London Chow was an invited guest to Hill Bar & Brasserie.
A gastropub often faces this delicate balance between being a pub and a full service restaurant. It has to cater to the casualness of the local hangout place and yet serve dishes that actually tastes decent without the customer being half intoxicated.
The Hill Bar & Brasserie sits along Haverstock Hill, which P and I discovered on a Tuesday evening, is literally an uphill walk from Chalk Farm Tube station. It was a sign that we had forsaken the gym for quite some time. We could have done some stretching prior to that. Not exactly a good start for the evening.
In many ways, The Hill Bar & Brasserie is an ideal gastropub. The entire place was bustling when we stepped in. We see families with young children picking on chips and gourmet burgers on one end of the spectrum and people still decked in their office wear stopping by for a good night out on the other. Loud jazz music filled the background and with the lights gradually dimmed, we were totally sequestered from the busy traffic just outside. Perfect for winding down after a long day.
I knew what I'd go for after having a glance at the rather extensive menu. Starter was crispy squid, I sat back drumming my fingers in feigned impatience over P's indecision. His French palate took over in the end - fresh salt water scallop it was.
The Hill Bar's crispy squid (£8.50) was surprisingly good. After tasting quite a few samples of crispy squids, I realise that there are just two main categories of the dish. The first sees the squid thickly cut, barely battered and flash fried. The outcome is a juicy and chewy (not rubbery) bite that leaves you wanting more. The second is thin rings that resemble onion rings churned out at fast good chains, fried to a crisp to hide the fact that there is more batter than squid. In fact, they are only on the menu only because the owner feels that the menu can do with a squid dish.
Served with pea shoot and spiced tomato sauce, The Hill's crispy squid clearly belonged to the first category. The peppery batter wet my appetite for the mains and I had to fought off P's marauding fork more than once.
In comparison, P's fresh salt water scallop (£9) looked less appealing. The translucent thinly sliced scallop was tossed with what looked like sliced white tuber. Perhaps I am a bit too used to pan fried scallops, the texture of the saltwater scallop was rather unexciting.
The selection of mains was pretty straightforward - with a name like The Overboard Burger (£14.50), it was small wonder. That was a typical case of good things come small. A palm size hand crafted patty mashed with lobster, prawn and crayfish topped with a rich lobster mayo summed it up. Absent was the familiar meaty flavour but that was the whole point, wasn't it? One thing was for sure, you could catch a whiff of the lobster the moment you cut through the patty.
P was in the mood for some red meat. His fillet steak (£23.50 - 8oz) done medium rare was served with chunks of skin on potato wedges and deep fried onion rings. Concealed within the batter were whole juicy onion rings and they took off the edge of the steak itself. The knife sliced cleanly into the steak but there was this lingering bland taste. Perhaps a spot of butter, a generous grinding of pepper and salt would do the job just fine.
One of P's favourite dessert is the double chocolate brownie at the now defunct Curve Bar and Restaurant. He was literally torn between Hill Bar's warm chocolate brownie (£5.50) and white chocolate and raspberry crème brulee (£5.50). I was in a generous mood and offered to go for the other one once he made his choice.
Even with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, the chocolate brownie could be more moist. All was not lost though. Once the ice-cream melted, it seeped through the brownie's crevices and all was well again. The chef must had been a bit trigger happy with his blowtorch on the crème brulee. The caramalised top was thicker than it should be. But once we managed to break through the burnt sugar, the creamy milk chocolate sweetened with raspberry was tantalizing.
To the locals, The Hill Bar must be like the perfect 'nice place by the corner' where you would go for the occasional treat. With its generous menu, it's unlikely that you would be tired of its offerings. Granted, it might be a tad highbrow and lack the certain grit that characterises the local pub but I do know that it's exactly the type of place that I would like to be in the neighbourhood.
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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Hill Bar & Brasserie Haverstock Hill review - nice restaurant round the corner