- Dinner: daily changing menu, starters from about £5-7, mains from about £10-30, puddings all £5.50
- Lunch: fixed price menu Mon-Fri £13 for 2 courses, £15.50 for 3 courses
A working conversation
Work Colleague: “Dude, I’ve been to this little neighborhood restaurant like 3 or 4 times now and it is soooo good, every time. The menu is always different and I really like it.”
LF: “Wow, that sounds amazing, what’s it called?”
Work Colleague: “Oh, it’s on a little road just off Westbourne Grove…what’s it called…urgh?!”
LF: “Is it black on the outside with a kitchen to the left as you walk in.”
Work Colleague: “Uh, yeah, actually it is. You know it?!”
LF: “Well, I’ve never actually eaten there, but I think it’s Hereford Road you’re talking about.”
Work Colleague: “Yeah, that’s it! You have to go.”
LF: “Yes, I’ve heard great things about it, the head chef used to work at St John and left to set up his own thing, serving seasonal British cuisine in a pared down style at reasonable-ish prices. Why don’t we go with the girls one night, I have been wanting to eat there for a long time now.”
About a month later, we eventually all arrived at our awaiting table at Hereford Road.
Our new local?
As is the wont these days, Hereford Road operates an A4 single-sheet menu that allegedly changes each day according to what’s fresh in the kitchen (FYI – the daily menu is also updated on their website). Think St John, Bocca di Luppo, Great Queen Street, etc. It’s a great concept in theory, especially for a place purporting to be a ‘local’ restaurant, as the ‘local’ customers can come back often and never get bored.
I have to admit I was quite intrigued by some of the choices on offer when we went on a Thursday night in mid-December (you can see the full menu above). There were some very interesting dishes, including a few things I’d never even heard of before, and I know a bit about offal. I was particularly intrigued to hear our waiter describe the process of making ‘Bath Chap’, and decided I had to have some of that after understanding what it was and how it’s prepared. The simple explanation is that it is a particular piece of pork from the lower cheek of pigs from the Wilthshire/Somerset area; it is fully de-boned, then placed in brine, then usually cooked in breadcrumbs – at Hereford Road they also add some ‘aromatic herbs’, but they wouldn’t tell me which ones (even when I asked the chef on the way out). But enough about particular piggies from Bath.
The four of us eventually decided on our dishes and began the waiting game. As we relaxed in our spacious booth, we attempted to talk over the very large table to our left, which must have been an office out on their Christmas party. I have to say that while the design of the restaurant is very nice – replete with red leather booths and simple yet smart tables, color schemes and furnishings – the acoustics are pretty atrocious on a busy night like the one on which we visited.
As we tried to hear each other, a waiter brought out some bread, which was of the soft white loaf variety, and while freshly baked was not particularly memorable.
My starter of lamb breast was a new dish for me. The lamb breast (or brisket) had been cooked inside a fried oatmeal crust which had laverbread mixed into it. The flavor combination was bold but worked well, with the fairly strong lamb taste being offset by the fried oatmeal and the mineral, sea flavors of the laverbread (think oysters). Not something you eat every day, but not bad at all. 7/10.
My starter was good, but Mrs. LF couldn’t stop raving about hers – and this is not often something she does. She said that the dish was “…really amazing. The smoked fish was about the best I’ve had and everything on the plate was seasoned to perfection – the potato and horseradish were particularly good – and I wanted to keep coming back for more. At the end of it, I took some of the bread and mopped up the remaining bits. It was a well balanced, simple but nearly perfect dish, and that potato salad was to die for.” 9/10.
My main of Middlewhite Pork was also good. The pork meat itself was tender and flavorful (but not overly so) and I really enjoyed the accompaniments of kale and mashed swede, whose colors of green and orange also lent the plate a nice visual appeal. The only real problem with the dish was that the layer of rind on the outside of the circular cut was simply too hard to eat. This was a shame, because I really love crackling when it’s well done, but you felt you were in danger of breaking a tooth if you ate this stuff (of course, I managed to down a bit of it anyway). But the real eye opener was the Bath Chap, which was utterly delicious. It is quite fatty, so I was glad that there was only a thin slice of it, but the flavor was new to me and very appealing…sort of liked cooked ham, but better than any I’ve had in the UK, with a nice hint of seasoning. 7/10.
Unfortunately, the good luck ran out for Mrs. LF at this point in the meal. She said that her main course of Lemon Sole was “…really average. I have had Lemon Sole in France and know what it can and should be like, and this didn’t even touch the one that my mom makes. The sole was slightly overcooked, a bit dry and rather plain. Also, there wasn’t much evidence of the sauce. The fish itself was fresh and it tasted healthy, but it wasn’t delicious; it simply didn’t taste as it should. The sole is a delicate fish and this one didn’t melt in my mouth as it should have.” 5/10.
Our chosen booze for the meal was a very quaffable entry-level red Burgundy from Olivier Leflaive. This is not the same as the more famous Domaine Leflaive (which, along with Lafon, is probably one of the few kings of burgundy to my taste and understanding), although he is from the same family. He has a négociant and makes a range of wines separate to the family’s Domaine wines, which are often very good and can be picked up at reasonable prices. For instance, I believe this bottle was £37, but that is with a fairly traditional restaurant mark-up of 2 to 2.5 times.
My pudding was okay, but wasn’t anything mind-blowing. I had been excited to try it as we had been able to smell a fresh quince fruit in my recent wine class (as wine people are always banging on about how some wines smell of quince), but was disappointed that the flavor didn’t come through that strongly as I had imagined it would given the rather distinct aroma of the fruit itself. The cake itself was a tad dry and just didn’t hold enough interest for me to get excited about it. It was pleasant but forgettable. 6/10.
Instead of finishing on a sweet note, Mrs. LF’s meal ended on a sour (and very hot) one. “My rice pudding arrived piping hot, which is fine if you have 15 minutes to waste waiting around for it to cool down, but when it’s in front of you, you want to eat it, so this simply didn’t work. Plus, given the fact that we’d been waiting ages to order desserts and then for them to arrive in the first place, it was doubly annoying. The problem is that even though it’s boiling hot, you want to go for it anyway, so you burn yourself, which is a real shame since I really love rice pudding…so was really disappointed. Not to mention the fact that when it is so hot it is indigestible, so it is a bad idea to serve it like this in the first place; it should be served luke-warm if anything. 5/10.
Everything seems to be in place, but not on this occasion
Overall, we had an enjoyable evening, although it wasn’t without its hiccups. The aforementioned shortcomings of some dishes, along with the large and loud table out on their Christmas doo who (due to the poor acoustics in the dining room) rendered conversation difficult at our table, hampered the experience somewhat. Also, after about half of the restaurant had emptied out (including that large party), the service – which had so far been pretty good – actually slowed down to nearly a grinding halt. We waited for ages to get the attention of a waiter to ask for the dessert menu, then to order it, and then to get it. And by that point, it was pretty late on a week night. The other main disappointment was that while their desserts sounded so similar to the often sublimely simple puddings at St John, the ones we ordered didn’t come close to living up to those expectations.
But besides all of these niggles, which when compounded did significantly impact the meal, the food is generally very good at Hereford Road. And I would imagine that on a ‘normal night’, service could be good too as the staff themselves did seem to be knowledge, interested, engaging and friendly…when we could get one of them to notice us. It does remind me a lot of Great Queen Street, which is a good thing, and I am starting to like this kind of very simple British cuisine that is, to some extent, cooked with quasi-local and seasonal British produce. Maybe it’s down to the fact that it is winter and I crave this kind of fulsome food, or maybe it’s just my evolving appetite. I don’t know, but right now, these kinds of menus and places often get my taste buds going. Head Chef Pemberton wasn’t there on the evening we dined at Hereford Road, and I don’t know how much he is there or much about him at all (save from the St John association), but I would certainly be willing to give it another go on the promise that some of the dishes held, with the hope of a bit more consistency throughout the meal.
Appendix – A Few of our Friends’ Dishes (Not Tasted)
We didn’t really taste our friends’ dishes properly enough to justify giving them a rating of any kind, but thought you might enjoy seeing a few of them. By the way, our dining companions generally enjoyed their food at Hereford Road.
Wine: a small but well-chosen selection with many at very reasonable prices & a good number available by a 1/3 bottle carafe (current list can be found online)
For more about my rating scale, click here.
*Note: I have dined at Hereford Road once, and it was for dinner.*