Din­ner at: Kite at the Red Hart

Ren­o­vated and rein­vented by two young lo­cals, an his­toric Hitchin inn is serv­ing British dishes with in­ven­tion

Hertfordshire Life - - CONTENTS - WORDS: Richard Cawthorne PHO­TOS: Brian Arnopp

His­toric Hitchin inn serv­ing in­ven­tive British food

Afancy for veni­son and news that one of Herts’ most his­toric pubs had been res­cued from obliv­ion led me to the Red Hart in Hitchin. With new own­ers and a sparkling re­fur­bished din­ing area with menus to match, it is now re­named Kite at the Red Hart to sig­nal the fact things have changed. The re­furb had been re­ported in ad­vance; the menu to ac­com­pany it was new, which is where the veni­son came in.

A visit to the web­site to check progress on the re­open­ing re­vealed one of my favourite dishes on of­fer but with a dif­fer­ence – not just roasted loin of the meat in ques­tion but, to give it the full billing, ‘veni­son suet pud­ding and roasted loin with pick­led red cab­bage, baby parsnip, stout jus and vi­o­lette potato purée’. It was enough to jus­tify a visit to ex­plore fur­ther. On ar­rival we found the choice of starters was sim­i­larly in­trigu­ing, led by char­coal-roasted cele­riac with white onion velouté, black onion seed crisps, chive oil and leek ash at £6 and roasted crispy lamb shoul­der, roasted and pick­led cau­li­flower, raisin and ca­per ketchup at £7.50.

Our even­tual choices were ale rarebit and shal­lot vol-au-vent with Ogleshield cheese, beet­root-pick­led onions, whole­grain mus­tard dress­ing, red mus­tard and frill salad (£6.50) and in my com­pan­ion’s case scal­lops, pre­sented this time grilled with Jerusalem ar­ti­choke purée and crisps and smoked pear purée (£11). Both dishes had the spe­cial touch of be­ing fa­mil­iar but dif­fer­ent enough to stand out. My fel­low critic, who in­vari­ably chooses scal­lops when avail­able, pro­nounced these among the best, while the vari­a­tion on Welsh rarebit was a tangy win­ter treat.

While the veni­son (£22) was a fore­gone con­clu­sion for my choice as a main course, and fully jus­ti­fied be­ing picked, there were other dishes on the list clearly de­serv­ing to be tried, per­haps on a fu­ture visit. Stand­outs in­cluded sea bream with brown crab orzo, char­coal-roasted mussels, shell­fish sauce and lemon ver­bena and dill oil (£17), and black trea­cle and beer braised beef cheek with bone mar­row crum­ble, caramelised shal­lots and purée, plus duck fat roasted pota­toes (£18). We even­tu­ally set­tled on roasted Cor­nish hake with

grilled king oys­ter mush­room, glazed chicken thigh, braised hispi cab­bage and roast chicken jus (£19), the first time ei­ther of us had en­coun­tered fish served with chicken, but it worked.

Desserts pre­sented more temp­ta­tions, with gin­ger­bread crème brulée with spiced or­ange jelly, mus­co­v­ado ice cream and caramelised white choco­late (£6.50) a close sec­ond to our even­tual choice, a shared au­tumn mess (£6, left), with berg­amot curd, glazed figs, black­berry sor­bet and poached pears.

The res­ur­rected Red Hart is the work of Tom Weller and Ben Hedley, who in their words have been ‘best mates since we were about five and grew up in Hitchin lov­ing food and bas­ing our lives around it’. Al­ready well-known for run­ning The Ground­works café by St Mary’s across Mar­ket Place, they took on the ail­ing pub, which dates from at least the 16th cen­tury but closed in June 2017, be­cause they didn’t want it to go. The pub still flour­ishes, oc­cu­py­ing a re­freshed and cosy area to the right as you go in, with the new restau­rant down a few steps to the left. The re­vamped court­yard out­side is a big draw in warmer weather with gi­ant bean bags, deckchairs and rugs in the raised area at the back.

The menus are the do­main of head chef Matt Long, late of the five-star Bor­ing­don Hall Ho­tel Devon, with a CV also in­clud­ing stints at Lu­ton Hoo and St Michael’s Manor in St Al­bans. The food is in­ven­tive, with sev­eral twists on fa­mil­iar themes, and well worth mak­ing the trip to Buck­lers­bury to en­joy. In the words of Tom Weller, ‘The idea was to pro­vide Hitchin with a re­ally great British restau­rant, with great food but in a re­laxed at­mos­phere.’ So far so good.

Keep­ing up the mo­men­tum are tast­ing menus on Fri­days and Satur­days and a busy events pro­gramme in­clud­ing ‘bot­tom­less brunches’ which due to high de­mand will now be monthly on the first Satur­day of ev­ery month through­out 2019.

The visit co­in­cided with a 50 per cent spe­cial of­fer to mark the Kite’s re­launch and cost £56.81 for two. Prices quoted in this ar­ti­cle are the non-dis­counted ver­sion. This is an in­de­pen­dent re­view by our food and drink ed­i­tor. The restau­rant was not told it was be­ing re­viewed.

Kite at the Red Hart 28-29 Buck­lers­bury Hitchin SG5 1BG 01462 441551 kitered­hart.co.uk

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