Heaton, Butler, & Bayne (alright we’re calling that HBB from now on!) is the newest addition to the Covent Garden line up and is all about the latest food trend – using local ingredients to serve up some quality food. It also has a bit of that quirky factor as it’s located in an old stained glass studio (as you may guess from the arched church-like windows) although sadly doesn’t display any of the stained glass it used to produce. The name also comes from the company that used to inhabit the space – and had the reputation for being a leading firm in the Gothic Revival.
Anyways, history aside, the new HBB is pretty slick and serves up a pretty diverse menu. The head chef is Swedish (which may drive the desire to source locally and change the menu daily) so expect some Scandinavian style cooking. For me, this means a bit more emphasis on seafood and vegetables but overall a clean precisely designed and presented dish. And that’s pretty much what you get.
Three fellow foodies and myself made it to HBB late on Wednesday night for dinner with the 50% off food deal through “The Nudge”. Since food was half off, we may have gone slightly overboard in ordering and more or less tried everything on the menu. The short version is the duck bresola is tender and tasty, the soft shelled crab tastes far better than it looks, and the fish mains are flaky and crispy. The food is good but needs a bit of tweaking to really get it to shine. That being said, it was the soft open so these things are to be expected – the fact that the food was pretty damn good even only a week into opening if a very promising thing. The bar staff, however, are already spot on and make some of the best whiskey based cocktails I’ve had the pleasure to tyr.
For starters, we tried out the quail croquettes, duck bresaola, soft shell crab on toast, honey glazed chorizo, and some green beer sticks. The quail croquettes were wonderful little balls of creamy potato and juicy meat but were woefully in need of salt. It reminded me of MasterChef were the food looks great and is cooked perfectly, but from the first bite they can tell that no one tasted the food! Similarly, the honey glazed chorizo was a great idea but lacking in execution as there was virtually no honey taste in each bite. We worked out the only way to get a hint of sweetness was to lick the chorizo prior to eating it – to be honest I love me some spicy chorizo so I wasn’t bothered but why claim honey in the name when there is none to be had in the taste?
The soft shell crab on toast sadly looked a bit like a uni student’s canned tuna dinner. This won’t be winning any awards for presentation, but the flavours were delightful. The sweetness of the crab was maintained and nicely balanced by the slight tartness of the flavoured (maybe capers?) mayo that held it together. The green beer sticks (I think that’s what they were on the menu) are essentially Slim Jims – great to nibble on over a beer although we perhaps should have passed on them for dinner. After all, you don’t get snack food when dining out!
Finally, the duck bresaola was delicious with thin shavings of incredibly tender duck meat marinated in a perfectly balance mix of citrus and spice. I could easily eat the whole dish as a starter but unfortunately I had to share.
When it came to mains, we opted for the pollock, mullet, duck, steak and seared calf liver. The fish were well cooked but again slightly under seasoned. I did appreciate the crispy skin and flaky texture which were signs of excellent cooking skills. The rest of the components of each dish didn’t do much to complement the fish, sadly, with the most unusual being the bits of sausage served with the mullet. On its own, the sausage was delicious with a sweet taste with just a hint of aniseed. However, when eaten with the fish it overwhelmed the flavours and you were left with a mouthful of fish that tastes like sausage. Still, some excellent ideas which gets me pretty excited for when the soft open finishes and the restaurant is in full flow!
The duck had the right flavours to be a rich gamey dish but was let down by being left on the pan a bit too long. I find duck is one of those meats that should be served reddish pink and not a deep brown – the fat and juice is what makes duck so special. Get the bresaola for your duck fix! The steak also was cooked slightly too much for my taste but I blame this on my dining companions rather than the kitchen. Or rather, I have very rare tastes in that I like my steak…well still moo-ing would be the best way I could think to describe it.
The calf liver was a winner with the table (although my enjoyment of liver is tarred by horrible childhood memories). Executed perfectly and bursting with deep meaty flavour, it was more a fight for a bite rather than any gracious sharing which meant it was a good thing this was in the centre. It was served with a herbed mash (I want to say thyme?) which was also extremely Moorish. Oh, and get the chips but not because of the chips themselves (which are good) but for the spiced ketchup which is fantastic. I could have dipped pretty much everything into that little jar of magic!
Just a quick round up on desserts. The ice cream and sorbet selection was great – especially the mango which was full of juicy flavours and was the one I promptly devoured. The baked chocolate mousse is a bit of misnomer – it’s actually a top notch fondant and I’d highly recommend it for all chocoholics!
All in all, a good dinner out with friends and I’m looking forward to coming back to HBB for another excellent Sazerac. Feel free to ask the bartender for suggestions off menu – he knows his stuff and is damn good at making cocktails. I’ll give the dinner another go (it’s likely to be a different menu after all) and I have faith they will work out the slight kinks in the food as they find their pace.