"It’s like stepping back into the eighties", my friend Tom said when I mentioned I was going to The Hutch Club.
Now, the eighties is the Northerner’s favourite decade. Ever. But I sensed Tom wasn’t being complimentary about our destination, which was Quaglinos in Mayfair, a restaurant with a history that goes back to 1929, when the flamboyant host Giovanni Quaglino opened the doors to the decadent society crowd of the day.
Quaglinos is a big restaurant that probably peaked in the big decade that was the '80s. Now owned by the D&D group, Quaglinos is trying to remain relevant to a new generation of drinkers and eaters, hence the appearance of pop-up bar The Hutch, which according to the PR, is a glamorous cocktail and jazz pop up bar which plays homage to the venue’s hedonistic spirit.
Disappointingly, Hutch is not named after Starsky’s less famous partner, but instead one of the most popular cabaret entertainers of the twentieth century who apparently took London’s café society by storm.
When we descended the stairs to the rather cavernous venue (that’s 'subterranean' in PR speak), I saw what Tom was talking about. The restaurant is huge, yet bizarrely feels crowded, as tables seem to back into each other. The heavy hues of purple are probably something that only Prince could carry off. The bar is located on the mezzanine, which offers you views of the sweeping staircase down to the restaurant, or the one of the house bands that Hutch is showcasing. Hutch has a faux art deco feel to it, which is odd given it is from that period. I think it’s the black and white Hollywood photos that bizarrely take away, rather then add, period authenticity.
The cocktail list is thankfully short of choice, but high in quality. I started with the Chocolate Old Fashioned, which with chocolate bitters and a teaspoon of sugar was a delicious take on a classic. Other highlights included the Bronx – dry gin, sweet and dry vermouth and fresh orange – and he Southern Mint Julep – angostura bitters, cognac, and apricot brandy. All three cocktails were well executed and struck the perfect balance of alcohol to their respective mixers. Less successful was the alcohol-flavoured popcorn that Hutch recommends you try with your drinks. The Caramel Macchiato and Whisky flavoured popcorn was sickly sweet. Ditto the Caramel Gin and Tonic version. I’m not sure when or where this popcorn fad started, but the Northerner and I are not fans.
The bar snacks – served as cocktails – are much better. The salmon tartar with vodka jelly and herring roe was delicious, as was the duck breast with cognac, cherry and chilli.
Also, on the plus side, was the house band – Benoit Viellefon and his Hot Club – who played swing music to what was an unfortunately small audience.
And here we get to the nub of Hutch. Great drinks, interesting snacks, top service and very good music. But my goodness it was quiet. And this was a Friday night. Hutch feels like what it is – somewhere that you go for pre or post Quaglino dinner drinks. But as a standalone bar it’s slightly out of step with current trends. A bit like the eighties.