It is nearly Halloween when Larry and I rendezvous in Shepherd’s Market of an evening, and the signs of ghoulish frivolity are out in force. A barman bears satanic marks on his face, scowling while he serves us a pre-prandial pint (‘at these prices, you’d have to sell your soul’), the red-lit boudoirs above the restaurants have some incongruously jolly flashing lights, and the streets are thronged with red-faced merry makers, although in all fairness this is something that is not limited to October, being a common sight around these parts all year round.
The reason for our summit is to venture along to the new British restaurant Hatchetts, of which we have heard excellent things. What with the similarly acclaimed Kitty Fishers nearby, we are hopeful that this characterful part of Mayfair might be at the forefront of a gourmet renaissance. We arrive at what appears to be a buzzy, exciting restaurant, full of merriment and cheer…and then realise that that’s the bar area. The dining room lurks downstairs, and it is down a staircase adorned with a neon sign blaring ‘Thrills’ that we head. ‘I’m not sure I liked being thrilled this early in the evening’, Larry opined. ‘Haven’t we had our fair share already?’ I responded.
The room itself was something of a surprise. We’d expected linen tablecloths and a quietly clubby atmosphere, but instead there was red paint on the walls, exposed brick everywhere and a feeling more akin to a tapas restaurant than an English establishment. (A little research revealed that the former incarnation of the site was a South-East Asian establishment, an aesthetic perhaps more fitting to the cuisine of that part of the world.) Yet after our initial surprise wore off, all was well. The menu is short but well-chosen, and head chef Andrew Evans, a veteran of establishments including Hix, Murano and Petrus, certainly knows his way round a kitchen. Larry was bowled over by a starter of ‘celeriac risotto’ with English snails, just as I took enormous delight in a mixture of scallops with (unadvertised) puy lentils and raisins. A nicely acidic cocktail, a so-called ‘May Fair Lady’, hit the spot just so as well. We were beginning to enjoy ourselves.
Evans was the winner of the OFM ‘Sunday roast of the year’ in 2014, and so the carnivorous mains seemed the ones to go for. I was impressed by a bone-in rib-eye steak with bone marrow gravy, which managed the difficult task of combining flavour with aesthetic delight; Larry, meanwhile, pre-empted the 12 days of Christmas by plumping for partridge, albeit without its pear tree, and pronounced himself impressed. A fine bottle of Tierra Ribera del Quelis was proffered, sniffed, tasted, glugged, enjoyed and emptied. The only downside to what was technically a superb meal is that the downstairs room has a doleful quality to it that needs livening up, even on a relatively brisk Thursday night. Perhaps a barbershop quartet or similar could be employed.
We polished off desserts with speed and alacrity – a fine Valrhona chocolate delice for me, burnt butter pudding for Larry – and made our way, blinking like captives, into the night air. A superb meal, we agreed, and Evans is a real draw as a chef. But let’s get some of that liveliness and excitement from upstairs in and then the place will become a proper destination in its own right, whatever the season of the year.
Hatchetts, No. 5 White Horse Street. For more information, including details of private dining and events, visit www.hatchetts.london.