47 Hereford Rd, Bayswater, W2 +44 207 229 1503 website
Background: We had been meaning to go to the Commander for a while. I asked Pascal on Friday afternoon what he would like to do for the evening. He replied “Have a dinner at 9pm.” Now imagine a fuming, “With whom?” email. I was mad, it’s Friday night, what dinner! I am always grammatically correct when I am mad. Turns out I read it wrong and it said “Have dinner at 9pm.” Ok, that’s better, phew! So I set my sights on The Commander: Porterhouse and Oyster bar. It sounded like the makings of a good Friday night dinner.
I made the reservation via OpenTable for 9pm and was looking forward to my meal. A couple hours before I was meant to arrive I received a phone call saying that they, The Commander, had received my reservation and were looking forward to my arrival but they were a full house and there might be a little bit of waiting at the bar. I hung up the phone and was confronted with mixed emotions. Are they hedging against making me wait? Do they just want me to know they are full? Whatever the tactic, I still showed up at 9pm anticipating that I would have to wait at the bar, whether or not my table was ready (Pascal, when on time, is 15 minutes late).
I walked into a bustling scene, straight out of New York. A smile passed over my face. I love restaurants with noisy bars and good food; I was itching to love this place, call it my home and move in at least once a week.
The Starters: It seemed pretty obvious that we were going to go for some combination of seafood and steak. Given that Oyster Bar is in the name of the restaurant you would expect a fairly substantial raw bar in that respect so I was surprised that they only had two types of oysters on offer; Fin de Claire and Maldon rock oysters. You already know that I am from New York. What you don’t know is that Pascal is obsessed with oysters. (I am slightly less obsessed but love them just the same.) On a recent trip to New York, we ate almost exclusively at restaurants that served oysters. Among them, my favourite (and ex-local) fish restaurant; Aquagrill, which serves up to 25 types of oysters on a given day (not Monday, of course) and has a repertoire of nearly 200. But the small selection didn’t faze Pascal; he ordered 9: 3 Maldon and 6 Fin de Claire. I went for the Crawfish Cocktail: Smoked Paprika Mayonnaise and Baby Gem.
The oysters were fine although badly shucked, which can ruin the experience if you are always picking shell out of your mouth, and they were presented on one of those dumb elevated zinc trays on a bed of ice. I hate those. So many places use them, but still. The crayfish cocktail was good, there was a good saltiness to the dish and I was pleased with my order. It did come in a martini glass, in typical English fashion, but with no plate underneath so when finished I had no idea what to do with my fork.
The Mains: While the menu for the starters is pretty clear, the menu for the mains comes in two parts. The part attached to the menu and a supplementary part which looks like it’s reserved for specials but is really just meat and fish. This differentiation exists because The Commander has a retail business running along side in a cobble courtyard next door with a fish monger, florist and butcher etc. We ordered off this menu. It was almost difficult not to as you are basically told the name of the cow that provided you with your steak, let’s call her Gladys, and the method by which your fish was caught. All of this was offered simply prepared with your chosen sauce. Strangely the porterhouse was not on my menu but I opted for the rib eye, with all THREE sauces (Green peppercorn and shallot jus, Bloodymary butter and another one, I forgot). The waiter was aghast but I prevailed in the end. Pascal, a sucker for whole fish, went with the sole with some sort of compound butter (prawn, parsley and garlic, I think). His fish was very good, fresh and unfussy, exactly how it was supposed to be. My steak was, well, a steak; nothing special, no knockout flavour. Let’s just say that Gladys let me down. The sauces were good although, they weren’t the right ones and I had to ask for clarification but, in the words of Yoda, "a sauce does not a good steak make."
Closing Thoughts: I wanted so badly to love this place, but it was not to be. While the décor was really pleasing and the bar a great added addition, there was a funny and intermittent luminescence coming from the open kitchen. We finally realised it was the heaters for the dishes awaiting service but it was extremely distracting from the meal. Despite there being no less than six servers wandering around at one time, no one took ownership of our table and we were left to wave the passing waiter down to ask for things like a peppermill or a dessert menu. On receiving the latter, we decided against ordering anything and the waiter himself laughed and said, “and it took you 30 minutes wait to even get a look at the menu!” With that we paid and left.
Silverware: Folded into a tea-towel-like napkin, neither fancy nor offensive. Good simple cutlery.