First things first: Hereford Road is an old butcher’s shop, and they’re not ashamed of it. The open kitchen sits behind a hefty counter where today, like before, wares are displayed: pot-roasted duck legs, breads and January’s vegetables enticed my partner and I in. Hereford Road is fiercely seasonal and proud of a nose-to-tail approach to eating: it does things as they should be done. Seasonality and responsibly sourcing and using products isn’t a marketing point here, it’s natural. It’s what they do.
Deep-fried calf’s brain and tartare sauce shares starter space with smoked eel, potato and horseradish, as well as simple vegetable showcases like leek vinaigrette. It’s one hell of a menu. Why ignore buttery calf’s brains or delicious, rich duck hearts if we’re happy to eat fillets or chops? It’s disingenuous.
I was surprised at how much technique showed in the leek vinaigrette: tender leeks were poached until they had a tiny bit of bite left, halved on the plate and served with enough anchovy to give everything a savoury moreishness without being overly fishy. It was a running theme of the evening – Head Chef Tom Pemberton clearly knows how to celebrate the best ingredients without overcomplicating things.
There is always at least one main that can be shared – roast guinea fowl with watercress and aioli, anyone? We were tempted, but split our orders to cover more of the menu. My skate wing with fennel was a joy: golden and crisp on the outside from being fried in butter, purest white below the surface, resting on a salad of finely sliced fennel in sharp dressing with plenty of chopped herbs.
My partner was too tempted by the pot-roast duck and turnip in the window as we came in to look at anything else. A whole duck leg, sat in a bowl of really powerful meat broth with amber chunks of turnip is something very special. The meat could be pulled off the bone with a fork like Peking duck, but you could drag it through this delicious duck sauce and add veg. It was like the most homely, warming, comforting soup in London. Once we’d sponged as much broth as we could with bread, the waiter brought a spoon to do the bowl justice.
The desserts keep the British-but-without-taking-the-piss idea going. Marmalade and whisky ice cream, for example, or buttermilk pudding and Yorkshire rhubarb had me completely torn – not only between them, but between feeling increasingly full and wanting to try more. The decision was solved with a chocolate terrine, poached quince and two spoons. We agreed it was one of the better chocolate things we’d ever had: dark, unctuous, not overly sweet and soft-textured. A spoonful shared with the quince and some of the sweetened sour cream it came with had dark-smooth-soft meeting slightly acidic cream and the sweet and fruity, almost Red Bull-like quince. It didn’t last more than five minutes between us.
I realise I’ve not really written about the service, or the room. Both are great in their unobtrusiveness. There’s no army of white-jacketed waiters or acres of gold leaf. You walk in and the chances are that one of the chefs in the open kitchen working right by the front door is the first to say hi. A friendly, welcoming staff member takes your coats and leads you to your table, then brings bread, water and menus. Waiters know the menu well and answer questions politely, without being patronising or obsequious.
The whole meal went by in unhurried, leisurely pleasure – what more do you want from a restaurant? Hereford Road is as British as Mr Whippy in the park, and manages to be old school without any clichés. And they do a set lunch for £15.50 or a main, wine and coffee for under a tenner. It’s a proper gem.
Hereford Road Restaurant, 3 Hereford Road, Westbourne Grove, London, W2 4AB.
Lunch 12:00-15:00 Mon-Sat, 12:00-16:00 Sunday roast.
Dinner 18:00-22:30 Mon-Sat, 18:00-22:00 Sun.
3 course set lunch £15.50, evening mains around £15.