Matt Reuther serves up Basque-inspired dishes in a former 19th century gin palace. Neil Gerrard paid a visit
San Sebastián seems like an odd sort of place to find inspiration for the menu of a traditional British pub and restaurant. But then the head chef of the Princess Victoria on the Uxbridge Road near Queen's Park Rangers Football Club in west London is not your traditional British pub chef.
Part of the Affinity Bars and Restaurants group, which also boasts the well-respected Newman Street Tavern, Lady Ottoline and Henry Root in its stable, the Princess Victoria's kitchen is under the control of Matt Reuther.
Reuther only started working for the pub around four and a half years ago, despite having known Affinity chief executive James McLean since they were in their teens. Prior to that, he spent around 15 years steeping himself in the traditions of Michelin-starred restaurants, starting off in the then two-Michelin-starred Auberge de la Rouge near Fécamp in France, before moving on to a host of well-known UK restaurants such as Marco Pierre White's the Oak Room and 1 Lombard Street.
He has brought the techniques and the finesse he learned and applied them to a British, seasonal pub menu via a few twists.
"It's very different," he says of the Princess Victoria, which has space for around 90 covers in the bar, 90 in the dining room, and another 90 standing or 60 sitting in the function room. "You need to get yourself out of that Michelin mentality and get into good, rustic home-cooked pub food with well-sourced produce, and keep everything vibrant and fresh."
Not that Reuther feels hidebound to reproduce only British pub dishes for the menu of the 19th-century former gin palace, which has been lovingly restored to its Victorian glory with decorated skylights and a curved bar dominating the front portion of the building.
In fact, there are a surprising number of European dishes on the menu. The range of Italian charcuterie is particularly wide, with a coppa Trentino (£6.50), a rare-breed salsiccia picante (£5.50) from Italian producers and a finocchiona (£6) from Nick Francis of Paddock Farm in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Steak cooked in a charcoal oven
It's where the bar snack of crispy pig's ear with romesco and chimichurri (£5.50) came from. "I copied it, basically," Reuther explains. "I was there for five days and I went back every day just to have that one dish."
It's a similar story with the tarta de queso cheesecake, served with 25ml of Pedro Ximénez (£9), which Reuther researched carefully to get just right. "I found all these Spanish baked cheesecake recipes, and I'd say eightâ¨out of 10 failed, so I kept having to adapt it â¨with my apprentice," he says.
"It is slightly more expensive, but that is because we serve it with the Pedro Ximénez and that is how they serve it in San SebastiÁ¡n."
Tarta de queso cheesecake with Pedro Ximenez
Of course, the British pub experience is there if you want it, too. The Princess Victoria boasts its own Josper oven and an ageing room where Reuther hangs a selection of British beef. While the menu offers ribeye and sirloin steaks (£19.50 and £26.50, served with triple-cooked chips, watercress and béarnaise or pepper-â¨corn sauce) both aged for 28 days, the chef has been experimenting with ageing for longer.
He has pushed the longhorn sirloin from Huntsham Court Farm for as long as 80 days ("Lovely cheesy notes," Reuther says), although he sticks at 60 days for the menu.
And now that summer has arrived, there are a selection of lighter dishes, including the delicious oak-smoked trout (sourced from â¨the Dutch Eel Company) with Jersey Royals and sage (£7.50), or the pan-fried hake with courgettes, sundried tomato and peppers with soubise sauce (£16.50).
Cumbrian cottage pie and peas
The bestselling sticky toffee pudding (£6) never comes off the menu. Reuther also makes sure to keep crab on throughout the year - such as the starter of dressed Cornish crab (£14.50) - as it is a popular option with the 500-700 covers the pub serves each week.
As far as the future is concerned, Reuther would like to see the introduction of more sharing dishes so that big groups of diners don't suffer "food envy", and he is also working on more dishes for two - that is, when he's not â¨being inspired by far-flung foodie haunts like â¨San SebastiÁ¡n.
Oak-smoked trout, Jersey royals and sage
From the menu
- Tamworth pork Scotch egg £5.90
Endive, walnuts and Roquefort salad £7
Citrus salmon ceviche and lime and â¨coriander crème fraÁ®che £7.50
Longhorn ox liver, mash potato, spinachâ¨and bacon and red wine jus £14.50
Pan-fried sea trout, pak choi, brownâ¨shrimp, beansprouts and spring â¨onion crab broth £16.50
Cardamom rice pudding, strawberryâ¨ jelly, shortbread crumble and â¨vanilla ice-cream £6.50
Sherston Earl Grey tea set custard, â¨lemon and brown sugar jelllies andâ¨ battenberg cake £6.50
217 Uxbridge Road, â¨London W12 9DH