A serious wine list and everyday food treated like haute cuisine have transformed a true Victorian original
Princess Victoria, 217 Uxbridge Road, London W12, tel: 020 8749 5886
Sunday 20 July 2008
Princess Victoria hasn't looked this good for a long time. Honestly, she doesn't look a day over 150, and I know she's been around since 1828, when she was a "dram shop", before graduating into a gin palace in 1829, and a proper pub in 1872.
I like her immediately, but then, I am a right and proper Victorian gentleman, born and bred in Victoria, that lovely Australian garden state named after the good Queen in 1850. That must be why I feel so at home here. Or maybe it's just because it's a pub.
And glory be, it still looks like a pub – a big, light-filled, parquetry-floored pub, with a curve of bar selling cask ales, and windows of etched glass. There, a man and his dog; here, a young family tucking into potted crab. Boys at the bar down pints, while girls at the tables twirl glasses of Pinot Grigio.
Through a wide doorway, a bare-boarded dining-room is awash with light from two dramatic lightwells framed with ornate relief work. A stonking great 14-seat oak table and dresser take pride of place among smaller, solid, wooden tables and brooding oil paintings.
The two prince consorts are not your normal Shepherd's Bush publicans. Australian-born Matt Wilkin was head sommelier at The Capital in Knightsbridge, while James McLean (right in picture) cooked at The Greenhouse in Mayfair. Here, though, it seems they want to win friends more than Michelin stars. It's the most desirable, pub-friendly menu you could wish for, from bar snacks of Colchester oysters and Spanish cured-meat platters, to pickled herrings with beetroot relish, braised rabbit and smoked-sausage pappardelle and rib-eye steak with triple-cooked chips.
I'm hooked already. Oak-smoked eel and wild mushrooms on toast (£6.50) is A Very Good Thing; the toast sourdough, the mushrooms still shapely, the shredded eel moist and smoky. Not to be outdone, a small dish of crunchy green-apple coleslaw studded with hazelnuts is topped with dreamy Bayonne ham (£7), as soft as felt.
The 350-strong wine list is as serious as you'd hope from a former UK Sommelier of the Year, but Wilkin is as proud of his lower end as the upper reaches. Several genuinely interesting labels are democratically available by the glass, 250ml or 500ml carafe and bottle. A meaty, juicy 2006 Denis Alary Côtes du Rhône (£5.30/£7.55/£15.05/£22.50), for instance, punches well above its weight.
I can't bear pub risotto, which usually comes in a pyramid, but tonight's effort could apply for Italian citizenship. Green peas, broad beans, soft puddles of butternut squash, pea shoots and creamy ricotta bring a sunny, clean sweetness to the oozy wave of arborio rice (£10.50).
I can't bear pollack either – there is a good reason why it is a sustainable fish – but by roasting a first-rate tranche and dumping a ladleful of buttery sea-sweet brown shrimps over the top (£13), the kitchen has taken bland and boring and given it character and interest.
Desserts are all fruit-based, and a light, golden ricotta cake served with fresh apricots and a swish of apricot purée is five quid well spent.
I doff my hat to the Princess. When talented people turn the technique and eye for detail they honed in haute cuisine to the production of everyday food and wine, it makes me want to jump for joy, just as I did when Anthony Demetre and Will Smith opened Arbutus and Wild Honey.
The hospitality here is straightforward but genuine, driven by a love of wine. Wilkin brings a no-fuss energy to the floor and McLean is a great match, providing uncluttered, flavour-packed food.
I also like that the four B&B rooms proposed for August will be available only to winemakers, with their wines promoted in the bar while they are resident, and that quite a few wines are available to take home at shop prices. Princess Victoria, you have one more loyal subject.
SCORES: 1-9 STAY HOME AND COOK, 10-11 NEEDS HELP, 12 OK, 13 PLEASANT ENOUGH, 14 GOOD, 15 VERY GOOD, 16 CAPABLE OF GREATNESS, 17 SPECIAL, CAN’T WAIT TO GO BACK, 18 HIGHLY HONOURABLE, 19 UNIQUE AND MEMORABLE, 20 AS GOOD AS IT GETS
Princess Victoria, 217 Uxbridge Road, London W12, tel: 020 8749 5886. Lunch and dinner daily. Around £75 for two
Read Terry Durack's new column at independent.co.uk/eat
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