The Hampshire Hog is not, as you might expect, a country pub. It is in what is called Chiswick borders, west London – admittedly, one of the leafier enclaves in the city, but nowhere near Hampshire.
Mind you, the people who own it used to run The Engineer in Primrose Hill, an area so ritzy the nearest an engineer came to it was when that dear little Polish chap popped round to fix the neighbour's Bose sound system. So much for names.
The journey from NW1 to W6 was not a happy one: after 17 years serving good food in a convivial atmosphere to celebs and swanky types, Tamsin Olivier and Abigail Osborne were unceremoniously removed by the landlords (who wanted to take the space into their 1,000-strong branded portfolio). There was a Facebook petition and lots of anger from regulars – some famous – but that's where it ended.
Luckily, this bit of London is not short of prosperous foodies. They're also well served – everything from experimental (Hedone) to classic (La Trompette) aren't far, and the streets around King Street and Chiswick High Road are a gastropub ticklist. But strolling into the Hog on a warm Saturday evening, something of the special vibe of The Engineer has travelled with the crew. It feels like an urban country pub, if that makes sense. Mismatched furniture and soft lighting make the large space welcoming.
The staff seem to be having a whale of a time, which is good to see on a busy weekend. One gripe: our waiter has a V-neck T-shirt cut so low you can see the hair reaching down almost to his navel – makes you wish for one of those factory hairnets to be fashioned into a chest cover.
So, the menu: seven starters, seven mains. On this girls' night out, there are two who prefer slight, salady things and two who are into hearty (no prizes, etc...). My asparagus with morcilla (black pudding), caramelised onion, poached egg and pink grapefruit, £8.50, is all good things, just not an entirely wise ensemble. Harriett's pea, broad bean and wild-garlic risotto, £6.50, has a faint tang of uncooked alcohol but the rice and veggies are soft.
Much, much better is the roasted spring-vegetable soup, £5, fragrant with tarragon, and a not-that-special-sounding slow-roast cherry tomato salad, £6.50, which has lots of bitter leaves, dollops of labna (yoghurt cheese) and is scattered with that beautifully nutty, seedy, spicy Egyptian dukkah seasoning. The tomatoes are rich and soft, a million miles from the chewy, long-in-the-tooth, sun-dried stuff you used to see.
Chef Christopher Lyon, an Aussie, shows he has a flair for salads with the best of the mains, too: marinated leg of lamb with a Greek-style salad, orange and sherry vinegar, £18. Simple but punchy, with tender slabs of meat and another perky salad.
Claire's chorizo-stuffed chicken breast with red-pepper purée and roasted kipfler potatoes, £16, veers back into standard-issue pub grub, but a hearty sirloin steak with piquant Café de Paris butter and chips is a fine cut, well prepared (as it should be for £21).
Living the cliché, we get the sharing-plate pudding with four spoons. At £12, it's a bloody good deal – lots of Eton mess, a fruit tart with a slick of puréed berries, a rectangular chocolate truffle, a yoghurty lime ice-cream and a caramelly macaron big enough to cut into quarters.
We share a bottle of decent 2011 Pinot Noir from the Loire at £27 from a comprehensive choice (reluctantly ignoring the delicious cocktail list) but wished we'd gone for a magnum, since the Hog offers a good selection at the same mark-up as bottles.
There's nothing remarkable about the Hog – and therein lies its appeal. You could happily visit at any time of the day or night and feel at home. It has a daytime pantry section up front for, say, a posh fry-up or an afternoon cake; the inside is bustling and boozy in a good way for returning workers to sink a pint. Out back, a neat garden encourages dining rather than snarly dogs and wailing toddlers.
I must have liked it because three days later, returning from an assignment down the M4, I dropped in for lunch (more of that tomato salad and a plate of lamb). It was as good alone in the garden in the sunshine as it had been late on a Saturday accompanied by the cackles of my girlfriends. Who needs Primrose Hill?
Scores: 1-3 stay home and cook, 4 needs help, 5 does the job, 6 flashes of promise, 7 good, 8 special, can't wait to go back, 9-10 as good as it gets
The Hampshire Hog, 227 King Street, London W6, tel: 020 8748 3391. Brunch from 9am; lunch from midday; afternoon tea from 4pm; dinner 6.30pm-11pm. About £80 for dinner for two, with wine
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Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2012' www.hardens.com