Four months after one of the biggest pandemics to hit the world, I’m finally back eating at a restaurant. And I’m very glad it was Hām. A casual and friendly neighbourhood restaurant in West Hampstead, Hām is open from breakfast to dinner, heroing British produce from all over the UK in every dish. The food is simple but imaginative, cooked in a way that allows the quality of the ingredients to shine.
Not sure what to expect, we entered the restaurant tentatively, only to be greeted by a smiling waitress, who asked us to sanitise our hands before showing us to our table. Once seated, the experience was very much the same as that of pre-lockdown; cocktails to start, the usual ordering process and the low hum of others enjoying their meals. Everything was very clean, but then I don’t think Hām would have been the type of place to ever have low hygiene standards. Tables were spaced out, though it didn’t feel unnatural. More like dining on a Monday evening, rather than a Thursday, when, ordinarily, the rest of west London would have been battling for a seat in this chic restaurant.
The interior is simple and modern: brick walls, marble tables and high ceilings with low hanging lights creating a relaxing ambience in the evening. During the day time, the large open front of the restaurant allows a stream of natural light to shine through, or diners can sit out front, enjoying a coffee or glass of wine and watch the world go by. What I enjoy most about the inside, is the open bar and kitchen; the sound of the cocktail shaker only adds to the atmosphere and I always find it exciting watching the chefs at work.
A place that favours its wine selection just as much as its food, Hām welcomes guests for both drinks and dining. On this occasion, there was a couple enjoying wine seated out front, while the rest of us stayed warm inside, away from the wet summer evening. There were no more than two to a table, but I expect in usual circumstances this restaurant would have been bustling on a Thursday evening, mostly with locals, popping in on their way home from work.
Hām’s menu comprises just four starters, three mains and two puddings. At first, you may think it sounds too simple, but sometimes the most modest menus can be the hardest to pull off, as every element of each dish needs to be executed perfectly.
To accompany our cocktails, we shared the warm soda bread, which came with a whipped vegemite butter; I could have eaten it with a spoon. We then tucked into the buttermilk fried chicken, served with a deliciously creamy satay sauce, coleslaw, and chilli lime dressing, as well as the Devon crab, which came on a base of thick avocado, hazelnut dukkah, and cucumber – fresh and fragrant, but slightly underwhelming. I could have done with more of the soda bread to scoop it up with.
For our mains, we chose the roasted cod (perfectly cooked and seasoned) which sat on a bed of gnocchi, Trombetta courgette, nori oil and sea herbs – it looked and tasted as pretty as it sounds. We also shared the Cumbrian beef rump, served with fresh peas and grilled baby gem, which added a delightful smokiness to the dish.
Making the most of our first meal back out, we naturally found room for dessert, tucking into the chocolate mousse and honeycomb, and fragrant cardamom rice pudding, with soft peaches and hazelnut praline. We enjoyed the meal with a bottle of house wine, a crisp white from Italy, served perfectly chilled.
With such a modest menu, Hām isn’t the type of place you’d rush back to in a hurry if you have to travel far to get there. But that isn’t what the restaurant’s about. Hām is for locals, it wants to be part of the neighbourhood and if I lived just down the road, it would be my first stop for a glass of wine in the evening or brunch at the weekend; food doesn’t come much fresher, or staff more friendly.