Porters English Restaurant 17 Henrietta Street Covent Garden London WC2E 8QH
Tel: 020 7836 6466
Porters has been around for a long time 34 years to be precise. Set up by Lord Bradford to serve pies in comfortable surroundings back in the late seventies. It has just undergone a bit of a spruce up and is now looking less tired and more sparkly. The main feature is and always has been traditional food cooked in an uncomplicated style that has a broad appeal to the lover of the pie and the aficionado of the ‘daily special’. A tradition that flourishes in some of London’s best restaurants is perfectly at home here. What could be better than knowing on a Tuesday you can always order roast sirloin of beef with Yorkshire pudding £14.95 or Thursday would guarantee you could have smoked haddock kedgeree pastry lightly curried with chopped egg and a pot of minted natural yoghurt at £12.95. There is something of the old school about Porters or indeed old school dinners (from a very good school mind).
‘Simple Simon met a pieman going to the fair’
A few wine options by the glass and many more by the bottle the friendly Rosie informed me as we chose our drinks, there’s plenty for kids too with an abundance of milkshakes, homemade lemonade and fruit juices. Rosie is the perfect waitress, polite, informing, smiles at the right time, got our order right. She should be loaned out to other restaurants to show them what you should do.
As we looked at the menu we had some mixed olives and deliberated about just how traditional we were going to be?
As it turned out we went for very traditional. The starters of deep fried mushrooms and garlic dip and a mousse of dressed Norfolk crab brought no surprises but neither did they bring disappointments.
‘Says Simple Simon to the pieman let me taste your wares’
When you visit Porters you must understand the food revolution that has occurred over the last twenty years or so in London has been ignored here, but in a good way. This is unashamed solid English food. Obviously I had to have a pie as a main. There are 12 to choose from. This is a little bit like putting a child in a sweetshop for me. I just couldn’t make up my mind, then as is the way of these things M chose the one I had finally fallen for. So ladies first, M had a wonderful steak, Guinness and mushroom pie. The pie top was giant, full of air and puffed up like a proud soldier on parade. The contents exuded comfort and luxury. It had a rich bold taste to it, all the ingredients in a perfect marriage. I knew it was a good choice, shame I didn’t get there first! But mine was a thing of beauty as well, Gamekeepers pie with all the usual residents; venison, rabbit, and other seasonal offerings combined in a port and redcurrant sauce within a short crust pastry. It came with a jug of hot gravy that was faultless. If I had the stamina I would try all the pies here. A close second or should that be third choice was braised lamb shank pie. I love pies and this is a pie lover’s heaven. They are all made in their pie ‘factory’ in London only for Porters. The price is good too most are less than £13. Sides are included, any variant of potato, a curious red braised cabbage that had clove as its predominant flavour, other greens and salad.
Of course they serve other food here besides the pies. There are various steaks some classics like wild boar sausages, beer battered cod, toad-in-the-hole, but really it’s the pies that make this place sing.
‘Says the pieman to Simple Simon show me first your penny’
Even I didn’t think I would have room for a pudding but in the name of professionalism I had to. There is no stopping tradition here either. Eton mess, summer pudding, chocolate fudge cake and that’s just from the cold menu. Yes, they have hot puddings, cold puddings and an ice cream menu sections. That’s what I call dedication. The hot puddings were no less interesting and as I was in for a penny in for a pound and totally into old school food I chose steamed syrup sponge. As soon as it arrived M looked at it then looked at me and pronounced “you’re never going to eat all that”. I must confess I thought I would struggle, but I did eat it all because it was childhood on a spoon. Gooey, sweet, sickly wonderful and wickedly delicious. M had chosen blackberry, apple and hazelnut crumble. I thought to myself that she would not be able to eat all that, but knew better than to say it out loud. Arriving in its own mini earthenware pot with a lid and a small jug of tip-top custard it lasted about 90 seconds.
Porters to me is the benchmark for pies and comfort food. It’s a very comfortable space to be in. We were cosseted in a very roomy booth (my favourite) and as we finished off with a cup tea I remembered an old Laurel and Hardy film where they played Simple Simon and The Pieman respectively. The film was called ‘Mother Goose Goes To Hollywood’. Goose pie, now there’s an idea. I’ll just give Lord Bradford a ring.