I live only a short bus ride, or an even shorter train ride, from Kingston. I am there very often for retail therapy at the Bentalls Centre, and a frequent visitor to the large Chinese, Japanese and Korean supermarket. I enjoy the historic daily fruit and vegetable market. But I have never thought of Kingston as a dinner destination.
There is a new restaurant in a new hotel in Kingston. The hotel is a conveniently situated Doubletree by Hilton and the restaurant is called Hawkers Bar and Brasserie. One might speculate on the origins of the name ‘Hawkers’ – perhaps an indication that hunting birds might be on the menu? The Hawker in question does actually have something to do with flight. It’s the Australian aviation pioneer Harry Hawker who was the chief test pilot for Sopwith and was also involved in the design of many of their aircraft. After World War One he co-founded Hawker Aircraft in Kingston, the firm that would later manufacture the successful Hurricane fighter plane. The hotel foyer offers mementoes of the company and its aircraft.
Nods to the 1920s
The Brasserie and Bar have a contemporary urban design with exposed copper pipes and industrial fixtures. The restaurant area is large but thoughtfully divided to provide a degree of more-separated conviviality. Soft furnishings add texture and comfort to what would have been a rather masculine space. There are nods to the 1920s with lights and high ceilings.
There is an open kitchen here with the head chef Darren Edwards very much to the fore. The menu is well-crafted with classic British Brasserie fare, and the bar menu is also creditable. Crispy whitebait is outstanding and the portions of this and the other menu items are generous. The Artisanal Bread Platter with hummus, chutney, and balsamic olive oil dip is de rigueur with drinks, and the Mini Lamb Koftas with home-made mint raita make a marvellous nibble to go with one of the excellent cocktails here.
Kingston’s own Beckett’s gin
The Aviator is made with Kingston’s own Beckett’s gin (the only gin in the world distilled with British juniper and mint – I must book a visit to the distillery), fresh lemon, Crème de Violette, Maraschino liqueur and sugar. This is a perfect pre-dinner cocktail for anyone looking for a sweet start to the evening. But then there is the memorable Bloody Good Mary. That really is the name of this potent and spicy version of a classic cocktail. Russian Standard Vodka, fresh lemon, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, tomato juice and a dash of a secret sauce combine to present the sipper with a delicious explosion which was very much to my taste. This must be a signature cocktail here.
I chose Hawkers Puff Pie for my dinner. It’s made with the meat from an 18-hour slow roasted lamb shoulder, wrapped in puff pastry and served with a smoked bacon and cabbage parcel, with a rosemary gravy. I have never tasted lamb with quite so much flavour. I would be a believer if they told me that the meat was mutton, which has a much richer taste than most lamb. This is unmissable. The meat was tender and aromatic. The pastry surrounding was flaky and cooked to perfection. The cabbage parcel was more of a partner than a side dish.
My guest enjoyed the Sustainable Blackened Sea Bass with smoked fennel, mussels, kale and Noilly Pratt sauce. That fennel was quite an innovation. The smoking removed so much of the metallic aftertaste which I dislike. The dish was delicious, beautifully presented and one for which to return.
Rhubarb and Champagne Trifle with white chocolate sauce was my guest’s dessert. This writer was far too full to even contemplate a pud. I confess I had a delightful spoonful which I shall call research. This was sweet, tart, refreshing and rich, and served in a cone of a glass displaying the traditional layers of a classic trifle.
Hawkers Bar and Brasserie has only been open a short time but it is already the restaurant of choice for many locals as well as for the hotel guests. Its ambiance is accessible and friendly with a menu which displays flair and regard for British produce.
Monday – Friday: 06:30 – 22:00
Saturday – Sunday: 07:00 – 22:00
Hawkers Bar and Brasserie
1 Skerne Road
Kingston upon Thames
Phone: 020 3146 4144
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018