REVIEW: Northampton's Hashtag restaurant is a charming fine-dining sensation
The self-stylised '#ashtag' restaurant on Wellingborough Road is like nothing else in Northampton.
The kebab shop-sized premises hide a fiery-hot kitchen where two lone chefs are turning out some top-notch fine dining.
The cosy confines of Hashtag mean that from any of its roughly 30 seats you can watch as owner Justin Raugala and his sous-chef juggle orders and set their pans ablaze flambé style. And when plates touch the table they have been beautifully decorated with brush strokes of sauce and topped with edible flowers. There's something really different happening at Hashtag.
Chef Justin says he has his sights set on earning an AA Rosette award and he is here to show Northampton how posh food is done. Hashtag's meals are incredible. Just delicious. The starter of mussels was blessed with an essential piece of garlic bread to mop up every drop of it's lip-smacking sauce. My partner cleaned every shred of meat from her king prawn salad. The beef stroganoff was as tender as good steak. To say nothing to the theatric racks of lamb I saw other diners have, which came in a glass dome filled with smoke just for dramatic effect. Get the cheesecake - it might be the best in Northampton. With good priced wine and free water too, this was a brilliant night out.
Head chef and business owner Justin Raugala promises "fine dining for a tenner" and he delivers. The simply-named meals on the menu ('pork loin', 'French mussels', 'cheesecake', etc.) are all a great size but never stray into anything too expensive. All the starters would make a great lunch on their own and mingle at about a fiver. The mains are rich and just the right size - I heard every diner on every table put down their cutlery, throw down their napkin and happily sigh they were "stuffed".
But the most charming moment of the night came when Justin himself saw all orders were complete and his customers were full. He took off his apron, walked to our table, span a chair around and sat down with us just to ask if we had enjoyed ourselves. He even said he recognised me from my last visit - eight months ago. He shook the hands of all his diners and happily talked about the secret to his salsa. Hashtag's staff (and the maestro playing live music on a keyboard in the back) are friendly, personal and attentive, and with the small shop floor you really feel they make a difference to your night. This is a dining experience.