Porterhouse Blue: The Commander Porterhouse, Notting Hill
It has been a while since I last returned to my old stomping grounds in Notting Hill. I have a long and insalubrious history with the place. Starting at the tender age of 14, the Moscow Pub, long since departed, on the Moscow Road, when the last days of Punk were slowly ebbing away and the Frontline was still a place to be avoided. It then disappeared off my radar for the best part of a decade, had a major riot and then got gentrified in my absence.
I returned with aplomb in the mid nineties, and there were not many weekends or week nights where you wouldn’t find me in such W11 institutions as the Westbourne, Beach Blanket Babylon, the Chepstow, became a founding member of the Cobden Club, something to do with a flatmate I believe, and consumed entire species in such well-regarded Italian eateries as the Assaggi, Casa Frattini and Osteria Basilico. Finally, in the twilight of my Notting Hill days, I retreated to the Cow, where it finally dawned on me that not only were the vast crowds spilling out of the Westbourne on a sunny Fridays evening, the biggest bunch of cocks you were ever likely to meet, but, by default, for the last decade, I too must be worthy of such a sobriquet.
I now avoid the place like the fucking plague. I have buried that part of me that was Notting Hill six-foot down and built a multi-lane orbital motorway over it to ensure its ugly, coke snorting head never again rises to see the cold light of day. I swerve to avoid its streets like they were offering me a copy of the Big Issue, either via the Westway, where I can roll the car window down and expectorate my distaste, or the Edgware Road.
But even then I could not be free of it, because along came the biggest cock of them all, Richard Curtis, and glorified it all in Notting Hill, which along with the sentimental pig swill, Love Actually, was enough to make even John Prescott a bulimic. My repeated attempts at getting a virtual Notting Hill constructed, a street by street battlefield, in which one enters armed only with the moral stance of the IDF, and an enormous battery of lethal weapons, stalking the streets of W11, blasting coke starved whores, wannabee media types, out of work actors freelancing as waiting staff, and fat American tourists whose battle cry would be a high-pitched shrieks of thats where Julia kissed Hugh. Of course bonus points would be credited for terminating Hugh Grant, while in the act of fellatio in a parked car with a cheap whore, anyone over six-foot tall and Welsh, and the evil nemesis himself, Richard Curtis, before he has a chance to finish his next movie script, was surprisingly was never taken up by any, of the many, video games producers that I approached.
So it was with a slight sense of trepidation that I returned to review the newly refurbished Commander Porterhouse and Oyster Bar on the Hereford Road. Porterhouse, incidentally, is a steak cut of beef, similar to a T-Bone, but Porterhouse steaks are cut from the rear end of the short loin and contain a much larger section of the tenderloin. That, or it’s a wry reference to Porterhouse Blue, Tom Sharpes satirical novel about the inmates of a fictional Cambridge college who overindulge to such an extent that having a stroke is so common its referred to as having a Porterhouse Blue. So, upon reflection, probably not, after all who want a restaurant associated with cerebral vascular accidents?
Apparently the concept, which these days appears as about as vital to a restaurants survival as a menu, is North American. Thankfully none of those egregious fatbags appeared to be present at the time of my visit, otherwise I would have been forced to de-holster the sawn off shotgun I carry hung from shoulder for such eventualities. A North America dining concept, what’s that then? They have table and chairs, which I’m pretty sure we exported over there, or the fact that the service is unobtrusive, the staff are helpfully and don’t act like the job is below them because they’re just killing time before being cast in the next Richard Curtis vehicle, and no one inquires whether everything is all right immediately after every mouthful.
No, the North American concept is 360 dinning apparently, meaning that the Commander incorporates an oyster bar, a bistro restaurant, a delicatessen, and a courtyard selling fresh fish and flowers, none of which I noticed as I was half cut from the launch party of the new Hilton Bentley off the Gloucester Road. And jolly good the food was, or I may have found more time to lay into the incongruous inclusion of a flower shop, and spent more time pointing out that 360 dinning conjures up images of American Fat-Food Malls, where if you sit down to enjoy some saturated fat, be it a Taco Bell, Big Easy Cajun, Chick-fil-A, Cold Stone Creamery or Sbarro’s Italian Eatery, and your almost guaranteed a Porterhouse Blue before you reach the car park.
Thankfully, Chef Robert Staegemann, despite being South African, appears to be totally unfazed by all the hype and has got down to the poker-faced business of turning out seriously tasty nosh. Oysters, a family favourite, our tree can be traced back to the Orkney Islands Mesolithic shell middens, were off my menu, having downed the best part of five mint juleps at the Bentley. So I forced a couple of Langoustines onto the wife who is vegetarian (don’t think the current incompetents holed-up at Westminster have legislated for that one yet, or is it a hate crime?) Fresh, yup, I had to stun one with the blunt end of a wine bottle before it jumped the plate and took a 360 tour of the dinning room, not something the other half approved of, although she rewarded my new-found hunter-gatherer skills amply in the matrimonial sack later. Served with a simple garnish of lemon, mayonnaise and salad, my only complaint was the non-inclusion of 4lb club hammer to get the crustaceans to surrender their tasty white flesh.
I had been tipped off to try the Courtyard Burger and the tipster shall live another day, despite the fact that she failed to mention to the powers that be that your holiness was in the house, and horrors of all horror, I was presented with a bill at dinners end. The Burger reminded me of my first succulent bite of MacDonald’s cheeseburger, not in taste, that would be far too Gillish. No, it invoked the sweet joy of discovery, like hearing Fleetwood Macs Rumours for the first time, the heady scent of a female, that food existed beyond the bland, marginal slop of what my mother termed Irish Stew. I must have been about eight. It was the neighbours birthday and I can remember vividly the moment when those patties were placed on the table and the ensuing riot eating McDonald’s back then was a treat not a Chav subsistence diet. Man, we were deprived back in the 70s. Now we’re just depraved.
Why so good? Well, other than taking me on a protracted preamble down memory lane, I felt a distinct primeval satisfaction as I bit into its soft, blackened flesh, its raw, redden heart crumbling into my mouth. I revert, as the days grow long, to a near feral state, induced by participating in the first vegan Antarctica expedition, (an unsuccessful attempt to halt the Japanese whaling fleet, in which we subsided on a diet consisting entirely of Tofu luncheon meat, for two months), and of course of being married to a vegetarian. Opportunities to sate my bloodlust remain too few and far between. I just wish they’d let me slaughter the cow and then Richard Curtis, la Javier Bardem. I’ll be back.