Tom makes an impassioned plea on behalf of our embattled neighbourhood restaurants.
For over a decade, Hereford Road has been quietly cooking some of the most reliably excellent food in the country. Low key, modest and unassuming, just like chef proprietor Tom Pemberton, it’s also eternally consistent and unerringly joyous, a neighbourhood restaurant to worship and adore. When ‘Lockdown 2 – The Return’ ends (in a couple of weeks, God and government willing), I’ll be back for yet another long and languorous lunch.
Pemberton was head chef at St John Bread and Wine, and while the nothing-goes-to-waste Nose to Tail gospel of St John founder Fergus Henderson is rightly worshipped, the modern British menu is very much his own. It follows the seasons without ever banging on about doing so and the set lunch, three courses for £15.50, is the best deal in town.
You walk in, past the open kitchen to your left, where you nod at Tom, possibly London’s hardest-working chef, before greeting Fabio, a fine maître d’, who will take you to your table. A booth downstairs, if possible. On a bright day, the sun floods the room, pouring through a vast circular skylight.
A glass of manzanilla sherry, icy cold, arrives unbidden and is quickly dispatched. Then a brief look at the menu, but I’ve been here so many times that it’s barely needed. Today, I dismantle a whole artichoke, served cold with a sharp, punchy emulsified vinaigrette, sucking the bases and battling my way to that soft, sweet heart. We share a potted crab, fresh-picked brown and white meat covered in a spiced butter, slathering it on fat slices of homemade toasted sourdough.
My friend Bill has onglet, cooked medium rare, with its robust chew and delectable offal tang. The chips are fat and golden, their burnished shell noisily brittle. I eat devilled kidneys, plump, oversized meaty commas, their interior a blushing pink, agleam with a sauce that has serious sinus blast. The pile of buttery mash soaks up any excess juice. Pudding is raspberry sorbet, simple, intense and pleasingly sharp.
Like all good restaurants, Hereford Road is about so much more than just food. Providing work and hospitality, supporting farmers, growers, bakers, wine makers, knife sellers, crockery dealers, kitchen-kit suppliers and launderers alike. Restaurants are an essential part of civilised life. And I, like so many others, am praying that those doors will open once more. As soon as they possibly can.
Hereford Road, around £30 a head, 3 Hereford Road, London W2; herefordroad.org
Drinks: Olly’s big name bargains
Big-name wines from famous regions such as Bordeaux can cost enough to make a bank vault shudder. But there are smart buys from lesser known producers, own-labels, obscure grapes and emerging places which make quality wines. For fizz this festive season my tip is French Crémant – same technique as Champagne but coming from different places with unique grapes. The results will make your mood pop.
CHÂTEAU CHANTEMERLE MÉDOC 2017 (13%), £6.99, Aldi. Aged to perfection, this red Bordeaux is as smart as it gets. A steal of a classic.
BEAUJOLAIS LES PIERRES DORÉES CUVÉE LOUIS DÉPAGNEUX 2018 (12.5%), £8.50, The Wine Society. Vibrant as an electric cherry, this is the best value in Britain.
TOURAINE SAUVIGNON LE VIN DES COPAINS 2019 (13%), £9.99, Waitrose. Sancerre quality without the price tag. Fragrant, peachy and bright.
SAVOIE ‘VIEILLE VIGNE’ DOMAINE DE L’IDYLLE 2019 (11.5%), £13.50, yapp.co.uk. Exuberant as an orange waltzing in the arms of a mango.
Wine of the week M&S CRÉMANT DE BORDEAUX NV (12%), £9. Rich bubbly for a price that’s light on its feet. Stunning fizz to hoard this season.