Hawkyns Amersham — The Local View
Atul Kochhar’s latest venture, Hawkyns Restaurant, in Old Amersham opened at The Crown in mid January, amidst a genteel excitement worthy of the Home Counties set. There has been an overwheming need for a venue serving a quality of food which can happily sit alongside the fine dining credentials of The Artichoke across the road, but in a congenial setting more suitable for a bit of evening revelry and the odd raucous laugh. So does it deliver for locals?
The Bucks Insider visited a month after opening, and sought opinions from other local couples who have recently visited.
The Crown itself is a gem of a building — atmospheric, warm, quirky and intimate, it holds a place in many locals’ hearts after spending happy hours under its roof. It particularly comes into its own on Amersham Heritage Day each September, when it is packed to the rafters, hosts a fun BBQ and live music in the courtyard and is smack bang in the middle of all the events of the day, drawing a crowd of thousands to the heart of the old town.
Upon arrival, The Crown appears largely untouched, which will be a relief to some, with simple touches of zesty orange and striking stone tableware bringing an earthy but modern feel to the decor. Changes have been applied with a light hand, and one can’t help but feel that the team could be bolder to really make an impact, especially for those of us who eat in London regularly and who are used to the sophistication of Kochhar’s other more formal restaurants, Benares in Mayfair and Sindhu in Marlow.
Service was warm, with Richard Martinez heading the team, and some familiar faces from the prior brasserie days. We grabbed a couple of drinks from the bar and took a seat by the fire before being shown to our table.
We opened with the signature scallop dish with leek terrine, leek puree, leek ash and ebene caviar dressing, and the chicken terrine with bread sauce, saffron shallots and purple crips, both of which were very good. The scallops were perfectly cooked, just done, and I’ve really warmed to leeks sharing centre stage after a fantastic version on last year’s Spring menu at Gilbey’s Amersham. The texture of the terrine was spot on with good flavour from the free range chicken and much underutilised bread sauce.
After a few hiccups with the wine list (the restaurant is in the process of moving to a new list and couldn’t confirm availability of some items), we moved on to the duck breast with salt baked celeriac, yoghurt, wild rice and sunflower seeds, along with the Hawkyns fish and chips with pea puree, tartare sauce and battered scraps.
The duck was ambitious and probably the strongest nod to Atul’s spice heritage. Prepared sous vide, it was extremely rich and tender, with the yoghurt and rice adding texture but a little dense and too rich for my taste, and the celeriac was a nice accompaniment — again, an underutilised vegetable that is packed with flavour. Mr Bucks described the cod as about the best he’d ever eaten, such a light and fresh way to serve it to release the flavour, with just a hint of crunch from the battered scraps. Oh and from the side of triple cooked chips that just had to be tried!
We finished with the toasted marshallows with rhubarb icecream and rhubarb jelly, and the poached pear with oat granola. The marshmallow was a triumph; crispy, smoky and gooey without being too sweet, and the rhubarb icecream was fantastic, whilst the blanched rhubarb was a little al dente for my taste as was the poached pear although it was again a fresher take on a staple dish, and a palate cleansing finish to the meal.
Overall we enjoyed the experience thoroughly. There is some work to be done with service, which was at times a little disjointed, and the wait at the bar is poor, but it’s always been a weak point of The Crown, and nothing too tricky to remedy, and we would welcome a more atmospheric design aesthetic to make the venue a little more standout.
Whilst Kochhar has been clear that this is a departure from the constraints of his London enterprises, the overwhelming view locally is that there needs to be a stronger punch of spice alongside the skilled execution of modern British cuisine. The marketing of the restaurant should more clearly pitch the menu’s leanings and they should be delivered on the plate.
Head Chef, Ross Bott, is young, ambitious and has a strong working relationship with Kochhar through his experience at Benares. He brings a solid pedigree of experience including 3 Michelin starred La Tante Claire, Paris House, Dansfield House and the Compleat Angler in Marlow, where he achieved Three Rosettes in just 11 months. He is well placed to deliver exceptional food with a regional nod that draws both locals and visitors alike. We look forward to watching Hawkyns gather a skilled team around him and seeing the evolution of the dishes and the menu to keep us coming back to a favourite stomping ground.