Thursday, 1 September 2011

Hereford Road: definitely not the St Johns of the West

This week the Fashionista had a visit from her second cousin once removed (or something like that- I get confused after cousin!) who was over from Singapore.  Traditional English food came the request- but of course, given the reputation that British food has around the world, I didn't want to take this guy for some simple pub fayre.  We tried to get a table at St Johns, that mecca for all things out-of-the-ordinary, but unfortunately they were fully booked.  Then we found Hereford Road, a restaurant out in Bayswater with links to St Johns (the chef at Hereford Road used to work there) and a plan was hatched.

We arrived to a rather confused waiter who appeared not to know that we had reserved a table- brushing this aside we were sat down in one of the red booths towards the back of the restaurant.  When you enter you pass the open plan kitchen and then head down some stairs at the rear to the seating area, all low lighting and soft colours.  The ceiling is made up of a large circular glass panel which I am sure must flood the restaurant with light during the day.

Having sat down and started to look through the menu, the first waiter returned again demanding to know where we had reserved.  On and on he pressed for details until it transpired that it was, in any case, not of consequence whether we had a reservation or not as the restaurant wasn't full - not the most friendly of welcomes.

For starters we decided to go for artichoke, smoked eel with horseradish and beetroot salad and duck's livers with runner beans and capers.  Ten minutes later, the waitress returned to say there were no longer any artichokes.  I changed my order to spatchcocked quail with radish and aioli.

Smoked eel and beetroot and horseradish salad
Quail with radish and aioli
The first course arrived after about twenty five minutes- eel was magnificent- firm and smokey with a hint of horseradish in the salad.  The ducks' livers were equally good- rich and full of flavour and the beans were cooked so that they had a nice bite- I had never had ducks' livers before but if they taste like this all the time I will be back for more.  The spatchcocked quail was okay but not particularly interesting and the aioli was just too intense to add anything to the dish.  The radish were nice.

Ducks' livers, runner beans and capers
For mains we ordered the rabbit, bacon and fennel stew, the pigeon with lentils and girolles and the smoked haddock with roasted cauliflower.  Other things on the menu included pork belly with mustard chard and a venison dish to share between two.

Now we had arrived at 8:15, been served our starters at around 8:50 and were waiting expectantly for our mains by around 9:05.  By 9:45 I was getting restless and decided to ask when we might expect the mains as we had now been waiting for almost forty five minutes.  The answer came- "you have not been waiting 45 minutes-I know because it says so on my till".  Now it may not have been forty five minutes, perhaps it was forty two, in any case enough time had elapsed for us all to notice and start talking about the lack of food in front of us. The waitress then said "the pigeon, it takes some time to cook". 

And so, another while later, the food arrived.  The wood pigeon (which had delayed proceedings) was served spatchcocked and was wonderfully rare, deep, delicious and velvety. 

The rabbit in the broth was slow cooked and fell off the bone and the fennel was tender.  The whole dish had, however, been over seasoned and was just a little too salty.

The smoked haddock was fresh (un-dyed like the unfortunate smoked haddock sold so often in supermarkets) and delicious and the cauliflower was, well, roasted cauliflower.

And then came another period of waiting- after twenty minutes the plates had still not been cleared- so we asked for the bill.  Cue another period of waiting (although not as long as the table next to us who had to wait for over twenty minutes after asking for the bill).  Then the card machine arrived, cue more waiting while the waitress tried to work out how to use the new system which had been installed.  By this time it was already after eleven- and so it took us almost three hours to order, eat two courses and leave, by which point we were just fed up of Hereford Road.

The food at Hereford Road was, in the main, very good, the portions extremely generous, and the prices very reasonable (£90 for three people for two courses sharing a bottle of wine), but the staff were simply not up to scratch. Now as I have said before, service is not something that normally bothers me.  I don't need airs and graces to enjoy a good dinner but when the staff accuse you of not having a reservation, suggest that you are lying as to the amount of time you have been waiting, and serve you a two course dinner in three hours, something is very very wrong.  Such a shame given the food on offer was rather tasty...

Hereford Road on Urbanspoon

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