Karl Chads writes… Festive feasts aren’t everyone’s choice of nourishment even at this hallowed time of year, and they certainly weren’t the style of cuisine I hankered for on this particular crisp Sunday evening in Hampstead. Rather, I sought the glitz and glamour on a plate that, surprisingly, is served by this most rustic-looking restaurant.
Hearing the chatter from fellow customers greeted by the courteous staff, I was surprised at how many diners had ventured from across the capital to dine here; this was my first visit to Hampstead for a while, and I’d forgotten that it’s still a kind of tourist destination as much for Londoners as visitors from overseas.
Fast-forwarding to the food, the kitchen doesn’t do on-trend or faddy, so if you’re looking for the latest culinary kick, well, Shoreditch is only a Tube-ride away. What this place does so well is to match the flavour with the texture, and the presentation with the description on the menu.
I ordered the fried cauliflower (always my favourite starter, irrespective of the cuisine) with black garlic aioli and tomato chutney; it looked as exactly as I expected, the texture was fantastic, and the flavour of the vegetable was never in danger of being overwhelmed by the accompanying sauces.
Spanish is the over-riding influence of the food, and if you don’t eat meat or fish, the menu poses challenges, not for the starters (grilled artichokes, bottarga, almonds with a foam of garlic, and a tomato salad), but for the mains: that Iberian classic, rabbit; a sharer of lamb shank, artichokes and parsnip; and superb seafood dishes including scallops, hake and octopus.
The wine list complements rather than contrasts the European recipes; Old World reds and whites provide an enviable breadth and depth of quality. That most elusive of elements, the ambience, remains considered and consistent throughout the evening, as may of us have come to expect from restaurants in Hampstead.
Full-on flavours packaged in perfect proportions would be the epitaph for 28 Church Row, although, on current form, this restaurant thankfully seems likely to be with us for a long time to come.