Hops and Chops

A saturday night, an early birthday celebration and two parents in tow. It’s the perfect excuse to try Hops and Chops, a new restaurant from the folks behind The Smoke Pit in Northampton.

Hops and Chops is a modern take on a traditional chophouse, a place for “hearty eating, good company and fine ales since the 17th century” as a Google search helpfully explains. That all sounds pretty great to me, and a quick peek at the website boasts dry aged steaks, pasta, cheese, craft beer and gin. Well, those are some of my favourite things in the world, so we should be in for a good night.

Nestled in a courtyard of shops at the heart of the St Crispins estate near Duston, it’s an unassuming building with a striking sign that hints at what’s inside. We steal the last space in the small car park and head inside.

It’s hard to describe a place as cool without using the word cool, which instantly makes it sound less cool. But Hops and Chops is cool. Low slung filament bulbs spiderweb from the ceiling, the decor is an understated industrial style that instantly appeals and wouldn’t look out of place in one of the big cities. A killer hand-drawn mural greets you as you enter, slabs of aged beef stand proudly on display behind glass (veggies look away now). A deli counter is bursting with cheese. I begin to worry I died on the way here and ended up in heaven.

“The pineapple chutney is a delightful twist that adds just the right amount of sweetness. I don’t get near the piece of melting brie, she hogs that to herself, but the dish is a hit.”

Keen to try out the ‘hops’ as well as the ‘chops’ we order in beers to start. Blue Moon for my folks, and a pint of Nobby’s for me from the local brewery in Kettering. It’s a tough decision to skip the gins but I make a mental note to try them next time we come.

It’s a nice change of pace to be dining out with my parents. As a couple we generally keep ourselves to ourselves but my folks love a natter, so as we’re weighing up the menu they’re asking our waiter questions about each course. It’s a good opportunity to see a different side of the service as we hear about the staff’s favourite dishes, grading the spiciness of each for my Dad and being very helpful all round. The service is spot on throughout the evening, checking in on us frequently but never being annoying, they’re warm and friendly and a great asset.

The food is equally as good. My parents love dishes they can pick at over a beer, so that’s where we start with a sharing plate of antipasti; cured meats, air-dried beef, olives and cheese, all served with figs, bread and marinated vegetables. The surprise is tiny sharp strawberries that my Mum loves. I’ve already mentioned my love of cheese so the baked camembert studded with black garlic is an inevitability. Oozing, rich and plenty for two, it’s a fantastic start to the meal.

When it comes to mains, we’re spoilt for choice. Everything jumps out at us. No lie, we would happily munch our way through the entire menu. There’s something about the way it’s written, its modern style just speaks to us. Items like pork popcorn, marmite & black pepper butter, celeriac remoulade, bone marrow mash - it all sounds delicious.

We ponder over the menu for a good while, so fast-forward 20 minutes and our minds are made up. Our drinks are empty so we switch over to wine, a lovely Rioja. Small glass for me, large for Mum (of course).

A bonus of eating out as a family foursome is I can sample more dishes. Our mains arrive and forks are passed around. “You must try this,” Mum says as she divides up her maple glazed gammon with pineapple chutney & warm brie.

Cooked over charcoal and oak, it’s the closest thing we’ve ordered to a ‘chop’ so I’m eager to give it a go. It’s a generous slab of meat, beautifully succulent and tender. The pineapple chutney is a delightful twist that adds just the right amount of sweetness. I don’t get near the piece of melting brie, she hogs that to herself, but the dish is a hit.

My husband is over the moon that his polish sausage & sauerkraut comes with a chili jam that has a real kick. His meal is a smaller portion though and we realise afterwards that you can order double the meat for a few pounds more. If the waiter had pointed it out I’m sure he would have gone for that, but on the plus side it leaves more room for pudding!

Having been tempted by the spicy chorizo, crab, tiger prawns & squid ink linguini, Dad instead plays it safe and goes for the Hops & Chops dry-aged beef burger with bacon, cheese, pickles and ‘tobacco’ onions. I wonder if he wishes he’d gone with his original choice as he finds the burger a little dry. The ‘beef dip’ throws him completely, “Is it a sauce, why does it taste like gravy?” I suggest he tries dipping his fries which he enjoys.

Rounding out the mains is my smoked brisket ragout with gnocchi and roquefort. At £16 it’s the second most expensive ‘pasta’ dish, but the amount of tender brisket bulking out the sauce justifies the price.

The rich ragout is a nirvana of savoury umami flavour, the gnocchi light pillows of joy. My attempts at making gnocchi at home always fail, so it’s a treat to have someone more skilled that I prepare them for me. The sauce is deep and beefy, the blue cheese pushing the richness almost over the edge. The flavour is one-note, but it’s delicious and moreish so I polish off the lot.

A break and a breather at this point before we continue. The chairs are comfier than they look and while the restaurant is half empty at this point, there’s a still a great ambience and relaxed vibe. It also gives my parents an opportunity to grill the staff on their recommendations for desserts, which they offer happily. It’s clear they know the menu and it’s nice to hear the sweets are all made in-house, nothing is bought in.

Mum orders a spoon, happy to raid and pillage our puddings instead. If we hadn’t ordered a starter, I’m sure she would have been tempted by the selection of cheeses from the deli counter, all served with chutneys, pickles & biscuits.

There’s only one of us with enough room left to try the recommendation; a salted caramel cookie with ice cream that arrives warm in a skillet. The smell is incredible and one bite tells me that while it’s too sweet for me personally, this is a standout dessert.

Dad and I order smaller desserts. The spiced rum panna cotta with toffee & pecan popcorn and coffee and rum syrup is the best looking pud we try, the smooth and silky panna cotta complimented perfectly by the rich syrups and crunchy popcorn. The dried raspberry pieces accompanying my white chocolate and raspberry crème brûlée are a delight, popping in the mouth with tartness and sweetness. The shortbread is fantastic, a leftover piece is deftly swiped into Mum’s handbag.

Over 3 courses of big and bold flavours, Hops and Chops really delivered a modern ‘chophouse’ experience through its menu and cool interior. Despite our focus on the meat dishes, there are plenty of vegetarian options which all look equally as tempting (as long as you don’t mind the meat on display as you arrive). Having previously eaten at The Smoke Pit, we expected more of the same but were pleasantly surprised by the variety and choice in the menu. We found it a more refined but equally tasty experience in a relaxed environment you wouldn’t mind taking your parents to.

Our meal for four with drinks came to just over £130.

Find Hops and Chops at 6 Kent Road, st Crispins, Upton, Northampton NN5 4DR, visit www.hops-and-chops.co.uk