London for one, Part I: Hereford Road

Anyone who’s ever dined in a restaurant alone, knows that there’s a very fine line between feeling strong, confident and happy, and pathetically wall-flowerish. And it doesn’t take much to tip the balance. The way you are greeted when you walk in, the amount of time you have to wait before someone comes to take your drink order. Or, discovering you´re the only one in the room wearing jeans. Some things can be planned or researched, but for a large part, you'll just have to take your chances and hope that the solo dining gods are smiling down on on you and that your carefully planned lunch or dinner for 1 will work out well.

I haven’t dined solo that much, but still often enough to have had some bad experiences, awkward moments and feeling-very-sorry-for myself times. But when I was researching my London trip, I knew that the chances of eating well would be very small if I tagged along with the group for 3 days – so I decided to book myself 2 solo lunches at places that appealed to me and me alone.

My shortlist of not too stuffy, not too expensive, conveniently located, interesting places was soon down to 3: Hereford Road, St John, and Bocca di Lupo.

It was hard to choose between St John and Hereford Road (who share a similar cooking style – no surprise if you know that Tom Pemberton, chef at Hereford Road, used to work with Fergus Henderson at St John). But as I kept going back to the Hereford Road website, I noticed that the menu changed a couple of times a week. And every time I looked, there wasn’t a single thing on the menu that I did NOT want to eat.

So on Friday, fresh out of the Eurostar, I took the tube across town and arrived at Hereford Road just in time for my 12:30 booking.

The small kitchen is located right at the entrance of the restaurant, and opposite the kitchen is a narrow area with little banquettes that each seat 2 people. The restaurant was pretty empty (and stayed that way all the through lunch service, unfortunately) which means I also could have sat in the larger dining room, but I chose one of the little two-seaters instead so I could both watch out the window and watch the chefs.

Sadly, my menu choice was mainly guided by the fact that I was not really very hungry (and I never eat a large meal at lunchtime).

Salad of roasted Jerusalem artichoke, watercress and onion:

The Jerusalem artichokes were lukewarm and beautifully tender. The red onions were cooked (which was a good thing - I don+t like raw onions), and I think they were slightly pickled. Artichokes and onions were tossed with the green leaves in a creamy, mustardy vinaigrette. A very simple dish, but really good.

Next up was hake with fennel and green sauce. The hake was grilled to absolute perfection: cooked through but so moist and tender. The fennel was soft and sweet, and fish and vegetable were balanced by the salty, earthy green sauce that was spooned on top. Again, a really simple dish but so perfectly executed that it was a joy to eat.

I had already spotted the rhubarb dessert and there was no way I was going to pass that up. The rhubarb jelly was light and sweet with a hint of ginger, the rhubarb compote nice and tangy, the sorbet had a great rhubarb flavor. And while the sorbet had a little too many ice crystals, this was still a dreamy dessert for a rhubarb lover like myself: the cool slippery jelly, the cold sorbet, the room temperature creamy compote. I think I was smiling the whole time I was eating it.

I seriously considered getting the rhubarb Eton mess they had on the menu as a second dessert, but decided that would be too much.. really.

I had two glasses of a very nice white (Vermentino) with my lunch, and was floating on a little cloud of happiness as I spent the rest of the afternoon in Notting Hill - consequently spending way too much money at the Spice Shop and Books for Cooks (whatever am I going to do with that riduculously expensive jar of Grains of Paradise?)

But it was a good day, with the balance definitely tipped towards pleasure.. for one.

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