“Hawthorn, let’s call it Hawthorn,” said the owners of The Glasshouse’s reincarnation at Kew. It’s a beautiful name, reminiscent of nearby Kew Gardens and natural bounty, although coincidentally it’s also the same name as the restaurant in The Menu, Ralph Fiennes’ recent horror satire about a murderous chef.
But we can quickly pass that, because chef and co-owner Josh Hunter certainly doesn’t mean it badly with his guests. There were no fatalities while I was there. After all, it was a Saturday night in Kew, and the place was packed with the sort of happy, elegant types who favored the Glasshouse in the 23 years before it closed last September. The hungry horse in Basildon is not; we’re talking three courses for £65 at dinner – for example, oxtail ravioli with a winter vegetable ragout and bone marrow crumbles, followed by Ryeland hogget and forced rhubarb soufflé with stick ginger ice cream. This is fine dining, but not the painfully outlandish variety that has you staring at a bowl of liquid gels on an aerated sponge cake at aisle nine and wondering when real dinner time will begin.
The Glasshouse stayed open so long because it was stylish, never fancy, and had a neighborhood vibe rather than a noma vibe. People who loved it will also warm to Hawthorn because they changed very little – not even the tables and chairs. It’s still a dramatically bright single room, with no corners or alcoves to hide in, with tables close enough to hear neighbors’ worries about elementary school admissions and hear who whose babysitter gossip stole.
Grab this hogget: some are served pink with crispy fat, and there’s some fir-smoked shoulder meat, silky Jerusalem artichoke, sweet onion leaves and a rich Madeira sauce. The dish is aesthetically sublime, yes, but it’s also a very good roast meal. I’m still at a loss as to exactly what Hunter did with the very good tiger prawn that came grilled in ‘Nduja butter and topped with tender, pale chunks of pickled cucumber and a buttermilk dill dressing to die for, but it’s one of the sweetest, thickest, most filling things I’ve eaten all year.
Front of House is in the safe hands of fellow co-owner, Patra Panas, who knows every square foot of this eatery intimately having worked at the Glasshouse for years, and there’s a strong feeling that she’s taken the reins and changed the name, um making him very much hers and Hunter’s, but without wanting to shoo away the goodwill spun in front of them by Nigel Platts-Martin and Bruce Poole. This is still a mature special occasion restaurant, with Phillipponnat champagne at £15 a glass and soured butter served on a gleaming pebble with homemade sourdough (essential for wiping blood orange and oyster dressing off a plate). salted scallop and sea bream with herb tempura).
The best dish on the current menu is the Cornish monkfish with chicken skin butter, served with cime di rapa and hazelnuts. The whole thing is fishy, salty, buttery ecstasy and aims to satiate and soothe. I also hope to return for the roasted shallot tarte tatin with a Wigmore cheese fondue and a walnut and pickled apple dressing. The ingredients are decidedly British, but they’re prepared with a touch of Italian and French cuisine – the roast veal, for example, is served with truffled potatoes and grilled calçots, and the cod to go with it Risotto al Nero di Seppia (or squid ink risotto for you and me).
And just when things seem to be getting a little pretentious, there’s this rhubarb souffle and a waiter clutching a spoonful of the finest stick ginger ice cream and gently asking — though it’s not a delicate way of asking this — if he can fill it in the hole. In my twilight, Barbara Cartland years, when I’m lying on a chaise longue, clutching an armpit Chihuahua and dictating books of my restaurant exploits, there will be a tome dedicated to “Souffles I’ve Loved,” and Hawthorn’s pale pink, Trembling beauty will definitely be mentioned. We also had some plain yogurt with pickled pineapple and mango honey, which might have been a healthy staple if it hadn’t shown up with some warm vanilla fritters.
Hawthorn isn’t for the fickle grand opening hunter looking to snap a selfie next to a disco glitter ball on the loo. It’s for locals with nice things to celebrate who want Panas to take care of them like a friend and Hunter to cook them a dinner of such quality that they really don’t mind if the bill is a little thick, because every bite was worth it. Hawthorn may be the epitome of safety, but it’s also probably one of the restaurant of the year.
• hawthorn 14 Station Parade, Kew, 020-8940 6777. Open Tues-Sat, lunch 12pm-2.15pm, dinner 6pm-9.45pm. Lunch £45 for three courses (£50 Sat), dinner £65 for three courses, all plus drinks and service.