26 May 2006
Hart to Hart
77 Herne Hill
London SE24 9NE
Tel: 020 7326 1155
"She used to get really sea sick but now she has more trophies than me!", said Hart to Hart owner Chris Kolyos of his partner Susan. Indeed the pair both have a fair few trophies on display in their restaurant, all of which substantiate their claims to be the male and female international deep sea fishing champions. Photos of them wrestling with fish as big as cows (one Chris caught was 912lbs!) in exotic locations around the world are also proudly displayed on the walls, alongside old life belts and, I have been told, fishing nets to drape from the ceiling are on their way.
After running a deli for ten years, as well as importing exotic houseplants, the pair have now decided to upgrade to a proper sit down restaurant which, Chris said, is what they've always wanted.
Although when we arrived the place seemed to have a confused air about it and people were still passing through to order a cup of tea or buy a tub of crème fraiche from the counter (full of cakes, pastries and pop cans). Susan said that the counter was being removed very soon and would be replaced with a bar - possibly made out of a boat if they can find a suitable one!
At first we, like Susan and her nautical hobby, were not hopeful for our dining experience at Hart to Hart but then went on to triumph. To begin with service was minimal and the atmosphere unrelaxing as the eatery made an understaffed, clunking change from deli to restaurant when we arrived early evening, one that left us wondering if we were in the right place.
The instrumental versions of Candle In The Wind, Love Is All Around and Relight My Fire made you feel slightly like you were trapped in a hotel lift, but ultimately contributed to the endearing eccentricity of the place.
The menu was a home printed menu and looked like a missing sheet from a circa 1990 power point presentation, but the food was reassuringly imaginative.
We ordered char grilled baby vegetables with a goat's cheese glaze (£4.50) followed by the seafood special (£22.50) and lamb shank with Kashmari jus and potato garlic rosti (£11.25). We drank house white wine (£13.50). Anchovy wrapped olives were delicious, and the excellent presentation of all of the food confirmed the potential restaurant within Hart to Hart. The Mediterranean vegetables were cooked to perfection and covered by a thick round of creamy goat's cheese and finished off with fine strands of carrot and aubergine on a bed of rocket leaves.
As the evening drew on, and the daytime trade had finished, the service became warm and attentive. The awning was pulled down above the front window, creating a more secluded air and the lights went on in the front yard garden and candles were lit. It felt as if we were in a different place.
Chris's brother Peter owns a pub, which he said is renowned as somewhere you have to visit on an empty stomach because the portions are so huge, and I think it won't be long before Hart to Hart earns the same reputation. Our seafood special was piled high, and everything on it was delicious - especially the sweet ginger and chilli smothered langoustines. However, the advertised herbed 'brusketta bread' was no-where to be seen but to be honest any more food would have been unnecessary. The crispy scampi, char-grilled tuna, baked red snapper with tomato sauce and langoustines (in place of the advertised squid) seemed never-ending - which was not a bad thing. The lamb shank was equally good, served in a rich, meaty sauce with shreds of peppery chillis adding a definite kick. Our side order of cumin roast aubergines with minted yogurt (£3.50) was also excellent - the aubergines were melt in the mouth with a sweet and earthy flavour from the spice.
Hart to Hart has the welcoming feeling of a Mediterranean seaside eatery, homely friendly, if a little off-beat, and with very enjoyable food, with Chris and Susan adding a personal touch to it often lacking from city restaurants. The quality of the food (mainly from Billingsgate and Borough market) is already evident and hopefully if won't take long for the remaining factors to become as consistently special.
FOOD (1-5) 4
AMBIENCE (1-5) 3
VALUE FOR MONEY (1-5) 3
DISABLED ACCESS YES
DISABLED TOILET NO
PRE BOOKING YES
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