Hackett's in Witney describes itself as a 'coffee bar and bistro'. So far, so French: casual cafés across the channel often serve both coffee and more substantial meals under one roof. They might not always set the culinary world alight, but they're reliable. So, is Hackett's following the French recipe for success then? Based on whispers I'd heard about the quality of their food, not exactly: their 'bistro' element seemed to extend into stay rant territory. With increasing expectations of my visit, a colleague informed me that Hackett's was 'also lovely for a cocktail'. Yet another 'purpose', I thought.
I arrived on a Thursday evening unsure what to expect. A café serving good food? A restaurant with a bar? It turns out Hackett's is a bit of both. A light, airy space with high ceilings and a mezzanine level, Hackett's is located in central Witney. Open all day, it serves both food and drink – I was impressed to note both diners and drinkers in evidence on my visit, some of the latter just having a coffee and a chat. So far, so multipurpose. With a combination of relaxed armchairs and restaurant-style tables, patrons select the option they prefer: there didn't seem to be distinct areas for cafe customers and diners, although one cosy corner looked perfect for sipping a latte and leafing through a magazine.
While both casual fare (including sandwiches) and main meals are on offer at lunch, the main menu is all about well-cooked modern British and European dishes. The menu changes monthly and is comprehensive without being over-facing: with 5 starters, 3 sharing 'slates' (fish, charcuterie or cheese, all £8.95) and 8 mains, you should find something to tempt you. Vegetarian options were a little limited though: just 2 starters (a caramelised goat's cheese and beetroot salad and the risotto of the day) and one main (open wild mushroom, ricotta and butternut squash cannelloni) were on offer. Fortunately I was happy with the choices, and opted for the salad (£5.95) and the cannelloni, while my dinner companion M chose seared king scallops with a garden pea 'risotto', black pudding and crackling (£6.95) followed by seared duck breast served with smoked bacon in a wild mushroom madeira sauce (£13).
After a bit of a wait, our friendly waitress delivered our starters. Both were beautifully presented, although the size of the plate used for the goat's cheese (not sure about the 'salad' part) made it appear miniscule in comparison to the plentiful portion of scallops in front of M. Quality definitely made up for quantity though: the goat's cheese was deliciously creamy and well-complemented by both the beetroot and the beetroot and 'microherb' (nope, no idea either) puree. As I've mentioned before, I'm not a big beetroot lover, but this was tender and surprisingly moreish - and didn't taste of soil. All in all, it was a simple but well-executed dish.
|Goat's cheese and beetroot salad|
M's scallops sat atop what looked like a bed of mushy peas, but she assured me the texture was much better. The texture of the scallops was also spot on: no rubbery little numbers here. The black pudding flavour complemented the scallops well, and Hackett's generosity with the king scallops was quite impressive. It may have been the priciest starter on the menu, but £6.95 for that amount of scallops is far from expensive.
|King scallops with pea risotto and black pudding|
Our mains were similarly well turned-out, with the size of my cannelloni more than compensating for the starter's petite proportions. In fact, I was glad it had turned out to be a taster rather than a tummy-filler: I certainly didn't want to leave any of my cannelloni. The ricotta added just enough of a cheese taste without overpowering the dish: the wild mushrooms and squash did the talking. The cannelloni was topped with rocket, tomato and pine nuts, along with a garlic crouton. Plenty of ingredients, but none were unnecessary – the dish really worked.
|Mushroom, butternut squash and ricotta cannelloni|
M's duck breast with purple sprouting broccoli and bubble and squeak was pretty hefty, portion-wise. The duck was well-cooked and given a pleasant smoky flavour by the bacon, although the latter was a touch on the fatty side. Both the accompaniments won praise: the broccoli was just the right side of al dente, while the bubble and squeak was vegetable-packed and tasty.
|Seared duck breast with bacon|
If I'd have been wearing a belt, I'd have been loosening it by this point. Thankfully unencumbered by acessories, I was free to eat half a dessert. On the waitress's recommendation, we opted for the chocolate and pecan brownie with hot fudge sauce and vanilla ice cream (£5). So far, so classic. The tip off didn't disappoint though, as a Hackett's brownie is a rich slice of indulgence. Pecan-packed, it featured a thick chocolate topping over a moist, chewy cake. Its slight orange flavour set it apart from other brownies I've had: a must-order dessert if there ever was one.
|Brownie, (or a piece of heaven)|
Based on my trip to Hackett's, I might have to re-think my multipurpose venue prejudice. The combination on offr at Hackett's sounds like it might not work: a coffee bar and restaurant can maybe coexist side-by-side, but one entity serving as both? Yes, it's possible. A welcoming, laid-back venue with good food at decent prices, Hackett's is ideal for a casual get-together at any time of day.
Hackett's is at Wesley Walk, High Street, Witney OX28 6ZJ. Tel: 01993 700858.