Restaurant check: Ham Yard

BACKGROUND

The 91-room Ham Yard hotel in London’s Soho is the eighth Firmdale Hotels property to open in London (there is also the Crosby Street New York). It was unveiled last month (June) and joins the nearby Haymarket, Covent Garden and Charlotte Street boutique hotels, among others, to make up the group’s current portfolio.

The colourful, trendy interiors have been designed by Kit Kemp, who co-owns Firmdale with her husband Tim. As well as the ground-floor restaurant and outdoor terrace, the Ham Yard hotel has a Mediterranean-inspired rooftop garden, a glitzy bowling alley, a 176-seat screening room and a library.

THE RESTAURANT

The Ham Yard restaurant (and adjacent bar) is an airy, light-filled space that opens on to al fresco terrace in the formerly derelict Ham Yard square, where numerous tables and chairs are set up. (Unfortunately, if you want to sit outside, it is first come, first served – no reservations.)

I loved the interior design, which combines exotic textiles, patterned wall coverings, ethnic upholstery, vibrant abstract paintings, tribal sculptures, zany woven lampshades and mismatched furniture with pale wood floors, a mix of hardwood table tops and white linen cloths, Zen-like stone and tranquil white space.

It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I thought the overall effect worked well, and made for a refreshing change from the obligatory “industrial chic” every “cool” new restaurant in the capital goes for with exposed brickwork, iron beams, raw cement and overhead pipework stretching across the ceilings. It’s also nice to see a hotel embrace colour – it’s not an easy thing to do, with the safe bet being going for beige, which is utterly dull and boring.

When I visited one Saturday lunchtime, soon after it had opened, I had planned to sit outside, but the English summer being unpredictable, it happened to be raining so I met my companions inside at one of the four-person banquette booth set-ups.

It was pretty quiet, but didn’t feel echoing and soulless – it just felt like a really pleasant, homely, upmarket place to enjoy a meal. I am sure it is more buzzing now that people have heard about it – and the outdoor terrace will undoubtedly be a winner as there are so few places in this area of London that allow for street-side dining.

Our waitress was genial and attentive. Ham Yard is a relaxed place to come for a meal – be it lunch with clients, an evening date or brunch with friends.

THE FOOD

The approachable à la carte menu offers a selection of seasonal European dishes with lots of fresh vegetables and fish – the cooking is clean, uncomplicated and unpretentious.

You don’t come here to be wowed by the next new wave of cutting-edge cuisine, which I think will be to Ham Yard’s benefit – locals will pop back on a regular basis for a nibble and a glass of wine in the yard, and hotel guests will happily stop for a light lunch or meal in the evening without having to worry about getting a reservation, or embarking on a three-hour culinary journey, while consuming a 5,000-calorie tasting menu.

I ordered a spicy bloody Mary, which was decent, though not a patch on the superb ones served at Skylon bar on the South Bank (the best I have ever had). While deciding on what to order, ciabatta rolls (straight from the oven) were delivered to the table with salty butter.

We started with the summer minestrone soup of asparagus, garden peas, beans and fresh herbs, glistening with droplets of oil; the Dorest crab with a poached duck egg, watercress and a slice of toast; and the shaved raw asparagus and truffle salad with wafer-thin fennel and radish, which was in a light creamy dressing and had a delicious, delicately nutty, smoky flavour to it.

Other options included glazed candy beets with goat’s curd, mustard, walnuts and orange slices; and ham hock with crispy shallots, and dandelion and parsley salad.

Next came two portions of pillowy gnocchi (gently fried on one side) for the vegetarians, with fluffy ricotta cheese, peas, broad beans and wilted baby spinach – the simple combination worked well. The pescatarian among us went for the sea trout, the oiliness of the fish offset beautifully with a parsley and lemon salsa verde, peppery watercress, fennel and earthy puy lentils.

Both these dishes went nicely with a bottle of the young 2013 Massey Dacta sauvignon blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand (£42).

Alternative mains would have been the slow-roasted porchetta with Gorgonzola polenta and kale; roast duck with baby globe artichokes, aubergine, Feta, olives and oregano; and Aberdeenshire sirloin, again with peas, broad beans and baby spinach (a recurring theme).

For dessert there was a creamy rich chocolate pot with raspberry coulis and chocolate-covered popping candy, served in a glass jam jar with a screw-top lid; a raspberry and meringue parfait that wasn’t on the menu; and an unusual Pimm’s jelly, which came as a ring with cucumber sorbet in the middle, and mint leaves and fruit suspended inside. I don’t think I have eaten jelly since my childhood but it was actually rather nice – reminded me of a garden party.

Breakfast, brunch (click here for a sample menu) and afternoon tea are also served at Ham Yard.

VERDICT

The fresh, simple food is well put together, affordable and easy to enjoy. I felt Kit Kemp’s eclectic interior design worked well, and I will certainly return to experience brunch on the terrace – a real boon for Soho.

FACT FILE

  • OPENING HOURS 7am until about 10.30pm or 11pm.
  • PRICES A la carte starters £6-£9, mains £13-£21, desserts £5.
  • CONTACT Ham Yard hotel, 1 Ham Yard, London; tel +44 (0)20 3642 2000; firmdalehotels.com


Jenny Southan
 


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