavenly, buttermilk-and-dill dressing, but it’s one of the sweetest, plumpest, most sating things I’ve eaten all year.
Front of house is in the safe hands of the other co-owner, Patra Panas, who knows every square foot of this joint intimately, having worked at the Glasshouse for years, and there’s a strong sense that she has taken the reins and changed the name to make it very much hers and Hunter’s, but without wishing to chase away the goodwill spun by Nigel Platts-Martin and Bruce Poole before them. This is still a mature, special-occasion restaurant with Phillipponnat champagne at £15 a glass and cultured butter that’s served on a shiny pebble to go with homemade sourdough (essential for mopping up the blood-orange-and-oyster dressing from a plate of cured scallop and gilt-head bream with herb tempura).
The best dish on the current menu is the Cornish monkfish with chicken skin butter that comes with cime di rapa and hazelnuts. The whole thing is fishy, salty, buttery ecstasy, and aims to fill and soothe. I also hope to return for the tarte tatin of roast shallots with a Wigmore cheese fondue and a walnut-and-pickled-apple dressing. Ingredients are distinctly British, but they’re made with a gesture to Italian and French cuisine – roast veal rump, for instance, comes with truffled potatoes and grilled calçots, and the cod with risotto al nero di seppia (or cuttlefish ink risotto to the likes of you and me).
And, just as things seem to be getting a little highfalutin, there’s that rhubarb souffle and a server clutching a spoon of the finest stem ginger ice-cream and asking delicately – even though there is no delicate way to ask this – if he can stuff it in the hole. When, in my twilight, Barbara Cartland years, I’m lying on a chaise longue, clutching an armpit chihuahua and dictating books about my restaurant exploits, one tome will be devoted to “Souffles wot I have loved”, and Hawthorn’s pale pink, quivering beauty will definitely be getting a mention. We also had some cultured yoghurt with cured pineapple and mango honey, which might have been a health food if it hadn’t turned up with some warm vanilla beignets.
Hawthorn isn’t for fickle new-restaurant-opening-chasers who want to take a selfie next to a disco glitter ball in the loo. It’s for locals with lovely things to celebrate, who want Panas to look after them like a friend and Hunter to cook them a dinner of such quality that they really won’t mind when the bill’s a little chunky, because every mouthful was worth it. Hawthorn may be the epitome of safety, but it is also probably one of the restaurants of the year.
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