I saw Fergus Henderson walking in my direction in Farringdon the other day. The champion of British nose-to-tail eating, dressed in trademark navy pin-stripe, was ambling in his usual wonderful way, true to Orwell's description of "that bobbing gait of the Indian who never straightens his knee". He doesn't know me from Adam, of course, but what with so many of my heroes having died in the festive period (Vaclav Havel, Christopher Hitchens, Kim Jong Il) I wanted to introduce myself, thank him for his remarkable service to our cuisine and stoicism in facing Parkinson's disease, and pay him as high a compliment as I could muster. Of course, being an idiot, I did none of these things, and bobbed my own bent knees into the horizon.
In something like an homage to the man, ruefulness at this missed opportunity, and bold defiance of New Year's resolutions to generally make a greater enemy of all calories, I have come with a group of friends to Hereford Road in west London.
Imitation probably is the sincerest form of flattery, and this place is nothing if not a compliment to Henderson's influence. It was set up four years ago by Tom Pemberton, who had been head chef at Henderson's St John Bread and Wine, and still boasts a menu that, from nose to tail, carries the stamp of Hendersonism. Or, as I like to think of it, an offal lot of offal.
The entrance is a passage adjacent to an open kitchen, opposite which are a series of high-stool tables for two. These lead on to a few short steps, which take us into a lower-ground floor with a series of booths that can comfortably seat seven (three on each side and one on the end sticking out). Against shimmering white tile walls, the booths have red leather seats, and were it not for the very refined cutlery, you might feel you're in an American diner.
Naturally the food transports you closer to home. Tonight, a cold winter Thursday, there are 10 starters, eight single mains, three sharing mains, three sides, seven sweet desserts and a cheese selection – all told, a manageably short menu.
The duck livers with green beans and tarragon are succulent and sweet, as well as good value at £6.20. The deep-fried calf's brain with tartare sauce is – extremely annoyingly – unavailable, even though it's only 9pm, so I can't tell you whether it's worth the £6.80 asking price. But the braised cuttlefish with red onion and rocket (£7.20) is magnificent: inky and peppery and piquant.
The mains range from £10 for spinach with mushrooms and chestnuts – an unadventurous sole vegetarian option if you ask me, but, then, this is not exactly a veggie paradise – to £34 for a roast guinea fowl that can be shared between two or three. The calf's liver with mash, sage and onion (£14) has no surprises and is competently done. The pot-roast duck leg comes with a brilliant combination of carrots and a pickled walnut in red wine (£13.80), but the Hampshire pork belly with swede and red cabbage (£14), which three of our table have, is too dry. The sides – greens (£3.50), Pink Fir Apple potatoes (£3.50), and green salad (£4) – are all rather routine.
The desserts we order are all very rich and flavourful and cost £5.50 each – whether a chocolate fondant with vanilla ice-cream, a sticky date pudding, apple crumble with custard, or honeycomb and walnut ice-cream. They complete an overall sense of comfort dining in a neighbourly enclave which is not just non-pompous, but anti-pomposity.
I like the fact that we are eating with young families, young romantics, elderly couples and an endless procession of thesps. It suggests a universal appeal, which the best food always has.
That is just as Henderson, whose spirit breathes through the walls here, would have wanted it, and if the skill and finish of these dishes doesn't quite attain the levels in either of his St John outfits, they at least show how deep his influence on our eating habits has been.
Properly British, proudly simple, and professionally delivered –through Hereford Road, gastronomic Hendersonism is thriving in west London too. I really will say hello next time I have the chance.
Scores: 1-3 stay home and cook, 4 needs help, 5 does the job, 6 flashes of promise, 7 good, 8 special, can't wait to go back, 9-10 as good as it gets
Hereford road 3 Hereford Road, London W2, tel: 020 7727 1144 Lunch and dinner daily. About £90 for two, including wine and service
St John Bread & Wine
94-96 Commercial Street, London E1, tel: 020 3301 8069
St John's younger and buzzier Spitalfields canteen spin-off is now even more reliable than its parent – and the British fare so adventurous in its simplicity as to be really exciting
152 Tooley Street, London SE1, tel: 020 7403 1342
Inspired British cooking with an abundance of offal is served at this unassuming, relaxed establishment, hidden away near City Hall
Great Queen Street
32 Great Queen Street, London WC2, tel: 020 7242 0622
Showcasing the best of British food, this self-consciously basic Covent Garden pub conversion comes complete with lively interior
Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2012' www.hardens.comReuse content