Dinner at: Porters, Berkhamsted
PUBLISHED: 11:51 21 March 2016 | UPDATED: 11:51 21 March 2016
Another famous name in catering has arrived in Hertfordshire. Food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne went to investigate
If you had been out and about in London’s Covent Garden looking for restaurants any time over the past three decades, chances are you would have stumbled on Porters. Now you don’t have to make the trip, because Porters has descended on Berkhamsted.
The Covent Garden operation specialised in traditional English food, the menu peppered with the likes of toad in the hole, steak and kidney pudding, steamed syrup sponge and – especially – pies. It opened in 1979 under the ownership of Richard, Earl of Bradford and was a thriving part of the London scene until the owner of the building decided to redevelop and the restaurant closed at the end of last year.
As Bradford tells it on the company website, ‘We had a decision to make; take the money and run or find a new permanent home for our much-loved restaurant. After looking at 50-odd potential sites in and around London, we stumbled upon this wonderful high street location in the equally lovely historic leafy market town that is Berkhamsted. The decision to do it all again – because we love what we do – was made a lot more straightforward.’
Set against the Covent Garden record, it’s still early days. The new restaurant opened a little under a year ago in modern premises in the Berko Marks and Spencer block. The London version was clubby, with wooden booths much in evidence, glass partitions and Unions Jacks on the walls. Its successor is bright and airy and open-plan, with a central banquette, trendy colours and lots of light, as opposed to dark, wood. The menu is also still clearly under development; not much sign so far of the braised beef faggots, bubble-and-squeak and the like that adorned the Henrietta Street line-up, although we are talking of different times and a different customer base than applied in London, and the offering here is no less enjoyable for that.
A quick scan of the menu revealed telling touches of the old days as we sought out some traditional dishes. My fellow critic settled for a chicken and tarragon terrine (£7.25, below), with pickled mushrooms, garlic crisps and sourdough toast, while I was happy to spot warm Oakwell black pudding (£6.95, left), with burnt shallot purée, pickled baby onions and straw crisps. Both were well prepared and presented and the ingredients appeared fresh and flavourful. Black pudding fans might quibble at the presence of shallots and pickled onions, which seemed in danger of overwhelming the main ingredient, but a quibble is all it is. The terrine meanwhile apparently went down a treat.
Main courses were much more seriously harking back, with gamekeeper’s pie (£13) a fairly obvious choice for me from the choice of three pies available, the others being steak, Guinness and mushroom, or lamb and apricot. Unlike some I have had recently, this one had the right proportion of crust to meat and was all the better for it. It came with glazed vegetables, garlic mash and a mini-jug of gravy (or jus, as it’s now known) and scored well on a chilly evening. Tradition also reigned across the table with an order for English lamb chops (£15.25). There were three, described by my companion as meaty, juicy and delicious, accompanied by smoked aubergine, sprouts and walnuts. Minted Charlotte potatoes were charged extra at £2.75.
From a tempting line-up of desserts, we went as English as the menu would allow us, with apple Charlotte with crème Anglaise and apple syrup (£6.75), and a lemon meringue crème brulée with lemon curd cream (£6.95), neither of which produced any complaint.
Fans of the old Porters, many of whom apparently make the pilgrimage to Berko to keep in touch, may bemoan the passing of some of the traditional dishes for which it was noted but there’s time yet for the menu to develop further if demand warrants it and there’s plenty on offer meanwhile to keep the taste buds tingling.
For the more cautious, there are regular specials nights with fixed-price menus in addition to the main list, including Posh Pies evenings on Mondays and Tuesdays, Surf and Turf on Wednesdays and a Fish Extravaganza on Fridays.
Whenever you go, it’s something different on the Herts restaurant scene and raises the hope that bubble-and-squeak and braised beef faggots can’t be far behind.
The cost of this meal for two was £73.35, including two glasses of wine. Service is extra.
This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected and experienced by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.