There is a great pleasure in walking to and from a restaurant. I moved house recently and whereas Black Axe Mangal was the closest restaurant to my house before, the Hero of Maida is now just two or three minutes’ stroll from my front door.
The Hero of Maida is a gastropub – one of those rare things that Britain does well, both on its own terms and relative to the world. When people visit London I will often recommend them a diet composed at least half of gastropub meals.
This is especially true now that so many gastropub restaurants are self-consciously digging out the best of what can be found both buried under British soil and buried in British history. Even when the food is continentally influenced, it is the sort of continental influence that is part of the furniture over here.
We shared starters. One was a crab tart. The pastry was extremely delicate: it disintegrated at the lightest touch. It was topped with slices of greengage plum presented like pickles and with a similar influence: sweet and tart, surrounded with crunchy, subtley-aniseedy fennel, and held together with the warming sea floor flavour of crab.
The other starter was a tomato soup. It was essentially the same as one from a can albeit somewhat nicer: creamy, slightly spicy, and, yes, tomatoey. It came with a lovely swirl of olive oil, and it was served in a lion’s head dish. At this point we realised that we didn’t have bread and other tables did. Were we supposed to have bread? I never found out.
Main 1 was a big solid lump of bavette steak with cafe de Paris butter, but a much chunkier cafe de Paris than you get at Relais de Venise. Tender but with a little bite (as you expect from bavette), meaty: yes it was a steak. You couldn’t fault them, even compared to Blacklock or Flat Iron, since it was a decently hefty piece and cooked rather well, plus tastier and beefier than most.
It came with the sort of chips my dining companion likes best: triple cooked and fat so they’re extremely brown and crispy on the outside but still contain a considerable amount of potato innards. Fluffy at best, floury at worst. And they brought us ketchup and mayo without asking.
My main was in many ways better. Browned discs of confit lamb breast, the most giving and forgiving of meat cuts. You can do just about anything with it and it’ll turn out well – as my experiments at home have shown. This time it was fall-apart tender, like confit duck or smoked pulled pork, yet still identifiably meat and with some remaining spiral structure and bite.
It was extremely fatty, but that was well balanced by the soft chickpeas it came with. The only issue with this dish was a slight excess of salt. When the lamb is bacony salty, the first bite is amazing, but by the end you are looking for some relief. Still, it was a very enjoyable dish despite a slight over seasoning.
Pudding for me was the slightly silly choice of three individual scoops of ice cream. The first was an incredible world beater white peach sorbet. How do they do it? The best I’ve ever had. I wish I had tried their other sorbet flavours. The others were regular ice cream: malt, and almond. Both were very pleasant.
I hoovered up these plus half of the other dessert – a fabulous financier, which had a crumb so moist I really did want to ask them for their recipe, along with a reassuringly and satisfyingly crispy crust. In it was embedded a few raspberries, and it came with yet another scoop of ice cream, this time an acceptable vanilla.
A lovely meal, and one I would have no trouble giving one medal. But in a miraculous and generous turn of events, we were informed that it was half off the entire bill in August, despite the fact it was the tenth of September, and despite how clearly unaware we were of this deal. Our waiter almost pressed the unexpected £50 donation into our hands. What lovely folks.
Rating: One medal.