Wednesday, 3 February 2010
Martin Miller's Gin Masterclass and Hereford Road, Notting Hill
Tucked away behind a discreet red door just off Westbourne Grove is an eccentric boutique hotel called the Miller's Residence. It was here, amongst the assorted jumble and frilly antiques that seemed to cover every inch of space in this bizarre building, that I and Lizzie of Hollow Legs fame had been invited to the Martin Miller's Gin Masterclass, hosted by Craig Harper. Over a fascinating evening we learned all about the history of the martini, tested out various historic recipes (some containing exotic ingredients like absinthe and Peychaud's bitters) and had a very amusing question and answer session, uncovering such facts as the reason for the Angostura Bitters' oversized label (apparently an early mistake, never corrected) and how much vermouth Churchill liked in his martini (none). The two hours seemed to fly by, and it was only when we tumbled down the plush carpeted stairs back onto the wet London streets that the effect of all those icy martinis became suddenly and painfully apparent. We were hungry, and needed feeding. Fast.
Lucky for us, the Miller's Residence was just a few doors up from Hereford Road, a restaurant with a great press and even better pedigree (the head chef is ex-St. John) that seems to have slipped off the radar recently but I was nevertheless very interested to try out. The influence of the mothership is apparent first in the minimalist, brightly-lit interior and then in the bold and thoroughly British menu - potted pork, smoked eel, lemon sole, game pie were offered alongside a commendably long desserts list, and all priced very reasonably. I doubt there are many gastropubs or restaurants of any quality in London that offer a main course for £10, for example, albeit a vegetarian one.
The problem with setting yourself up as a St. John clone, however, is that the cooking has a lot to live up to. My black pudding and fried egg was very nice, the pudding itself wonderfully seasoned if a bit soggy and the fried egg... well, it was a fried egg. But Lizzie's "salt beef" was a complete and utter disaster - I'll leave it to her to describe just how bad it was, but suffice to say even the sight of it was depressing.
Trying to forget about the starters, we ploughed on to the mains, which fortunately were better. My lemon sole was beautifully cooked and seasoned, with a great crispy skin and tender, buttery flesh. It's a feature of St. John dishes that they are simply presented to allow the important ingredients to feature front of stage, and this can only really work with very, very good ingredients. This was a marvellous piece of fish, and enormous fun to eat. It also, essentially by complete fluke, went pretty well with a fresh, acidic Beaujolais "Les Tours Montmelas 2007" which I'd chosen for the starters. Who knew.
And so, passing on dessert because we were stuffed and it was getting fairly late, we were done. One complete disaster aside, the cooking at Hereford Road is pretty decent, especially within the price range. And this is more of an observation than a complaint, but the bright, immaculately appointed room, posh cutlery and numerous smart waiting staff sat at very obvious odds with the gastropub menu - still, if they can sell at these prices and turn a profit, then good luck to them. They also seemed just as happy serving me, gin-soaked in my jeans and trainers, as they were the other suited and booted customers of W2, although that may have been more down to the presence of Lizzie, who was, as ever, smart enough for the both of us.
The Gintelligensia Gin Masterclasses can be booked for the measly fee of £10 by emailing Martin Miller's Gin on firstname.lastname@example.org. For your money not only you get a fascinating evening and a number of excellent cocktails, you also get a doggie bag containing a £22 bottle of Miller's gin, so you'd be absolutely insane not to give it a try, if not just to start up some sort of gin resale business. And you can probably do worse than soaking up your Martinez with a meal at Hereford Road afterwards. Just avoid the salt beef.
Hereford Road 7/10