269 Portobello Road, Notting Hill,London, W11 1LR | Tel 020 7221 7696
Down at the far Western end of Portobello Road things haven’t changed much since I used to do my shopping in the All Saints Road in the late 1970’s. The shopping was a bit furtive and didn’t actually involve any shops though, if you catch my drift maaan.
The majority of places have since cleaned up their acts and the people wandering about now are more Ugg boots than Jesus sandals. Here, so discreet that we walked past it the first time, is The Drawing Room, an art gallery come café, come restaurant. It does a small menu but we’ve come to road test the Sunday Roast priced at just £9 with a glass of wine thrown in. I like a good roast as much as any Premier League footballer, so this sounds all right to me.
It’s very unlike a restaurant when you walk in, and that’s not a criticism. The front section has easy chairs where people are reading the Sunday papers over coffee and buns, while a narrow corridor leads to what is sometimes an exhibition space, sometimes a concert venue and with tables and chairs placed wherever they can find a space. The overall atmosphere is remarkably friendly with the close proximity encouraging people to chat to total strangers. A nice change from the usual dining experience, no man is an island perhaps, but restaurant tables can encourage insularity.
The deal is simple; there is no choice of roast. It’s lamb, like it or lump it. Now I can be ambivalent about lamb, when it’s good its great and when it’s bad it’s very bad indeed. However we don’t cook roast lamb much at home on a Sunday, as it’s too big for a small family, so lamb today sounds fine to me.
There was a bit of a wait, but the place was packed and we were happy to chat to neighbours, as we drank what I reckon was a new world merlot that was a decent drink. The roast when it rolled up was a Mediterranean take on England’s finest dish. In a semi-bowled plate we had slices of pink lamb fresh from Kent, cooked to perfection with Yorkshire pud, roasted celeriac slices, parsnips, salad potatoes, carrots and red pepper all flavoured with branches of thyme. Around it all ran an excellent thin gravy which made a lot more sense in a dished plate as it didn’t run all over the place or onto my lap. The wife fretted about the absence of mint sauce, as did the lady at the next table. I pointed out to them both that mint sauce would walk all over the lovely flavours, but they wouldn’t listen. Restaurant owner Pushuan cheerfully ran out to Tesco’s to get some of the green stuff, although I bet he didn’t tell chef Vincent Marguet what he was doing to the man’s fine cooking. Full marks for customer service.
Indeed the staff couldn’t have been more cheerful despite the pressure they were under and our desserts rolled out spot on time -a chocolate pudding that was a bit dry on the outside but had the necessary molten centre that makes life worthwhile and a good apple crumble but which could have improved on the crumble side a bit. Incidentally, fact fans, Green & Black’s organic chocolate was founded in this building in 1991, and of course is used in the recipes.
This is an attractive local place that is also worth a bit of a pilgrimage to if it can keep up this standard of neat, clean and accurate cooking. I liked the Drawing Room, its cooking and its attitude a lot. In fact for the money it’s the best deal I’ve scored in the area for years.