Catreing changes at Burgh House are not to everyone's taste

The erosion of Hampstead s unique charm continues with the news that the gourmet caterers at Burgh House have lost their contract. And the good citizens complicit in this village tragedy are none other than the Burgh House trustees, who have put onerous c

The erosion of Hampstead's unique charm continues with the news that the gourmet caterers at Burgh House have lost their contract.

And the good citizens complicit in this village tragedy are none other than the Burgh House trustees, who have put onerous conditions in the catering contract.

The losers are the customers. Few of them realise that come July 27, they can no longer enjoy a superior roast lunch, tagine, lemon polenta cake or artisan loaf - some of the delicacies that distinguish the Buttery.

Chef Lori Anne Poulton of Once Upon a Table and her sweet-natured team brought skill and dedication to the venture over the past four years, creating a homely atmosphere and the sort of food your mother would have made had she been Elizabeth David. Service can be slow, but the adage ''good food can't be hurried'' holds true.


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By the nature of its secluded location the Burgh House Buttery is a well-kept secret and that, sadly, is the problem.

Hampstead offers slim pickings for restaurateurs off the High Street (ask any empty cafe on upper Heath Street), and it is an adventurous (or informed) soul who strolls as far as Well Walk. And come half-term, summer holidays or winter skiing, village backwaters are deserted.

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The Buttery could not be a major money-spinner anyway, being a quirky and cramped basement in the Queen Anne mansion, albeit with a lovely courtyard. The current caterers have aimed high and done pretty well in unpromising surroundings - conspicuously better than previous attempts.

The trustees of Burgh House require a cafe year-round to coincide with its Wednesday to Sunday opening times. Chef Lori Anne can do this over the warmer months, but has found it impossible to drum up enough business mid-week in winter to make a profit, and wants to open just at weekends then. Having experienced gloomily empty Wednesday lunchtimes there in winter, I can vouch for this myself.

Quite who the Burgh House burghers think will use the Buttery mid-week in January, apart from themselves and a few devotees of the Scrabble club, is unclear.

There are other issues, as far as I can glean, to do with money and vision. Cash-strapped Burgh House apparently needs an outfit that will not merely cook for visitors and private hires, but finance a Buttery and kitchen refit, and provide all the accessories for private functions at the competitive rates of larger-scale companies.

Whoever meets these criteria may necessarily be a large company. Rumour is that it might be a chain, which would bring the relentless march of uniformity to the heart of Hampstead.

I try to be optimistic but my family feels bereft. A treasured village experience will be gone. Other diners concur. ''Hampstead used to be special but this is being lost,'' says Dr Jane Crispin, a local. ''Keep homogeneity for the High Street, let Burgh House be special.'' And cartoonist Martha Richler said: ''The food is lovely and so are the staff. I am shocked to hear they are leaving.''

I hope trustee Matthew Lewin, an ex-Ham&High restaurant reviewer, and his fellows understand what they are losing. A little catering operation... so what? It's just another nail in the coffin of old Hampstead.

Nicole Sochor

Langland Gardens, NW3

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