Tom takes delight in that rarest of discoveries – a London pub makeover that works
A decade or so back, in what seems a different era altogether, The Princess Royal (then known as The Commander) was yet another nondescript Notting Hill boozer, flogging overpriced, uninspired gastropub fodder, the sort of blandly inoffensive tucker that is forgotten in the time it takes to pass from throat to belly. Forgotten, that is, until you see the bill. It eventually closed down, sitting empty and unloved, a once handsome relic of an age long past.
But Notting Hill, like nature, abhors a vacuum. And the pub has recently reopened after an elegant and extensive facelift, the latest offering from the Cubitt House group, with Ben Tish at the helm. I’ve long loved Tish’s cooking, from Salt Yard through to Norma and The Game Bird, while Cubitt House rarely put a foot wrong. And this Princess is a peach.
OK, so despite having a central, horseshoe-shaped bar, The Princess Royal is more restaurant in a pub than gastropub per se. And all the better for it. We sit in the side room, lush with hanging verdancy, the original Victorian tiled floor uncovered, the upholstery bright and bold. As ever with Tish, produce is the star, his focus broadly sunny, southern Mediterranean. Red prawn crudo is both winsomely pure and lavishly rich, the trembling, translucent flesh indecently fresh. Just like the beautifully picked Cornish crab, sweet as a mermaid’s sigh, with the first of the season’s fresh peas, a sprinkling of crisp breadcrumbs and a subtle chilli kick. In both dishes, though, the crustacean is very much the star, with other elements there to burnish, cosset and flatter.
Cool, briny Lindisfarne rock oysters come with a blob of warm chorizo, a joyous lusty pairing, while gently smoked anchovies sit on toast with soft boiled quail’s eggs and pickled shallot. Whipped nduja, all luscious fat and fire, comes smeared across homemade fennel biscuits. There’s an astonishingly succulent Gloucester Old Spot chop, a flat-iron steak, cooked properly blue, with satisfying chew and mellow depth. Along with a blistered, bubbling parmigiana that would make Nonna proud.
As the lights soften and the night deepens, the hubbub becomes all-enveloping, a merry symphony of clinking glass, clattering cutlery and easy bonhomie. The sound of succour, satisfaction and a princess reborn.
About £45 per head. The Princess Royal, 47 Hereford road, London W2; cubitthouse.co.uk