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Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The Cow: Guinness Gracious

89 Westbourne Park Road
W2 5QH
tel: +44 (0)20 7221 0021

The Cow is a damn fine pub. The best I've visited in the past two months. Tom Conran of the Conran family dynasty owns the joint. In fact, he's got two other restaurants on the same road: Lucky 7 (an American-style diner) and Crazy Homies (Mexican food with wonky decor). For The Cow, he's also chosen a theme: Guinness and oysters. It works. The pub itself has a retro kind of feel to it. Lots of 1950s signage and general knicknackorage inside. But it gives the place a warm, homey feeling. That was only enhanced by the hearty welcome we received  from the trendy young barman when we walked through the front doors.
At weekends, this small pub heaves with people seeking respite from Portobello Road market. But during the week, the locals frequent and it's much less packed. It's a nice friendly, neighbourhood pub kind of vibe. Upstairs, there's a dining room you can book. But I say, sod the stuffiness and stay downstairs where the real atmosphere is. The Cow has an excellent range of beers and ciders on tap. There's Guinness, ESB, London Pride and the mega-tasty Tribute Cornish ale. We took the lead from the locals sitting at the bar and began with 12 oysters - six Irish rocks (£9.50) and six Frence fines de claires (£9.95) - and two pints of Guinness.
The Irish rocks were bigger, saltier and tasted like they had been pulled straight from the sea that very morning. The French ones were smaller, smoother and much creamier. Both were divine on their own but not being an oyster purist, I thought they were even better with a scoop of red wine and shallot sauce. Total perfection. I have only ever tasted oysters this good at the oyster bar in Grand Central Station, NYC. Instead of stuffing ourselves silly, we decided to skip the mains and opt for a couple more starters. First up, pork rillettes on toast (£7). Rich, porky badness in such a good way. Very moorish. Top tip: one plate is certainly enough for two.
The second starter was a plate of big mama tiger prawns with leeks and saffron (£8). These were scrumptuous. Super fresh, buttery, with nice hit of saffron. I get the feeling seafood is what they do best at The Cow. A steaming bowl of fish stew, rouille and croutons (£13.25) passed by our table and we nearly left our seats and followed it. Another handsome dish that I'd like to try on a return visit (there will be many) is the handmade tagliolini with crab and tomato chilli (£9.50). The Cow does do meat - with such a name it would be strange if it didn't - including sausages and mash (£13.25) and a fine sounding aberdeen angus fore rib with green peppercorn butter (for a fairly pricey £19.50). Sadly we were too stuffed to sample either. Saying that however...there did seem to be room for pudding.
And oh what it a pud it was. Simply described as a chocolate pot (£6.50) - it really was so much more. I know this is going to sound over-the-top, but the raspberries it came with actually transported me back to my youth. They were so sweet and right-out-of-the-garden-fresh-tasting. It reminded me of picking raspberries by the bucket-load on our family farm as a young whippersnapper. I swear to you - I haven't tasted raspberries this good since. Then there was the whipped cream. Perhaps it's named The Cow because they have one out back. That's how fresh IT tasted. The chocolate pot itself was thick, dark and rich. I had to bite my tongue to stop myself from having a When-Harry-Met-Sally moment. The whole meal was an absolute pleasure. The prices are higher than your average pub, but then again so is the quality of the food. The Cow is udderly fantastic. 

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