It feels to me like this is what all my other posts on this blog have been building up to. My (birthday) meal at the Hammer & Pincers in Wymeswold was as close to perfection as I am ever probably going to be lucky enough to experience. It’s probably the best meal I have ever had and probably also the most expensive inside UK borders. Two bottles of wine didn’t help I suppose…
Not having been to the H&P before, and having no signal on my phone to use a map, we resorted to asking a passing local for directions. He was happy to point us in the right direction (I say ‘us’ meaning Siggy and I, plus our driver for the night in the form of Siggy’s dad). He was also quick to point out that we were in for a treat, and how right he was.
Siggy and I opted for the grazing menu which seemed steeply priced at £50 a head, but in hindsight seems reasonable for the experience. In some ways I wish we had gone for the £75 option that included drinks to complement each dish (in italics in the photo below).
Here is a photo of the little card we were given by the very helpful waiter (I say waiter but I have a feeling he was the maitre d’) which gives a vague indication of what we were to expect of the night. There was a note on the main menu that the serving of the ten dishes would take about two and a half hours and that was indeed the case.
I ordered a bottle of Chilean Merlot (Ladera Verde Valle Central) because the Roses on the wine list seemed expensive among the mostly relatively reasonably priced bottles. Like I say… kicking myself that we didn’t opt for the £75 option which seems like a relative bargain now and more liable to suit each dish than a bottle of red. You live and learn. Perhaps if I win the lottery or wait a year we can go back and try again.
We also ordered a bottle of Hilton still mineral water but realised from observing those around us that a jug of tap water was probably a better option. An option we took once the bottle of mineral water was empty.
Before the first course, we were offered bread – walnut and raisin bread or Stilton focaccia. Obviously we both opted for the walnut and raisin bread. To accompany this was some runny stuff that might have been some form of humus tasting strongly of cumin and a dish of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Then the porcini and parmesan course arrived and made me wonder where my money was going to tonight. As I have already said these worries soon dissipated as each dish was a taste sensation. I am going to have to guess at some of the ingredients we were treated to but suffice to say it was great.
A little wait (but no wait was so long as to become tiresome) and then the scallop and artichoke dish arrived. The scallops were expertly done with the artichoke in the form of cream. The dish also featured tangy slivers of apple, thin slices of radish and toasted slices of artichoke heart (I think). It was the first time Siggy, not a great fan of seafood, had eaten scallops and she was pleasantly surprised despite them being on the edge of what she found acceptable in terms of a ‘seafood taste’ (more later on this point).
The smoked poacher turned out to be a soufflé with a bit of walnut and some very nicely cooked figs. It was excellent and by all accounts one of their favourite dishes.
The lamb and fennel dish included sweetbread croquettes, a piece of slow cooked meat and a nice pink lump probably pan fried I think. The fennel was almost like pickled ginger you get with sushi but not at all strongly flavoured. There was also a deeply flavoured rich jus. I told Siggy about the sweetbreads after she had eaten them as I didn’t want to gross her out. They looked kind of weird when you cut into them and there is something a little creepy about eating such a specific part of an animal. Tasty though.
The crab and avocado dish was a step too far for Siggy because of the smell. But it tasted great and I was happy to eat her helping. The sliver of almost transparent pastry was crispy and flavoursome like a layer off a Frey Bentos pie crust. No really that’s my base for comparison.
Having reached the halfway point I ordered a bottle of Arjona Tinto Rioja from Spain. Not being used to drinking a lot of wine, I had a pretty thick head in the morning. Of the two bottles, I definitely preferred the Rioja – it was fruitier, lighter and not as dry.
We then tried to earwig in on a conversation the chef was having with a couple of old regulars about how the Michelin inspector had been in that day. I’m sure that the H&P had a star previously, but maybe they lost it. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if they got it back at some point, although the chef seemed to be saying that he wasn’t that bothered.
The next dish was a zingy cucumber, lime, dill and apple sorbet as a palette cleanser.
The restaurant was busy and quite loud when we arrived but got quieter as the night progressed. Given the time it took to eat all the courses of the grazing menu it turned out that we were the last to leave. We ate accompanied by an unobtrusive female vocal jazz soundtrack by the likes of Jill barber and Carro Jose.
The next dish was the star of the show and was simply awesome. Siggy looked at me while I was eating it and thought I was going to cry, I was that overcome by the dish which was perfect in every way (apart from not being twice the size).
Madeira baked shallots added a crispy topping to the medium rare beef atop layered potato with a hint thyme served with colourful sweet carrots and greens that I assume were some kind of broccoli. The deeply flavoured rich gravy reminded me of sauce served with pigeon or venison in other posh restaurants and complimented the meat well without detracting from its flavour.
Then it was on to the first of our three puddings (given that we swapped out the cheese) – tart rhubarb with brown sugary lumps, a not too sweet macaroon and sharp lemon ice cream. The rhubarb reminded me of my Nan who is no longer with us (she had a patch in the corner of her garden which provided a lot of sticks) and I realised that I was a bit drunk.
After the beef, Siggy was already suggesting that we book the H&P for her birthday. Our second pudding (we felt like Hobbits at this point) was akin to a tea cake with frozen cream inside and a subtle coffee and dark chocolate flavour. I say subtle, but perhaps my tongue was awash with the Rioja at this point in the evening.
Instead of the cheese course we got peanut butter popcorn, cookies, salted caramel and lemon ice cream. This was on the edge of being a bit sickly but the lemon cut through it all and reigned it in.
As I said up front, this was a great meal and a happy birthday indeed. They rolled us out to Siggy’s dad waiting in the car park (he hadn’t been there all night) and I waxed lyrical about the delights we had experienced.