The longer you live in London, the more you take certain things for granted. It will rain on the next Bank Holiday, which you’ve eagerly awaited for the whole sunny working week. The Wimbledon branch of the District line will let you down in every and any way it can. Restaurants are open all day long, and don’t have a weekly day off, unlike most places in smaller towns and cities. While I’ve learnt the hard way to not organise outdoor picnics on public holidays, and bemoan TfL’s sins like every other commuter, I recently found that 7-days-a-week restaurant openings are a myth. They might still be the rule in Central London, but booking a Monday team lunch in Notting Hill last month was no easy task. We contacted at least seven places, all of which were closed Monday afternoons. We branched out to nearby Kensington Church Street, to no avail. And then we came across Hereford Road, which saved the day, and fed us a meal to remember.
I’m only visiting their website for the first time today. I’m glad I left it this late: here’s a quote from Chef and Co-founder Tom Pemberton (formerly Head Chef of St. John Bread and Wine – *scribbles on to-visit list*) I’d have found hard to believe without knowing any better.
“It seems to me the area lacks a strong neighbourhood restaurant. Our main priority is to provide genuinely high quality, interesting and affordable British food in a relaxed environment.” – Hereford Road website, “About” section
The thing is, I’ve walked down Hereford Road countless times, and never gave its namesake restaurant as much attention as it would have deserved. I can almost hear my brain turning first impressions (bright and spacious interiors; elegant design; staff in neat, smart uniforms) into a snap judgement: “This must be a place I’ll never be able to afford”. How wrong I was; now that I do know better, I get exactly what Pemberton meant. What else are you to do if you’re looking for a fulfilling and reasonably priced meal in the Westbourne Grove area, and don’t intend to make do with overcrowded high-street chains? A few of the Persian restaurants down the road might save the day, and newly opened Redemption delivers on both taste and value for money, but that’s about it, and the concepts are hardly similar. High quality, interesting British food and a relaxed setting are exactly what you get at Hereford Road – which is more than you can say about other nearby restaurants, and their overpriced, far less thought-out British fare (Bumpkin comes to mind, by no means the only one).
Huge loaves of bread are on display at the entrance, fuelling your hunger and hinting you’re on to memorable things. Sure enough, one of those, cut in thick slices and served with a pot of butter, landed on our table after we ordered. I wouldn’t usually go out of my way to gorge on white bread (give me rye or wholemeal any time), but it was served warm, and that did the trick. You have to be extraordinarily disciplined or not hungry at all (or, well, gluten-intolerant) to resist the lure of warm bread. I’m neither, not ever.
The six of us ordered four different mains, all of which were generous enough to make large plates look small. London restaurants of this level are usually known for playing a quite different game: the bigger the plate, the tinier the portion, and the sharper the pangs of hunger when you leave the table. At Hereford Road, you get none of this nonsense: the chefs’ main preoccupation seems to be feeding you plenty of goodness – and the quality of ingredients shines through every bite. All the while, presentation doesn’t suffer one bit. My red-leg partridge looked striking, majestic; more striking than it was convenient, as it took skill to carve bite-sized chops from the whole bird without sending bits and bones flying in my neighbours’ plates. Still, I gladly engaged with the challenge, for the sake of fitting as much soft, juicy meat in my stomach as I could. The light yet flavourful side of lentils and mushrooms adds balance to the whole; I’d usually wish for roast potatoes with a main like this, but with such abundance of meat, any stodgier side risks to become overkill.
Speaking of sides, the selection you can order from the menu is rather limited, and could do with a few additions (the absence of roast potatoes does feel odd, since it’s British food we’re talking about). I don’t find boiled new potatoes the most interesting dish, and wouldn’t pair them with any of the meat courses, while seasonal greens are a Russian roulette: what if you forget to check what you’re getting? I’d rather fall short of one of my five-a-day, than risk being served a bowl of broccoli. But this would only be an issue if the mains weren’t perfectly formed already – and they all are. My colleagues ordered onglet steak with chips, devilled lamb’s kidneys and mash, and braised hare leg, turnips and bacon; I haven’t heard a single less-than-enthusiastic comment about any of them.
We all ate from Hereford Road’s à la carte menu, which changes on a regular basis; they also have a three-course lunch menu, priced at £15.50 (£13.50 for two courses), with three options to choose from for each course. There’s no overlap with the à la carte selection, so you’re bound to find something that suits you either way. If you do meet your matches in the set menu, you’re in for a bargain: £15.50 is the price you’d normally pay for one main. I can’t think of another lunch menu that offers such great value in London; I will be back to try it, because it would be a crime to miss out.
3 Hereford Road
London, W2 4AB
(nearest tube station: Notting Hill Gate)
020 7727 1144