On the table: Portland
Author: Victoria Stewart
Too much hype surrounding a new restaurant launch can be a dangerous thing if you’re planning to visit it. Assuming it will live up to its reputation on the basis of the owner’s pedigree can be daring; that alone does not necessarily fry up a winning formula. Yet at Portland, the new restaurant on Great Portland Street owned by a notable pair – Will Lander, co-owner of The Quality Chop House, and Daniel Morgenthau, previously at 10 Greek Street – there is plenty here that screams of good training.
Its warmth is everywhere, pouring in from the smiling face of the waiter who takes your coat, to comfortable velvet banquettes, a white-tiled open kitchen at one end and low-hanging copper light stems – lit with filament bulbs, natch. Thoughtful touches, that might be overlooked by an unwatchful eye, include both water bottles and coat pegs labelled with numbers handwritten on luggage tags; bread stacked up as if on a bakery shelf; and ample space between tables so you do not have to wave your bottom past the noses of those at the table next door in order to park.
Portland is sort of like that able friend that everyone has. Invited to theirs for dinner you arrive late but find them looking effortlessly chic, ever so calm and collected, and standing in a cool but uncluttered kitchen with a glass of wine in one hand and a beef-shin cottage pie cooked the night before in the other. As you arrive they smile warmly at you before adding the final touches to a salad – Asian slaw with a few clever squirts of some on-trend ingredient. They know it’s good, but they’re not smug; they just want you to enjoy it all.
And at Portland we do. Chef Merlin Labron-Johnson’s menu, so delightfully short, is largely British with whiffs of Japan. You might find pig’s head croquettes with invitingly crunchy exteriors and rich and gooey insides, or a sprightly dish of new season leeks and wild garlic yoghurt to dip them in.
Roscoff onion and plump Cornish mussels bring hints of the ocean, while a plate of Jersey Royals is a textural pleasure, brought together by crispy fried kale and a smoky, buttery emulsion. There is also hogget, split into three parts, notable for its buttery fat and soft, pink fleshiness.
Desserts will lift your spirits: ice cream with hints of rosemary is served with shards of thin, sweet meringue poking out and tarragon honey on top, while yuzu posset is an engaging statement of green tea crumbles, pieces of fleshy lime and a startlingly tart and sweet, creamy posset.
So there is much to praise at Portland, but mostly that it feels wonderful to walk out of a restaurant having liked everything about it. The same again, please.
What we drank:
- From the ‘textbook’ list, a glass of 2013 Château Fontareche, Viognier, Vin de Pays d’Oc
- From the ‘special’ list, a glass of 2012 Au Bon Climat Wild Boy Chardonnay, Santa Barbara, California
- With dessert, 1998 Ch. de Cérons, Cérons, Bordeaux
Portland, 113 Great Portland Street, London W1W 6QQ