The Hempel is a boutique hotel set up by Anouska Hempel, who in the 1960s was a TV and film actress. She appeared in a James Bond Film as well as a lesser Russ Meyer movie. Those who grew up in the 1970s may recall her in a minor role as a Skydiver operative in cult sci-fi series UFO; she appeared briefly in the opening credits of each episode. She later turned to the world of design, creating Blakes Hotel in South Kensington in 1978 as well as The Hempel, and is the designer of other hotels abroad, as well as various smart retail stores. London restaurant goers may be familiar with the minimalist décor of the original Tom Aikens restaurant (prior to its recent refurbishment), another Hempel design project.
The main restaurant of the Hempel hotel is now Number 35 (just the address of the building), which opened in late 2009. This has succeeded the previous restaurant here called “I Thai” (downstairs in the same building), which in fact cooked an eclectic mix of food. Number 35’s head chef is Mike Carter, who worked previously at Arbutus and at The Capital Hotel. Its menu is firmly in British territory, featuring good quality produce such as wild rather than farmed sea bass. Starters ranged in price from £7.50 to £10.50, main courses from £17 to £19, and desserts £6 - £7. The dining room is quite small, seating 35 at capacity, and is decorated in a minimalist way, with white walls and ceiling, tiled floor and a few pieces of art adorning the walls. Unfortunately the lighting was also minimalist, hence the murky photos. The tables had no tablecloths, but good quality white linen napkins.
The wine list had just 57 wines, ranging from £25 to £250, with an average price of £48. However, while the absolute prices may not seem that high, the mark-ups were very high indeed, the wines listed averaging 4.2 times their retail price. For some reason, champagne mark-ups were notably lower than the rest of the wines, with a bottle of Taittinger at £50 for a wine that you will struggle to find for much less than £30 in the high street, and Cristal 2002 at £250 for a wine that costs around £159 to buy. However once you move into the regular whites and reds it is hard work to find wines at mark-up levels that are less than eye-watering. Man O’War Pinot Gris 2009 was £55 for a wine you can find for £11 in the shops, while Montecelli Pinot Grigio 2009 was £29 for a wine that retails at around a fiver. Champagne is the smart drink to order here.
Bread was bought in from Tottenham bakery Flourish, and the sourdough in particular was pretty good (4/10). An amuse-bouche was egg with potato cream, a little caviar and brown butter foam. This was pleasant enough, with a pleasing mix of flavours, but was by no means hot, something that turned out to be a recurring theme at this meal (just about 3/10). A trio of scallops with black pudding featured quite good quality scallops that were accurately seared, with smoked black pudding, red onion jam and salad of micro leaves. The flavour combinations made sense though the seasoning verged on over-salty (4/10). Also good was crab ravioli with wilted lettuce and shellfish “cappucino”, essentially a frothy sauce. The crab had good flavour and the shellfish sauce had reasonable intensity, while the pasta had good texture (4/10).
The main courses were not as well executed as the starters. Wild sea bass itself was carefully cooked, but the spinach with it was overcooked and the chanterelles and Jerusalem artichokes in particular were barely warm (2/10). My guinea fowl was cooked properly, served with chestnuts and celeriac puree, along with Savoy cabbage and smoked bacon that was almost completely cold on arrival. The cooking of the vegetables was fine, but they were supposed to be hot (barely 3/10). Chips were very good, triple cooked and crisp; vegetable side dishes are charged at £4 extra.
Tarte tatin was made with Cripps Pink apples and worked well. The pastry was fine, the apples had sufficient bite and were caramelised, while vanilla ice cream on the side also had good flavour and texture. For me the apples were cooked a little long, being a dark brown rather than golden brown, but that is something of a personal preference rather than a real issue (5/10). Coffee had good flavour, served with chocolates bought in from the excellent supplier Artisan du Chocolat. Service was leisurely but friendly, and reasonably attentive. Overall this was a meal that could easily have been better than it was, with just a little more care. More than one element of our food did not arrive hot; the kitchen is downstairs, and seems to be a fair way from the dining room, in which case the staff needs to pay especially close attention to the temperature issue. The table next to us sent one dish back to be reheated, so we were not the only ones to find this, and bear in mind that this was a pretty quiet night, when it should be relatively easy to check such things. Ingredients were of good quality, and indeed the cooking was technically sound, even in the absence this evening of the head chef. However the meal was rather more uneven than it could have been.