If imitation is the most acceptable part of worship, then Tom Pemberton must worship Fergus Henderson. He used to work with the great man, and it shows, with Fergus’s influence being felt across everything in Hereford Road. Well, almost everything: whilst all three outposts of the St John’s Empire are minimalist white-on-white, HR has gone for a splash of colour. Not much of course, but the banquettes along one wall are red, and the walls ivory, rather than just white.
Entry to the restaurant, which is just off Westbourne Grove, is alongside the open kitchen, where Tom and his crew do not so much seem to be slaving away, as enjoying themselves. A huge rib of beef sits resting. Pans are ready, the grill is fired up and the room is starting to fill. There are tables along this alleyway, but the main restaurant is at the end, sunken down a few steps, light playing on the walls from the circular skylight.
Being May it is cold and wet, so any thoughts of light dishes or wines are out the door. Looking at what others have said, I really must come back in the game season. Today, however, is a day for red wine and a slice of that rib of beef.
The service is the only thing that didn’t really quite work for me, a complaint that I have had before about St John’s. It isn’t rude, it’s just a bit slow; a bit too relaxed, with not enough attention for so many tables. Having got our order in (eighteen minute wait for the quail, we are told), we cracked open the wine list.
Like too few restaurants these days, the wine list is short and on the cheaper side. Nothing standout, no trophy wines, but some good regional French reds. Just what we were looking for: a cheeky shiraz/viognier to start, some serious Portuguese and a classic claret to round off. All in the twenties.
The menu is as you’d expect from Modern British; short on description, big on fresh, seasonal produce. Nettle soup, beetroot and asparagus on the starter list, guinea fowl, rabbit and lemon sole on the main. If you want sides, there are greens and boiled spuds.
We ended up starting with one of the lighter numbers, the sweetbreads with green beans and mint, which was superb: crunchy on the outside, soft and meting within. Asparagus too, with some slivers of what looked like parmesan, but turned out to be Coolea, an Irish cows milk cheese. Not as harsh as parmesan, and certainly as pleasant atop the grilled spears. And then that quail, simply roasted with some shaved radishes; eighteen minutes in preparation, several fewer in ingestion.
The mains too were fantastic: a seriously thick slab of pork belly, proper crackling, some sprouting broccoli and a dribble of cooking juice, and a thick slice of rib, red on the inside, with some root veg and horseradish cream. As a side, some greens.
I’m not usually a dessert kind of chap, preferring the tangy delights of a well stocked (and preferably smelly) cheese trolley, but the chocolate pave with honeycomb sounded too good to pass up. It was as good as it sounds; dark, dark chocolate, with light honeycomb crunches on top – a posh Crunchie bar.
I really have no desire to live in this part of town but, if I did, then this would be a most welcome local. Not fancy, not a destination restaurant, not a place for a first date, but a solid, reliable place, with good, honest cooking at really good prices. I wish they’d move near to where I live.