A clever innovation at Hatfield’s restaurant in Los Angeles means that the customary line relating to the chef’s tasting menu – “to be enjoyed by all the table”, with its faintly autocratic tone – comes with a twist. Each of the seven courses comprises a pair of possibilities, so for my dinner companion and me, it was half a portion apiece of fourteen different dishes. Some are scaled-down versions of courses from the à la carte, others exclusive to the tasting plan.
Hatfield’s is hangar-sized, nicely underlit and done out in the usual bones and taupes; an open kitchen allows guests to see the chefs going about their work with what seems to be remarkable serenity. A vast arrangement of hexagonal pods, which proves to be a 3-D explosion of the chemical compound symbol for honey, aptly honeycomb-shaped, dominates the ceiling – part light fitting, part sculpture. There’s a slight disjuncture in terms of how formal this restaurant is: a soundtrack of accessible indie music, all Interpol and Kele Okereke, is friendlier than the white tablecloths and the rather chilled atmosphere would suggest (although the chilled atmosphere was resultant partly from our having been seated directly beneath an air vent). The unstintingly courteous staff, meanwhile, seemed to believe Hatfield’s was more austere than the clientele did. Beside us, two Korean girls were celebrating a birthday by the time-honoured means of sending ceaseless text messages (and I did worry for them, in their light summer dresses, beneath the arctic blast of the air con); elsewhere, women were done up to the nines while their menfolk slouched in, gussied up in their best polo shirt. Everyone was having a great deal more fun than the servers seemed willing to acknowledge.
Beside us, two Korean girls were celebrating a birthday by the time-honoured means of sending ceaseless text messages — everyone, in fact, was having more fun than the servers seemed willing to acknowledge
Those 14 dishes, then: Hatfield’s signature “croque-madame” of yellowtail sashimi, quail’s egg, prosciutto and fried brioche is an irresistible opener, and a butternut squash flan topped with coconut broth, with a deep-fried sweetbread poised over it, is a standout. It’s fortunate that in each case the ‘opposing’ dish – sea bream served with melon and a little too much sweetcorn, and impeccably prepared, homemade wholewheat garganelle with sweetbreads, respectively – looked tempting enough to dissolve any resentment I had about swapping dishes halfway. At the far end of the menu there’s a perfectly cooked gobbet of lamb in four fine slices, coated with mint and date, and a butter-soft beef rib in red wine, rather rich for my taste, but perfect for my companion’s.
There’s a faint nose-dive around the centre of the meal, however. Alongside an enjoyable duck breast with quinoa, a steamed chicken dish helps demonstrate the near-impossibility of doing anything very novel with the bird; a watery cauliflower couscous lets the chicken’s own flavour shine, but was an undistinguished counterpart. And the dedicated seafood course was a disappointment: paired with celeriac and bacon, a pan-roasted scallop was decidedly gritty, while a piece of pan-seared salmon, cooked perfectly, was spoiled by an overly sugary sweet-and-sour eggplant compote. (Sauces in general were a little undistinguished: the one accompanying the garganelle pasta and sweetbreads was so butter-rich it slightly swamped the dish, and in general I felt the sweetness of the sauces could have been cut by some degree.) I’m intrigued, too, as to what these things called “English peas”, which cropped up a couple of times, could possibly be: luminous green, they had a taste and texture closer to chickpeas, and resembled no podded pea I’ve ever seen in the UK.
Like the rest of the menu, desserts here are playful semi-deconstructions of tried and true flavours. A passion fruit pavlova on a little cloud of whipped meringue is rescued from tooth-shattering sweetness by sharp halved huckleberries; a cocoa-dusted beignet with chocolate fondue, a fancy take on churros, should only be ordered by those with a very sweet tooth; the banana cream pie was, for me, a success, striking that deep-seated part of my brain that secretly prefers fake banana flavour to the real thing.
Hatfield’s, 6703 Melrose Avenue, L.A USA
323 935 2977; hatfieldsrestaurant.com