Old Amersham, arguably the most beautiful and quintessentially English town in Britain, with its Four Weddings and a Funeral aesthetic (the movie was filmed there), quaint houses, rich history and glorious landscapes has been jazzed up by its new and slightly edgy, restaurant: Hawkyns. Founded by twice-Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar, this is a apt combination of Indian and British flavours in a venue named after Sir William Hawkins – the commanded of the first East India Company ship to India in 1608. Boasting the best of British flavours spiced up with the fresh and fiery flavours of India, Hawkyns is the perfect newcomer to this quintessentially English town. One would do well to experience it.
It was fitting, then, that my visit to Hawkyns took place on the very eve of my final day in England, before my emigration to Canada. Stepping into the picturesque Crown Hotel (where Four Weddings was, in fact, set), a 16th century Elizabethan coaching inn with plush dark wood furnishings, thick cream carpets, and antiquated architecture (immaculately preserved, of course), Hawkyns lies on the ground floor near the entrance. It is a small and intimate restaurant, cocooning diners in a country-chic hug of beautiful wooden beams, roaring fireplaces, and homely, country-chic furnishings. The music is modern and relaxing, playing quietly in the background, leaving one with the sense that they have entered into a solidly upper-middle class dining room, were the expectation is to relax and indulge in a long and lazy dinner with lashings of good wine, delicious food, and loved ones.
Being an Indian-English fusion venue, the menu is at once traditional and eclectic, featuring dishes like Braised Pork Cheeks & Belly, Coconut Brussels Sprout, Salsify & Roscoff Onion, and Game Terrine with Pickled Radish, Ras El Hanout Spring Onion and Curry Mayo. My guest and I followed the recommendation of our wonderful host Simone, who recommended the tasting menu, which, priced at £55 per head and £40 with paired wine flight, seemed like a strong value decision.
To begin, we had a glass of Kir Royal and the Amuse Bouche, which was a delightful mini scotch egg filled with goats cheese, served on a crispy, spicy base and served with hot, fresh, seeded buns. Crunchy on the outside and oozing with warm goats cheese in the middle, it worked well with the fruity aperitif, creating a lovely start to the meal.
Our first course was my guest’s favourite, a Beetroot and Avocado terrine served as a bed of Heritage Beetroot next to a Black Salt Pomegranate Sorbet, topped with a slightly sweet biscuit and dollops of delicious, cooling creamy yogurt. The beetroot was vibrant and tangy, rich with Indian flavours, whilst the sorbet was fantastically refreshing with its cold saltiness. A surprisingly perfect match, this went down extremely well. The wine pairing for this was Chilean wine from 2017, the Bodegaza Sauvignon Blanc, which made a fresh and zesty match that stood up well to the spicy flavours.
The second course, was a Mushroom Galette, served as a terrine of mushroom in between a Saffron Bread, and streak of Picked Mushrooms laced with Cep Powder and Truffle Cone. The terrine itself was rich with umami flavours, whilst the soft and delicate mushrooms next to it added welcome balance. The Saffron Bread gave it an interesting crunch, giving a lovely structure to the otherwise creamy, rich, dish. The wine pairing here was a Pinot Noir by JK Scotto in California, Regardless of how well Pinot Noir goes with mushroom flavours, this was a particularly excellent combination that surprised us both with its faultless matching.
Our first of the main dishes, the third course, was a Salmon dish that featured a Charcoal Smoked Salmon with the ever-Indian addition of Yogurt, Lemon Gel and Kachumber. It came almost as a work of minimalist art, a large white plate with an elegant, thick square of charcoaled salmon next to dappled streak of yogurt and splashes of bright green Kachumber. A ‘clean’ tasting dish, this was both pure with the raw simplicity of the salmon and vibrant, the fresh salsa adding that quintessentially Hawkynian Indian twist. The wine with this dish was a fantastic Portuguese white from Vila Real in the Douro that the wonderful Simone recommended for us. Viscous and flavoursome [describe the wine] it added a welcome creaminess to the fresh dish.
Our fourth course, and final main, was two hearty medallions of Lamb Rump served on top of a zesty Asian Ratatouille, next to a square of indulgent, crispy Anna potato, Soubise, and Green Moong Korma. We were surprisingly full by this point (it should be noted that the portions at Hawkyn are pleasing), yet the soft, juicy lamb was undeniably excellent and deserved finishing – as did the decadent potatoes, which paired beautifully with the restorative salsa. To drink we had the Preignes Le Vieux Cabernet Cuvee from the Languedoc, France. The wine’s tannins softened the lamb even further with each mouthful, creating a really quite wonderful combination that enhanced the already brilliant Indian-take on a classic roast.
Our pre-dessert course was, unexpectedly, my favourite experience of the meal. This came as a vast, beautiful white bowl that presented a small mound of Turmeric and Fennel Ice Cream that was, just, unspeakably good. Slightly sweet, yet slightly savoury, with a saltiness that seemed unfamiliar for an ice-cream yet by the first mouthful, a certain necessity. It was divine. I would return for this dish alone.
The actual dessert that came after, was similarly superlative. A Mille Feuille, this came as biscuity goodness served with Saffron yogurt and delicate mounds of Black Sesame Ice Cream. Yet another unexpected dish of contrasting flavours, and a welcome reprieve from the chocolate-y yawn of other menus, my guest and I were quite simply, blown away. To drink, we had a lovingly matched almost-port like sweet wine, the Vin Santo Guiccadini Strozzi from Italy.
There’s no doubt that Hawkyns will excel in Amersham, and undoubtedly, eventually, across Buckinghamshire and surrounding counties. From the warm and hospitable service of Simone and his team, to the comfortable, soothing interiors, and exceptional – and interesting – food, it is a markedly exemplary restaurant. I recommend it wholeheartedly, and look forward to deeming it the dining room I will stop by first when I return to England.
Hawkyns by Atul Kochhar
16 High Street