Hilltop Kitchen

Coombe Farm House

Alldens Lane

Godalming GU8 4AP


The Food:

Our focaccia and olive oil

Charred leek with thyme honey, Rosary ash and hazelnut

Boquerones, parsley and chili

8-hour braised Herdwick lamb, white beans, salsa verde and rainbow chard

Basque cheesecake and forced Yorkshire rhubarb

The Wine:

2021 Bruno Lafon Pinot Noir Le Sud    87

Driving to Hilltop Kitchen, I am listening to a lunchtime talk show on Radio 2 when the presenter discusses the so-called “pork scandal.” An undercover investigation discovered industrial-scale, country-of-origin fraud as well as unscrupulous mixing of fresh meat with rotting carcasses at a processing plant. An anonymous insider calls in and divulges how rotten flesh is jet-washed away so that the meat can be reprocessed. A nation’s stomachs churn, and millions consider vegetarianism. What do you expect in a country subjugated by profit-ravenous supermarkets and a population accustomed to the cheapest food possible without considering the consequences?

How ironic that within an hour, I chew blissfully upon the most tender, succulent lamb that exhausted superlatives a while ago. It has been slaughtered about 20 meters from my plate. I could pay twice as much for the same dish in a hifalutin’ restaurant in London, and it will not be nearly as fresh. I make a mental note. Rethink where you eat.

The view from Hilltop Kitchen

A fellow Vinous subscriber had tipped me off about Hilltop Kitchen a week earlier. Though I inhabit a wealthy part of England, Surrey is bereft of worthy dining places. I’m not talking haute cuisine and Michelin fodder. Just places where chefs care about what they serve, restaurants with personality and individuality. The fact that Hilltop lies around 20 minutes from my front door is a bonus, ditto the stunning vista from our table across a grassy vale, where future lunches innocently chew the cud and offer the occasional baa or moo.

The genesis of Hilltop Kitchen came during COVID. Co-proprietor Alex Winch, who previously worked at Portland Restaurant and Harwood Arms in London, explained how he and co-conspirator Sam Fiddian Green were frustrated about the lack of decent local places to eat. I know that feeling. With the hospitality industry in crisis during lockdown, the pair decided that instead of bemoaning the situation, they should do it themselves. Hilltop embraces the increasingly popular concept of opening a restaurant at a source of produce, in this case, Coombe Farm House, owned by Winch’s family. They constructed a makeshift wooden structure that adjoins an outbuilding equipped with a basic kitchen. They installed overhead heaters, decorated with wildflowers for that rustic farmhouse vibe, installed a few wooden tables and benches, et voilà. It stretches the concept of “restaurant” since it does seem a bit transitory, hence my use of quotes. Indeed, Green later details their plan to relocate to a more permanent residence with designs to create a Michelin-starred gastropub. If the standard of cooking is the level that I encounter, then that’s a given.  

Boquerones, parsley and chili

The menu could be described as seasonal European, using the products from the farm, including a vegetable patch out yonder. We share starters. The menu specifically states our focaccia since it is baked on-site. This is light and fragrant. A little more rosemary and sea salt might not have gone amiss, but otherwise delicious. The charred leek with thyme honey, Rosary ash and hazelnut is divine. The leeks are perfectly cooked and seasoned, the thyme honey lending unexpected sweetness and counterbalancing the earthiness. The boquerones (anchovies) are refulgent, lined up on the plate. Parsley and chili offer vivid flavors, assiduously seasoned with just the right salinity and spiciness.

8-hour braised Herdwick lamb, white beans, salsa verde and rainbow chard

Given the provenance of the meat dishes, there is no alternative but the 8-hour braised Herdwick lamb, seasoned with miso before being resealed. It is the most succulent, tender lamb I can remember eating: every mouthful, pure joy. The accompanying salsa verde and rainbow chard lend a bit of bitterness to counter the meat’s sweetness, while the white beans provide substance and texture. A faultless main.

Basque cheesecake and forced Yorkshire rhubarb

Finally, the Basque cheesecake and forced Yorkshire rhubarb are worthy ways to finish lunch. The cheesecake has a blackened surface imparting a subtle charcoal element that balances the cheese. There is a touch more heaviness and less sweetness than normal cheesecake, and the Yorkshire rhubarb contains real bite and acidity.

The wine list is rudimentary, and I suspect they will upgrade to proper stemware once a more permanent location is found. I choose a simple wine from the Languedoc Pays d’Oc, a 2021 Le Sud Pinot Noir from Bruno Lafon. Crunchy redcurrant and strawberry aromas are present on the nose. The palate is simple but balanced with plenty of crunchy red fruit. It has a bistro-like charm with no signs of any ripeness that you might find in some Pinots from the Côte d’Or. Considering the reasonable price, it does its job with minimal fuss.

I adore Hilltop Kitchen. It offers delicious, perfectly-sourced, well-executed fare with minimal fuss and maximum care. It might be a temporary building built on a budget, yet it contains more charm than many a chichi yet sterile restaurant that one finds in the capital, notwithstanding they cannot offer that blissful vista across the English countryside. It must be beyond idyllic on a sunny day. Undoubtedly, we will be hearing much more about Sam Fiddian Green and Alex Winch in the future. I depart thinking about how soon I can return and feel that I have just witnessed the opening chapters of two glorious careers.  

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