Atul Kochhar is a chef I’ve long admired since I saw him cook for the Queen’s 80th birthday on Great British Menu. It’s why I wanted to eat at his acclaimed restaurant Benares; I remember how all the dishes left my husband I mesmerised by Atul’s clever Asian fusion cuisine.
While he may have partied ways with Benares, Atul’s certainly put Hawkyns on the culinary map. Located in the picturesque Chiltern village of Old Amersham and just 30 minutes on the Chiltern Line train from London, it feels like you’re in a quintessential English village and indeed you are. Hawkyns is the main restaurant inside one of Old Amersham’s most charming hotels, The Crown Inn. My husband and I were staying the night at this former coaching inn and naturally, we were excited to be dining at Hawkyns which serves the same tantalising modern British Asian fusion dishes that made Atul Kochhar’s name at Benares.
The charming little boutiques of Old Amersham.
With the recent Covid-19 pandemic sweeping the world, we might have had good reason to be a bit apprehensive about staying overnight in a hotel and eating out but there was certainly nothing to worry about at the Crown Inn. Sanitising dispensers are available throughout the hotel and tables are a good two metres apart.
Once we were seated, we were offered the menus to peruse. We didn’t have drinks at the bar preferring instead to have a nightcap under moonlight in the Crown’s cobblestone courtyard. We ordered some still water and chose a bottle of Sancerre from my favourite French wine region, the Loire Valley. Popadums are served complimentary and these were cute mini popadums with a fruity mild spicy relish. The 5 course Tasting Menu wasn’t available, so we chose from the main A la Carte menu.
To start, Mr A chose the Lamb Seekh Kebab; 3 succulent kofta style lamb kebabs covered in aromatic spices, peppers and onions sitting on a puddle of the most delicious puree accompanied by a fiery but not ferocious pepper sauce. This was a starter to get the tastebuds tingling while I chose the Tandoori Jhinga; Giant tandoor prawns with ginger, chilli and Ajwain marinade. Ajwain leaves and seeds are common in Indian households known for their therapeutic properties and used to flavour drinks, curries and sometimes bread. The dish was complemented by the addition of micro herbs. Both plates set the tone for what was to follow, Atul’s intuitive use of spices working their magic as always.
The restaurant is consistenly busy meaning that you have to book a few weeks in advance to secure a reseration at the weekend. Even on a Sunday, Hawkyns is remarkably full but I’m not surprised, Atul Kochhar’s food is always spot on just as it was at Benares and now at Hawkyns.
For our main dishes, Mr A chose a traditional curry with lamb, the Railway Lamb Curry. Its origins date back to the British Raj when the Indian subcontinent was ruled by the British Crown between 1858-1947. The curry was made by Indian chefs working in the railway canteens for the Frontier Mail train which was run by British Western Railways. The story goes that the curry was much too spicy for one British soldier! The chefs tamed it down by using coconut milk and yoghurt while still retaining depth of flavour hence the birth of Railway Lamb Curry. It was served with fluffy basmati rice and a side of Saag Paneer (creamed spinach with paneer) and was simply perfect according to Mr A, a huge lover of all types of curry.
Railway Lamb Curry with Saag Paneer.
I chose fish again, Meen Moilee; a tender piece of salmon delicately cooked in an aromatic coconut turmeric sauce with masala mash. It was sublime. I adore coconut in all its forms and this creamy, slightly sweet aromatic coconut broth was heavenly and the perfect sauce to match subtle flavour of salmon.
Mr A isn’t a lover of dessert, but I am, and I wasn’t going to pass up on the last dish of our meal. I chose to have something light, Ananas Aum Aur. Ananas is pineapple cooked tandoor style beautifully caramelised with mango, fresh blackberries, and cooling coconut sorbet. It was fruity, light and refreshing and the perfect end to a perfect dining experience.
Hawkyns by Atul Kochhar is the star of The Crown Inn Hotel, a jewel in charming Old Amersham. Atul Kochhars creative and inviting menu draws the punters in week after week and it’s easy to see why; outstanding food very reasonably priced in the most beautiful surroundings. Secure your dining experience with an overnight stay and let the wine flow worry free. It’s so good to see the hospitality industry come to life again, I truly hope it continues.
Our visit to Hawkyns was part of a complimentary stay at the Crown Inn but photos unless otherwise stated and views are my own.