Restaurant review: Kite at the Red Hart, Hitchin

08th January 2019

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

A fancy 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. Stand-outs 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

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