It doesn’t seem so long ago that the Load of Hay was a boarded up, gravely threatened pub location boasting little more than former glories and occasional squat parties. Yet its successful resurrection as The Hill is actually now near on a decade strong.
From those early gastro-boozer beginnings, the latest incarnation of menu and ownership display plenty of ambition. The foodie pendulum has swung further and we’re deep in brassiere territory since the takeover a year ago. But on a Haverstock Hill strip – rechristened a while back as Steele’s Village – that slips into chain restaurant blandness just up the way, such individuality is well placed.
Yet The Hill had slipped from my personal radar, around the time of the arrival of our very own Mini Kentishtowner. Indeed, taking said toddler there to attempt to enjoy a simple bottle of wine with friends was a parental wake up call. Juggling with an overly clever papoose after the bottle had been swiftly drained, it was obvious such occasions would be a rarity for some time.
So it was nice that my Kentishtowner office neighbours, who provide PR for The Hill, insisted I whisk the Missus off there for an all too rare slap-up midweek freebie. And lo, we found ourselves enjoying deliciously sharp and pokey Caiprinihas to get things started, picked from a small but classic list of house cocktails.
She tucked in to plump oysters, preferring the Irish Rock variety to the Native ones. Citrus-marinated sashimi was a more delicate hit and one I couldn’t help notice was wolfed down with the intent of a person who’s spent a little too long spooning mashed broccoli towards unenthusiastic little mouths.
I’m a sucker for the unashamedly jumbo intent of Pacific Northwest-style menus. So, emboldened by the occasion, I made an almost unheard-of break with my vegetarian ways and ordered the ridiculous but enticing gourmet macaroni cheese, complete with lobster, cognac and mascarpone. It was one serious mac ‘n’ cheese and worth the weighty decision.
The toned down spice in the Sichuan saltwater scallops didn’t sit quite as well with my Asian-born partner’s palate, but proved the only off note of the evening.
A good selection of wines by the glass works well with the menu items and vino was the drink of choice all around us, being quaffed by a mixed but nevertheless utterly Hampstead crowd. Comfortably settled couples and carefree younger gaggles of predominantly girls were all having a similarly lovely time by the look and sound of things.
Alas, the peanut butter and jelly cheesecake that the wife had mentally lined up in advance had been removed from the latest menu, despite the hushed admissions that all staff really missed it too. Luckily we’d also been tipped off that the brownie was the real deal, and so it was. A perfectly pitched blend of firmness and goo. Sticky toffee pudding was alive with flavours and not too much syrup; great when offset with a little dessert wine.
So: a slightly giddy but fully sated meander back across to Kentish Town. We made our promises to return to The Hill, with the perennial Christmas twinkle of the Steele’s Village fairy lights and the charming staff. It sure has grown up – whilst we’ve been otherwise engaged.
Words & colour pics: Tom Kihl