Is it Hamlet the play or hamlet the place? The antiquated gas lamps and scrawled-from-a-feather-quill sign design on the exterior would suggest the former, but inside, the cosiness, the leather-upholstered chairs, the piano, say the latter. It looks a bit like you asked a cider-addled Breton antiques dealer to design a B@1.
The Hamlet, on the precipice of Streatham Hill, is right next door to a newly opened florist called Luxe Petals. Judging by the amount of flora in the place, including a jar of roses for sale (£4 a pop), you suspect they’re in cahoots.
There’s an all things to all men situation here. It’s a cocktail bar, it’s a restaurant, it’s a venue, it has a DJ every Friday and has the vibe of a hothouse crossed with a bric-à-brac shop. A beaming owner welcomes me in while a cackling pissed woman in the corner, martini glass in hand, implores her husband to not “come the cunt”, a level of enjoyment not matched by the giant table of workmates, solemnly and respectfully trying to enjoy each other’s company.
The menu at The Hamlet is, to put it politely, old school. Ratatouille, chicken supreme (which I’m not sure has been on any menu since 1989) and an assortment of giant sharing plates, with an incongruous focus on middle eastern fare. There’s a hummus starter, a fattoush salad, merguez hiding somewhere amongst the platters. It’s a basic menu, through and through, and so trying the basics seemed fair.
I had a morbid fascination with what ‘king prawns pili pili’ could be, and got some calamari for a variety of surf. Much to my glee, the calamari were not ornately assorted rubber bands, but creamy, with a well seasoned batter, the tartate with an appropriate zing. The most shocking thing about the prawns was the rocket and sweet bell peppers being lifted with a drizzle of olive oil, something an ungodly amount of places forgo on their drab, dry afterthought salads. The prawns were delightful, in a lightly spicy sauce, whose kick could have done with a slightly bigger boot.
I was told before I ordered that it was steak night. The normal £18.50 for an 8oz rib-eye was reduced to £12.50, and in my quest for standard fare how could I say no? It was cooked perfectly to order, melty, well seasoned, but the meat itself was nothing to write home about. I’ve had very similar, if less adept (read: stood beneath a smoke alarm waving a tea towel), experiences with a Taste the Difference cut at home. The chips, thick cut and slightly colourless, were too hot to eat, so I had to keep road testing them for temperature with every bite. It was washed down with a fittingly light Argentine Malbec.
That being said, I don’t want to be unduly harsh. This was a good meal, but its discount price is closer to the mark. It’s worth paying for, but not quite £18.50 worth it.
The (presumable) owner and the lone chef had a great Kitchen Nightmares vibe; the owner, with a grinning if slightly manic attentiveness, and the chef, goateed, confined to his cooking cave, peering through the doorway every now and then. You could imagine the former tearfully imploring Gordon to sort out his cantankerous chef/ brother-in-law before the place closes and the inheritance turns to ash.
But the food is good, so that’s of no concern. It’s solid cooking. A lack of imagination is forgiven when tasting these dishes, because they’re done properly, and with heart. The service is great – I was given a water with my main that remained untouched (as a waiter once said to me and my dad, ‘not for me, I’m allergic’), but was nonetheless appreciated.
A New York cheesecake rounds off this venture into customary dishes and it does it with aplomb. An almost comedy sized globe of vanilla ice cream sits on the slice, plastering my mouth in sugary gunk, which is a textural joy to chip away with wine.
The bill comes with a complimentary grappa, which I’m advised not to shoot. I sip and quickly realise why, and am careful not to spill in case it erodes the varnish on the table. At £52, even with the steak deficit, it sends a mild, arthritic shooting pain to my wallet.
Ultimately, though, I’m not in the least bit fussed. I feel welcome, the food is good, the people are nice and I’m surrounded by roses. There’s also a sense that this food is just one notch on a big belt of things The Hamlet does well, and seemingly has been for over a decade. Aneka’s Japanese Boy plays me out. If there’s one sure way to my heart other than a spicy, juicy prawn, it’s a problematic playlist.