Simple British cooking is alive and well and living in Hereford Road

Saturday, January 05th , 2008

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A very happy New Year to you all. Living in west London means it is a bit of a hike to get to Shoreditch to try the excellent St John Bread and Wine, so I was pleased to find that it now has a sister restaurant more conveniently located for me, Hereford Road in Notting Hill. Although this was not the best night to visit (just after New Year, so no line-caught fish available) I was impressed by the simplicity and honesty of the cooking here. With no fancy sauces or garnishes to disguise kitchen oversights, this place relies on top ingredients and needs excellent technique to deliver, and it did so well on this visit. As a bonus, they offer you chilled tap water, which after the £6 for a bottle of water that I have seen recently in central London is a real pleasure.
On a similar note, I had a second meal at The Devonshire, which is confounding a rather bitchy review by Fay Maschler by being packed out, even in the quiet time between Christmas and New Year. There is a lot of Ramsay-bashing in the press these days, but this gastropub is streets ahead of the over-priced rip-off joints that crowd west London. There is nothing special about the cooking here, but merely by delivering decent food at tolerable prices it sets itself in the upper echelon of the gastropub genre. Its isolated location at the end of a residential road near the M4 does not seem to be holding it back in any way judging by the amount of business it is doing; it is even managing 50 covers per day on weekday lunches, which is impressive given how far it is from the businesses around the Chiswick High Road.
The Royal China in Queensway has long been a favourite of mine, and fortunately its consistently good cooking is as unchanging as its ghastly 1980s disco era decor. Hot and sour soup here is a complex blend of tastes far away from the crude broths that often bear the name, while the steamed gai lan (Chinese broccoli) with garlic is one of the best vegetarian dishes you can find anywhere, in any cuisine.
Recently there have been a clutch of good Indian restaurants closing in London: Sabras, Deya, the Tandoor and now Sarkhels. I am not sure whether this is a trend or just a bit of bad luck, but I have been hunting around for places to broaden my Indian restaurant base. There have not been many new openings that I am aware of, but Club 2000 (pictured) is an authentic cafe-style Gujarati restaurant, complete with hideous, twinkly decor but solid cooking. A superb rendition of the rarely encountered dish patra, good naans and a decent bhindi explain why this place was packed out with Asian families. What it is doing in Pinner, of all places, is a mystery.