The Hill Bar & Brasserie

Since relaunching in Summer 2011, The Hill Bar and Brasserie in London’s leafy Belsize Park has quickly become a neighbourhood favourite.

Under the eye of Vancouver-born restaurateur Michael Parker (The Commander Porterhouse & Oyster Bar), The Hill Bar & Brasserie celebrates the most refined elements of North American dining, inspired by Parker’s origins from the Pacific Northwest.

And January 2012 sees a brand new menu, complete with raw bar, which will put The Hill at the forefront of North London’s dining scene.

“We hope our menu is the first true Pacific Northwest food concept in London,” says Michael. “It’s what we are passionate about – and it’s a unique, healthy and exciting offering, with an emphasis on fresh ingredients, simply prepared, from a wide variety of shellfish and sashimi, to Schezuan noodle bowls and steak-boards.”

And the team, headed by experienced General Manager James Drake, are trained to bring professional, unobtrusive “service with a smile” – what you would expect from a North American dining room. Yet sedate eatery this is not, as the venue gently mutates into a lively cocktail and wine bar after 10pm, in the spirit of the legendary Balboa café in San Francisco, when the tables are cleared and the drinks keep flowing until the early hours (1230am Thurs-Sat).

A much-noted historic building (see ‘History’ section) The Hill Bar & Brasserie is an effortlessly atmospheric dark-panelled room with separate bar and restaurant areas, its walls hung with tarnished mirrors and art deco chandeliers (from George Michael’s and Boy George’s houses, respectively!) Old prints of Belsize Park dating back to the early 1900’s also adorn the wall above the bar.

There are some lovely, distinct areas, according to your mood: the low-lit restaurant seats 80, the bar has room for 50, the extensive but cosy garden a further 100, and the pavement tables around 50, if you wish to watch the comings and goings on bustling Haverstock Hill. The bar area and garden all feature full or self-service dining and spacious nooks for big and small groups.

The seasonally-driven menu, designed by accomplished chef Clayton Mills, is an imaginative take on Pacific Northwest cuisine. Fresh seafood, authentic Raw Bar oysters and prawns, unfussy, perfectly prepared steaks – as well as comfort classics like lobster mac ‘n’ cheese, burgers and noodle bowls – are all served in a stylish, informal atmosphere.

Starters, Crustacea & Raw Bar
Highlights include ‘New England Clam Chowder’ (£5.50) and ‘Lobster Bisque’ (£7). Crustacea include Irish rock, native and guest oysters (£2.50 upwards each), Jumbo Prawns (£2 each), as well as Canadian lobster tails and crab claws (Market price). Or a choice of citrus-marinated sashimi – Scottish salmon (£5.50), Salt Water Scallops (£9) and yellowfin tuna (£6.50)

Salads include Baked Honey Fig & Dolcelatté (v) with a dolcelatte blue cheese dressing & caramelised pecans (£8.5), Quinoa Salad (v) with courgette, peppers, red onion & a roasted tomato dressing(£8) Soba Noodle Salad (v) with mango, lime, mint, garlic and toasted peanuts (£8.50).

Mains
Fresh fish is simply prepared and pan-seared, and served with wilted spinach, a side of caper butter sauce & a pea shoot garnish. Choose from Fillet of Scottish Salmon (£8.5), Fillet of Atlantic Seabass (£12.5) or Salt Water Scallops (£13.5).

From the meat board we recommend the 8oz Herb & Sea Salt Encrusted ‘Flat Iron’ Steak (£16.5), a tender top blade steak. The name derives from the shape of the cut that when separated into two pieces by cutting horizontally through the centre it resembles a ‘Flat Iron’. Or splash out and go for the Fillet (at £23.50), a treat that positively melts in the mouth. All boards are served with fresh herbs, half a roasted garlic bulb, onion rings and your choice chunky of chips, pommes frites or mixed leaf salad. Steaks served with a choice of béarnaise, peppercorn or red wine jus.

And if it’s comfort food you’re after, try a burger (the classic, at £11.50, is Aberdeen Angus Beef mince with coriander, red onion, Monterey Jack cheese & red onion chutney, served with chunky chips, pommes frites or mixed salad, or try the ‘Overboard’, at £14.50, a surprisingly light combination of lobster, prawn and crayfish). Other warming wintry dishes include a gourmet Lobster Mac + Cheese (Flakes of Canadian lobster, macaroni, strong English cheddar & bread crumbs) at £14.50 and Schezuan noodle bowls from £8 (add seabass, scallops, salmon too, from £13.50.)

If you still have room, classic desserts include Baked Wild Berry Cheesecake with fruit coulis £5.5 or Warm Chocolate Brownie £5.50, served with vanilla ice cream, as well as a Cheese Board (£6.50, Cornish Yarg, Fernhouse cheddar and Yorkshire Wensleydale & cranberry served with crackers & chutney).

The extensive wine list could make you think you’ve just stepped into a wine bar that caters wonderfully to diners.

Choose from a comprehensive list of over 50 bottles, including 9 red wines, 11 whites and 2 roses, all orderable by the carafe (250/500 ml) as well as glass and bottle.

There’s also a selection of cocktails starting at a reasonable £7 for a Cosmopolitan, Classic Margarita, Amaretto sours, Dark & Stormy or Caipirinha. Other highlights include an Earl Grey Martini (£8) and a Toddy’s Chocolate Orange (Ceylon Arrack, Mozart Dry, Santa Theresa orange rhum, fresh lime and caster sugar £8). And of course there are Espresso martinis, French martinis and a damn good Maple old fashioned.

History Of The Hill
Established by 1721 and rebuilt in its present form in 1863, The Hill was originally known as The Load Of Hay Tavern. Rumours about the place abound: it was once said to have been called the Cart and Horses, and had a varying reputation. Its boisterous landlord Joe Davis (d. 1806) was widely caricatured in prints and patronized by the nobility (and was rumoured to have died prostrate by the bar), whereas 19th century US author Washington Irving remembered it for its rowdy Irish haymakers. In 1863 the Load of Hay was rebuilt and from 1965 until 1974 the gymnasium behind was used by the British Boxing Board of Control, and it was where Muhammed Ali used to train.

“The Hill’s changed hands so many times that we’re trying to incorporate all this history,” says Michael Parker. “We’ve put a print of Joe Davis in the corner in exactly the spot where he used to sit, and we’re now on the look-out for some original images of Muhammed Ali and Washington Irving. We want to become caretakers of its history.”

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