The Blog

This Week I Ate... The Princess Victoria and Polpetto

There is a lovely homely feel to Polpetto. So many restaurants I visit I leave knowing I won't bother to return, so spoilt we are in London for choice that there is no point wasting time on anything that is less than great.

I ordered a rib-eye at The Princess Victoria, a wonderful big old pub built in 1829 on Uxbridge Road. The beef is stored in a large fridge. There on shelves sit carcasses with cold air pumped in and moisture sucked out. You get the feeling the chef would like to push the ageing beyond 28 days, to 32 maybe. But it might start getting a little high and most customers are a bit too squeamish for that.

Once you've placed your order, the chef slices off your piece of rib eye and slaps it on the grill for about eight minutes, before resting for some four. This is good and simple confidant cheffing.

And I don't think you'll get a better piece of steak in London. You'll get as good a steak in many places but I can't see how it can be much better. As I sat having lunch in the wonderful big dining room of what was a gin palace during the Victorian era I could really taste the difference ageing makes. Strange to say but what was distinct was that the flavour of the meat was quite edgy. It was close, very nearly, on the turn. I felt, more than ever, that I was eating animal. This may seem a strange thing to say but so often a piece of meat, arranged on a dainty plate, in some fancy place, delivered with a flourish and surrounded by exquisitely culled and tempered vegetables is comfortably well removed from its roots.

Indeed the setting need not be chi-chi. The meat in most burger chains might as well be just protein grown in a lab. For the muncher the provenance is of no consequence. But there's something about the Princess Victoria, that big fridge and the place itself that feels more genuine as does the meat.

The rib eye was soft enough and perfectly medium rare, some but not too much blood, and has as deep a flavour of beef as I can imagine is possible. And it's a credit to the butchery skills of the chef, who also can cook a mean and crisp fat chip or two.

A simple watercress salad was the only other accompaniment. But there was something else that made this dish untouchable and that was the wine we drank. As the chef goes much further than just buy in ready-cut steaks to cook so the pub's co-owner, Nigel Sutcliffe, doesn't just order in wine.

He knew of a little restaurant in France called Mimosa where he has over the years had some epic lunches. Having successfully dipped into their wine cellar, when he heard the place was closing he had an idea. And having negotiated to take a considerable number of bottles from the owner they are now available at the pub.

So there we were, thanks to his fine work and eager eye sipping a fresh but deep Domaine de la Grange des Pères 2002. A blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvedre and a wonderful lunchtime red; perfect for heightening the rib eye moment.

The path towards which, by the way, had included chipolatas, scotch eggs and pork scratchings. I'm told this place heaves at the weekends. I reckon it's the perfect spot for a Wednesday lunch.

Far busier at lunch and in Soho is the re-launched, re-located Polpetto. Florence Knight is back at the helm in its new home on Berwick Street, turning out neat and gutsy little dishes. We had a rather small table and, thankfully, managed to move as the dishes started to arrive. Favourites included a wonderfully collapsing burrata - it's as if it melts at room temperature - with some slim flecks of chilli and a freebie plate of whizzed-up beetroot with small flecks of soft cheese. It was a lovely and delicious dish that makes you go home and wonder at the possibilities of something so simple as beetroot.

There were two great little puds too. Pecorino fried in batter and covered with honey seemed a new experience for my face as was the maple tart.

There is a lovely homely feel to Polpetto. So many restaurants I visit I leave knowing I won't bother to return, so spoilt we are in London for choice that there is no point wasting time on anything that is less than great.

The Polpetto staff are imbued with the self-confident fresh charm that Russell Norman seems to be able to pass on to them. And the space that is Polpetto - small, unobtrusive but frankly gorgeous - is just what Florence the chef happens to be. So I know I'll be back here frequently in the months and years to come (it's a great place to take refuge during storms such as square plate gate; if you know what I mean, you'll know what I mean). I suggest you do the same. The menu will change as the seasons do, the house cocktails will be tweaked, but for a new place - albeit with a good pedigree - this is quite a triumph.

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