Hereford Road – A St John for the West Side?

Hereford Road
3 Hereford Road
London W2 4AB
Website
Map
Online Reservations

  • 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

Hereford Road has all the makings of a great local restaurant serving classic, robust and simple British food, and during our meal we definitely saw some flashes of talent from the kitchen. However, these were mitigated by less successful dishes and a mixed service experience. So while all of the pieces seem to be in place to make this ‘the St John of West London’, we’ll have to revisit to see if this is really the case

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.

Changing daily menu, a sign of the times

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.

Ah yes, the decor is quite nice, but a bit loud when it’s busy (this is the entryway, with little tables of 2 opposite the open kitchen)

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.

The Bread & Butter

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.

Starter 1: Lamb Breast, Laverbread & Oatmeal

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.

Starter 2: Marinated Smoked Haddock, Potato & Horseradish

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.

Main Course 1: Roast Loin of Middlewhite Pork, Bath Chap, Swede & Kale

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.

Main Course 2: Lemon Sole, Roast Jerusalem Artichoke & Mustard Leaf

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.

Wine: 2007 Bourgogne, Cuvée Margot, Olivier Leflaive

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.

Dessert 1: Quince & Almond Tart with Crème Fraiche

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.

Dessert 2: Rice Pudding & Strawberry Jam

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.

Soft Roes, Black Butter & Capers

Red Leg Partridge, Lentils & Chantarelles

Rating

Ambience: 7/10

Service: 5/10

Food: 6.5/10

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.*

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Great Queen Street – Long Live the Queen

Great Queen Street
32 Great Queen Street
London WC2B 5AA
Website: nonexistent
Map
Reservations: +44 (0)20 7242 0622

Our 2-course lunch with wine cost approximately £25/person (starters from £4-7, mains from £10-14, desserts from £4-6)

Note: this is a joint review done in tandem with fellow food blogger Craig Linton of London Food Detective

Great Queen Street (GQS) succeeds in achieving what I imagine it is setting out to do: cooking up simple but tasty British food that changes with the seasons. The place is simply decorated, the staff is fairly knowledgeable and the food is pretty good. To me, there were minor echoes of St John throughout GQS. The prices are about right for central London & it's a great place for lunch if you work within walking distance (like me!)

A Meeting of Minds…and Food of Course!

Laissez Fare: I had been looking forward to meeting fellow food blogger Craig Linton (website: London Food Detective, twitter: @craigdlinton) for a few weeks after I invited him to meet up for lunch a while back. Luckily, I wasn’t too nervous as I had already met another food blogger a few months back for lunch (see a post about that meal here). Although it is always a bit disconcerting meeting someone you’ve emailed and tweeted with but never met in the flesh, I had the sneaking suspicion that we were going to get on, given our seemingly similar attitudes towards restaurants and food, which are of course the two most important things in the world (Mrs. LF is going to kill me if she reads this).

So, in the middle of our two places of work, Great Queen Street (GQS) awaited. The little sister of some British gourmets’ favourite (and I cringe as I write the word) ‘gastropub’, GQS has no real name, no website, and no gimmicks. It is all simple wood and dim lighting inside, with informal but fairly knowledgeable staff. Like so many London restaurants today (St John and Bocca di Lupo spring to mind), the daily menu is presented on a loose sheet of paper, inferring that the menu changes daily and is probably more or less seasonal. And GQS checked all those boxes. The menu was quite traditionally British, and the simple, hearty fare sounded good to me as it had been a rather long and cold walk to get there.

The Menu, Innit

Unsurprisingly, I arrived on time, and was shown to a little square table for two, where my blind, male food blogger date was to join me. It was all a bit weird, but luckily I had seen a photo of him online so more or less knew what to look for. A bit over-anxious, I waved haphazardly to the next dude through the door based on just the faint outline of his face, who luckily happened to be the man himself. Phew.

After a long and enjoyable getting-to-know-you chat, we were scouring the menus like to men on a mission, trying to make wise selections in the presence of the seasoned foodie across the table. Decisions made, we continued with a very engaging and pleasant discussion, until the thing that united us finally arrived. Grub time.

Craig Linton: Although I’ve been blogging on and off for nearly five years it is only in the last six months or so that I’ve been writing up my thoughts on restaurants I’ve visited.

In that time I’ve found a whole new world of people who share my passion for eating out and good food.

One of the blogs I’ve got subscribed in my RSS feed is Laissez Fare and I always enjoy reading his in-depth reviews. We’ve been to a few of the same places and seem to have had similar experiences (see for example our thoughts on Le Gavroche here and here) and so I was delighted when he got in touch to see if I fancied meeting up for lunch.

After establishing we both work fairly close to each other we settled on Great Queen Street, Holborn, the sister restaurant to gastropub favourite the Anchor & Hope.

Now this is the first time I’ve ever met up with someone I’ve chatted to online and the occasion almost had a sense of a blind date to it. Would LF be the friendly, helpful, chatty guy his online persona gives off or would he turn out to be some sort of foodie psycho? I’m very pleased to report that it is the former, though whether the feeling is mutual you’ll have to check!

Anyway, we hit it off straight away and had a good chat before we got down to the serious business of ordering our food. Great Queen Street is all about seasonal, hearty food and the menu reflects this with dishes like slowly braised mutton and pressed ox tongue.

After a bit of deliberation we decided the desserts sounded better than the starters, so we elected to go for a main and dessert.

I went for devilled Hereford Beef and LF chose the special of room temperature slices of Old Spot pork with crab-apple jelly. We also shared a side of greens.

Getting Down to Bi’ness

Brown Bread & Butter

Laissez Fare: Some brown bread and butter had arrived, so we both had a small piece of it. It was pretty average and there’s nothing much more to say about it. I now eagerly awaited my main. 5/10.

LF Main Course: Slices of Old Spot Pork with Crab-Apple Jelly

I had heard a lot about Old Spot pork but had never knowingly tried it, so despite some reservations about a room temperature dish (that’s how they serve it) on a cold November day, I went for it. Luckily, I was not disappointed. It was a very simple dish with three main components. The pork was sliced to a medium thickness and the circles of fat were left in tack around the rim. It definitely had a unique full, round, mouth filling flavor that I hadn’t experienced before. It was surprisingly interesting and had me going back for more, especially when combined with the tangy yet slightly sweet and in-season crab-apple jelly. Because the side of greens we ordered was so delicious with its naughty, slightly creamy mustard sauce, which had a nice streak of acidity, I sort of ignored the little salad that came on my plate. This was a shame, because when I tasted it as an afterthought, I found it was actually quite good and it would have been a nice little accompaniment to the meat and jelly. Overall, then, a simple and accomplished dish. 8/10.

Shared Side Dish: 'Greens' with Mustard Sauce

I had ordered a glass of Beaujolais to go with my pork, thinking a soft, easy-drinking fruity wine would marry well with the flavors. It was brought out in a little ridged tumbler (like a small water glass you get in a bistro), as was Craig’s Portuguese red, which I thought was taking the minimalism a tad too far. It’s okay to serve wine on tap into a glass like that (like a place I went to in Venice once called Da Marisa), and Beaujolais after all is a very casual wine drunk with simple food in France, but I like my wine to breathe a bit and think a normal little wine glass would have been better. Rants aside, the wine did what I hoped it would and was a nice sipping partner for my late Old Spotted friend.

It’s worth noting that before tasting my own dish, I was quite jealous of Craig’s main course just on the looks. It reminded me of the hearty beef stroganoff my mom used to make us when I was a teenager. Luckily, he didn’t think I was a complete freak when I asked if he wanted to taste some of my dish, and even offered up a bit of his beef. The meat itself was very soft and tender, having been stewed for a long time, and the sauce it was bathing in was not bad at all. If I had to label it, I’d say it was sort of a European beef curry sauce, with its richness being supported and enhanced by a nice underlying spice (the ‘devil’ bit, I supposed) that ruminated and lingered in the mouth for a good while. I didn’t taste the rice or the egg, but the bit of meat and sauce I did have was very satisfying indeed. 7/10.

Craig Linton: The mains arrived pretty quickly and both looked good, so I was thankful when LF asked if I wanted to try some of his pork. Now my girlfriend found it hilarious when I told her that I was sharing food with a bloke I’d just met, but surely it makes sense for two people who love food to try each others dishes?

CL Main Course: Devilled Hereford Beef

My beef just melted in the mouth and the ‘devil’ in the title came with the accompanying stroganoff style sauce that had a satisfying curry kick to it and lifted the dish beyond a standard stew.  It was served with rice, half a boiled egg (not quite sure why) and some chopped gherkins, which gave a fresh, crunchy, acidic contrast to the beef that I really enjoyed.

I’m not normally a huge fan of cold pork as I find it can be quite dry, but this was moist and full of flavour. I haven’t had crab-apple jelly for years and my memories of it are from school and I was surprised at how sweet it was.  I thought it worked well with the pork and made for a decent main dish.

Special mention needs to go to the greens we ordered as a side dish, which we believed to be black cabbage (kale). They were well-cooked and retained a bit of crunch and had a creamy mustard sauce that I thought really elevated them above the ordinary.  Very good indeed.

Just Desserts

Laissez Fare: When the desserts arrived, I thought I’d definitely ‘won’. Oh, what, you haven’t noticed my competitive streak? 🙂

LF Dessert: Bitter Chocolate Terrine & Chestnut Cream

Unfortunately, just as I learned at my other recent food blogger lunch, looks can definitely be deceiving. There was nothing wrong with my bitter chocolate terrine with chestnut ice cream. The cake itself was, dense, smooth and full of nice dark chocolate flavor. I guess it was just a bit one-dimensional for my taste. The side of chestnut cream worked well and had little chunks of chestnut which paired nicely with the chocolate. It wasn’t a memorable dessert though, and I definitely had reason to be jealous this time. 6/10.

My companion’s dessert was head and tails better than mine (yes, he did let me have a bite). It was a gorgeous pile of thick creamy white chocolate whipped creamy looking stuff, with a thick syrupy sauce of bittersweet oranges (and orange sections too) sprinkled with a bit of praline. The citrus cut right through the cream and made for a simple but sublime combination. I loved it and wished we had ordered two. Alas, I made my peace and tried to hide my disappointment by quickly scoffing down the rest of my okay dessert. 8/10.

Craig Linton: I’d have happily ordered four out of five of the desserts and after a bit of deliberation I went for white chocolate pudding, oranges and praline. On the waiter’s advice LF went for the bitter chocolate terrine with chestnut ice cream.

I often get dessert jealously, but with a certain sense of smugness I can say that I definitely chose the better dessert!

CL Dessert: White Chocolate Pudding, Oranges & Praline

The white chocolate pudding was very good. It had the consistency of thick whipped cream, but with a rich white chocolate flavour. The oranges had been cut into slices and been gently cooked so they had just started to caramelise and worked really well with the white chocolate.

There was nothing wrong with LF’s chocolate terrine, but it wasn’t anything special either.

Post-Mortem

Laissez Fare: I think Great Queen Street has a lot going for it. It’s paired down, simple, seasonal and hearty food was good on this occasion and I’ll definitely be back as it’s walking distance from work. I thought that £25/person for two courses plus wine was fair enough as I left full, happy and contented. But, as is usually the case, what really made the meal was the company, which in this case made for a fun, relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable two hours.

Craig Linton: Overall, a highly enjoyable two hour, two course lunch and I would definitely go back to Great Queen Street. I recommended it to my boss when I returned to the office and will hopefully get him to take me on our next lunchtime meeting.

Really enjoyed my first lunch with a fellow blogger and fingers crossed we’ll do it again.

Tips if You’re Eating with a Fellow Blogger for the First Time

Craig Linton: Make sure you’ve read their recent blog posts.

– Decide if you’re going to review the place individually, together or at all.

– Know what the person you’re meeting looks like, so you don’t look slightly crazy by asking the other single diners in the restaurant if they are the person you are meant to be meeting.

– Choose who is going to take the photos and then share them after.  Compare embarrassing stories of partners/friends/restaurant staff getting annoyed at you insisting photographing everything.

– Despite funny looks from other diners, it is perfectly acceptable to request to try the other person’s food.

Laissez Fare: I couldn’t have said it better myself! 🙂

Rating

Ambience: 7/10

Service: 7/10

Food: 7/10

Wine: nice little selection, but please serve in a proper glass!

For more about my rating scale, click here.

*Note: I have dined at Great Queen Street once and it was for lunch.*

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