on April 6, 2008
Food in London is better than it used to be; everyone says so, and that’s easy to detect once you’ve landed. But what if you’re looking for a little bit of the way things used to be? Sunday roasts, Yorkshire pudding, pies, fish and chips? Maybe only tourists seek these things out, but I was trying to find someplace that might give us a little bit more traditional dining experience.This place is located west of Covent Garden, two blocks north of the Strand. Rather than run from English food, they celebrate it. Pies and puddings line the menu, as well as bangers & mash, beer battered cod, and fish or spinach cakes. The dessert menu is lined with more puddings, as well as the infamous Spotted Dick. There are other options, too: steaks, roast chicken, salmon, and even a burger. A la carte prices range from £10 to £13 for mains (steaks are a little more), with soups and other starters at £4-£6. Richard, Earl of Bradford founded this place 30 years ago, "aiming to fill a gap in the market," as he says on the website: traditional English food at reasonable prices. I’m guessing he’s referring to Rules, the nearly ancient standard bearer just abound the corner (where prices are essentially double that of Porter’s). From the website on, the impression is one of friendliness, welcome, and affordability. The affordability is enhanced by several special low-price menus that require on-line booking: a 3 courses, £15 special, and an ‘Inflation Busting Deal’ that offers 2 courses for £6 or three for £8. Each has a subset of the full menu, and obviously, the cheaper menu features the cheaper dishes. I made a reservation for our first evening in London, at 7:30 on a Sunday night following a walking tour. We nearly lost our bearings at Leicester Square, but made our way to Porter’s, where a ‘who’s here’ board indicated that the Earl wasn’t there that evening. The place was a little smaller than I anticipated, with a bar and a number of small tables occupying the first floor. From the bar to the paneling to the tables, the entire restaurant was done in lighter wood. It wasn’t too full on a Sunday night, and the other patrons seemed to be a combination of Londoners and Brits on holiday.We were seated at a round table in a corner, and I immediately ordered a Fuller’s London Pride, which tasted amazingly good after a day of transatlantic travel followed by 10 hours in London. Our server was a friendly, talkative young man whose accent and speed of speech made it hard for my kids to understand. The £6 menu didn’t hold enough choices for two of my them, but he was happy to provide other options. One went for bangers & mash, one stuck with a familiar chicken strips & chips. My wife went with fish & chips, while my oldest and I stuck with the discount menu. I considered the shepherd’s pie or salmon & prawn fish cakes before choosing the three bean, lentil & vegetable pie; my fellow bargain hunter went with the salmon. The food was hot and came relatively quickly, and the servings were pretty healthy; enough so that a few entrees went unfinished. With the exception of the chips, everyone thought their choice was pretty good. And I tasted enough of them to agree.
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