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Exciting new slant on ‘home’ cooking

04 April, 2019 — By Tom Moggach

Hām offers ‘genuinely exciting food with a subtle nod to Asia’

IN these troubled times, it helps to daydream of Britain in halcyon years. Step back a few centuries and outer London was a sprinkling of leafy hamlets.

West Hampstead, where I ate last week, had a population of just 212 in 1801. West End Lane, the main thoroughfare, was edged with hedgerows and lacy wildflowers. The subject of this review trades gently on this kind of hazy nostalgia.

Hām is the restaurant’s name – a word that translates as “home” in Old English.

It’s at the north end of West End Lane, a few doors down from an upmarket butcher and several charity shops.

At first glance, this name – especially the accent – might seem a touch pretentious. But such thoughts are soon forgotten once you step through the door.

This restaurant has been open for a year, run by a chef with a heavyweight CV that includes The Ledbury and Terroirs. You may spot him if you visit and look up – he’s the bearded Aussie working in the mezzanine kitchen overlooking the dining room.

Hām is the kind of place that’s had a professional makeover, which must have cost a bob or two. It’s airy and white, with a swoop of turquoise banquettes and marble-topped tables on the left; a well-stocked bar to the right.

They make a fuss of the cocktails, many laced with spirits from the Sacred distillery in Highgate.

We slid into a corner table, ideally positioned to observe the other customers.

Brunch is apparently a big deal at Hām, with a menu that stretches from a classy fry-up to porridge with rhubarb and almond praline.

But we came for dinner – a birthday celebration – and it was an older crowd, the atmosphere sedate and refined.

The chef has just launched a new tasting menu. My alarm bells rang: a cascade of dishes often tests my patience. If the pace is too slow, I’m itching to leave long before the pudding.

But service was swift and the cooking original, surprising and technically accomplished.

There were chunks of Herdwick lamb, perfectly seasoned and rested, with a wild garlic sauce in vivid green and dice of earthy salsify.

A fillet of mackerel, the skin wafted by a blowtorch, arrived with a wedge of pickled kohl rabi and strands of agretti, a rare Italian vegetable.

I loved the croquettes with celeriac and, for pudding, the bouncy panna cotta; less convinced by a combo of freekeh (smoked green wheat) and blue cheese.

The tasting menu costs £39 per head. If you order a la carte, expect £8-10 for starters; mains for £13-£20, which seems fair.

This is genuinely exciting food, with a subtle nod to Asia. The chef makes a dish of fresh peas, mussels, and soy cured yolk, for example; he pairs cod with shiso, a fragrant Japanese herb.

I’d like to try Hām in the daytime. I bet the atmosphere is buzzing but you might need to dodge the pushchairs.

Hām West Hampstead,
238 West End Lane, NW6
020 7813 0168
www.hamwesthampstead.com
Social media: @hamwhampstead

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