Covent Garden takes its name from the convent garden which was in this area back in the Middle Ages. The garden belonged to Westminster Abbey and in the sixteenth century this land was acquired by Henry VIII and then granted to John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford.
The existing Piazza was planned in 1631 by Inigo Jones and shows his passion for the classic piazzas in Italy. Some of the original street names still exist in the neighbourhood – King Street, Charles Street, Henrietta Street were named in honour of Charles I and his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria.
Covent Garden was famed as a fruit and vegetable market for around 150 years till it closed in the mid 1970s. I remember the porters exchanging merry banter with other stallholders, and not so merry banter with those who got in the way of their barrows. They are immortalised in a 2m bronze relief plaque which shows one of their number carrying baskets of produce on his head. There is also a rather fine restaurant bearing the name Porters and I suspect the bill of fare here would meet with their approval.
Porters English Restaurant is, as I mentioned, a fine restaurant. Let’s be clear, this isn’t what one would think of as a ‘fine dining’ establishment but the food is fine in a traditional English rustic and comforting way. It’s been producing those hearty dishes since 1979 and it’s easy to see why it endures.
It’s got the ambiance of a real pub with etched glass and dark wood and light humour – there are little tongue-in-cheek mottos and bons mots pinned up throughout the hostelry. They are serious about the food at Porters but they evidently enjoy life and their diners. A trip to the rest rooms will have you serenaded by traditional English nursery rhymes that took this reviewer-of-a-certain-age right back to Listen With Mother on the wireless. (If you are too young to know what a wireless was, then you are very lucky.)
The food here offers classic British dishes and some with a twist. My guest ordered the The London Particular (Pea and Smoked Bacon Soup). It’s so named because of the thick, ‘peasouper’ London fogs that lasted right up to the 1950s. It’s a good old-fashioned soup with a velvety texture. This was served with slices of crusty bread.
I was taken with the Warm Scotch Egg. It would seem a simple dish and it is if you don’t mind an over-hard-boiled egg as a bullet-like core. I was looking for a creamy and runny-yolky centre to that sausage crust and that’s what I got. It takes practice to do this ‘simple’ dish so well. The Piccalilli is the essential condiment, giving a pleasing vinegar tang to balance the richness of the Scotch Egg.
Shepherd’s Pie at Porters is rumoured to be made with real shepherds. No, dear children and those with a sensitive nature, that is just one of management’s little jokes. It’s a classic family dish of minced lamb (cottage pie has minced beef) with red wine, tomatoes, carrots and peas, with a mashed potato topping. Porters serves this in individual dishes – that crockery can be purchased and I can’t think of a better souvenir than one that will keep giving in such a delicious fashion.
My main course was Lamb and Apricot Pie and it was memorable. Seldom have I had such a well-flavoured pie, and pies are my passion. We in Britain, in my opinion, lead the way with pies. Porters offers a selection of traditional favourites but also some innovations and this Lamb and Apricot fills those ranks. There is a little hint of mint in the filling which adds freshness to the well-seasoned meat. This is a must-try in my book …and speaking of books, Porters English Cookery Bible penned by founder Richard, Earl of Bedford, and Carol Wilson is on sale behind the counter, and the aforementioned pie is found within the covers.
Porters truly is an English restaurant so it’s no surprise that puds are so well represented. Treacle Tart will be my choice on my next visit, for next visit there surely will be, but I was intrigued by Lady Bradford’s Sticky Ginger Pudding and it’s a winner, with all the attributes which gave puddings their deserved position high in the pantheon of desserts. It’s sweet and syrupy and absolutely moreish.
I have long wanted to visit Porters and it delivered in every regard. The location is iconic, and after all these years the restaurant can be called the same. It’s not flashy but it’s deliciously solid, comforting and great fun.
Monday 12:00–10:30 pm
Tuesday 12:00–10:30 pm
Wednesday 12:00–11:00 pm
Thursday 12:00–11:00 pm
Friday 12:00–11:30 pm
Saturday 12:00–11:30 pm
Sunday 12:00–10:30 pm
Porters English Restaurant
17 Henrietta Street
Tel: 020 7836 6466
Fax: 020 7379 4296
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018