Since opening in October 2007, Hereford Road has been widely acclaimed by the critics for its pared-down seasonal British food. Tom Vaughan reports
Despite being long touted as the potential launching pad for a new wave of British chefs, the St John alumni who have actually branched out on their own over the 13 years of the London restaurant's existance are noticeable by their rarity.
One of the main reasons behind this, says Tom Pemberton, head chef at Hereford Road and formerly head chef at St John Bread and Wine in Spitalfields, is the respect former employees have for the uniqueness of Fergus Henderson's much-acclaimed restaurant.
If fact, it was this respect that initially led Pemberton to reject the idea of opening his own neighbourhood British restaurant when it was first mooted by his business partner Alex Mosley three years ago. But since then a smattering of well-received London restaurants with their roots firmly in St John - the Anchor & Hope in Waterloo, Franklins in Dulwich and the Rochelle Canteen in Shoreditch (run by Henderson's wife, Margot, and featured on this page on 13 December) - have lessened the taboo associated with imitating Henderson's style and encouraged Pemberton to go it alone.
The result is Hereford Road, a neighbourhood restaurant in Notting Hill, which opened in October 2007 with Pemberton behind the stove and Mosley behind the books. The building was widely described in the press as a former butcher's shop - which it was, in Victorian times. Its most recent incarnation was, in fact, a restaurant, and when it went up for sale last year Mosley identified it as the perfect location.
A lot of work went into the newly designed restaurant, and the result is a stylish room featuring an open kitchen immediately by the front door - a layout not many restaurants have. ("Kebab shops do," Pemberton points out, helpfully.)
The room is split-level, with small banquette tables running parallel to the kitchen and the remaining 64 seats a few steps below at the back of the building. A huge domed skylight opens up what would otherwise be a dingy spot.
Pemberton has developed a style and signature dishes of his own that draw a clear distinction from St John. Although the menu is similar in both its brevity of presentation and its stringent adherence to seasonal British produce, not one of the 200-strong repertoire of St John dishes has made its way west to Notting Hill. And in the braised oxtail dish for two (cooked for six hours and served whole, £28) there is more than enough individuality to distinguish Pemberton's cooking.
Everything on the menu is precisely in season. His suppliers include Chef Direct and Richard Vaughan, whose pigs he receives whole and butchers on site. The green salad (£4), offered as a side, is made with British mustard leaves a well balanced beetroot, chervil and duck egg starter (£6.80) makes good use of winter root vegetables while the anchovies served grilled with lemon, garlic and parsley (£5.20) are being caught in unseasonally large numbers off the Cornish coast at present.
The highlight among the starters when I visited (the menu changes daily according to what is available) was smoked trout, frisée and horseradish (£6.80), which was just salty enough to make it interesting.
Competitive pricing is a cornerstone of the neighbourhood concept. Grilled mackerel and white cabbage comes to £10, steamed mussels and laverbread to £7 and butternut squash, lentils, sage and goats' curd is £9.20.
As always with Henderson-trained chefs, the secret to their cooking is in the lack of secrets. Well cooked, well seasoned lemon sole came with brown butter and purple sprouting broccoli (£13.50) - simplicity itself. But, as Terry Durack pointed out in the Independent, only when something like this is done badly do you realise the art involved in getting it right.
Desserts are simple and British: apple and quince sponge rhubarb crumble prune and Armagnac parfait (all £5.50).
Because of Pemberton's pedigree at St John, he admits a lot of expectation surrounded Hereford Road's opening. So far, though, the restaurant has lived up to it.
Away from the stove
"I went to Moro recently when Samuel was cooking," says Pemberton. "It was inventive and different and he put such intensity into the cooking."
Also on the menu
- Half-dozen Colchester oysters, shallot relish, £3
- Brawn and piccalilli, £5.50
- Calf's kidneys and mustard, £5.60
- Onglet, chips and aïoli, £13
- Teal, braised turnips and black cabbage, £12
- Whole sea bass with fennel (for two), £28
- Chocolate pot, £5.50
- Sticky date pudding, £5.50
- Strathdon Blue or Tunworth cheeses, £5.50 each
Hereford Road Restaurant, 3 Hereford Road, Westbourne Grove, London W2 4AB. Tel: 020 7727 1144
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