January is a month of diets and detoxes, and yet London’s restaurant scene shows no sign of slowing with a new venue opening every few days across the capital. The latest to hit the headlines and thrill the food bloggers is Portland, aptly named, considering its location on Great Portland Street.
Fay Maschler has already visited twice and even said she’d discovered some of “her best dishes of the year” in her recent review. Needless to say, by the time you read this securing a reservation may be impossible.
The menu concept is based on the best produce cooked as simply as possible and is headed up by Will Lander and Daniel Morgenthau, the talented people behind Quality Chop House and 10 Greek Street. The restaurant follows the popular minimalist Scandinavian design, lots of bare wood and exposed lightbulbs and some intriguing artwork on the walls, I noticed an Egon Schiele print. There isn’t much room with only forty-five covers, so guests are booted out after two hours: I usually get through three courses in sixty minutes so it is no problem for me.
Chef Merlin Labron-Johnson previously worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Belgium before joining the kitchen at Portland. His inventive recipes use unusual ingredients and they are slickly executed. We were sat brilliantly close to the open kitchen, nearby to the vintage jars of home pickled vegetables. We started with the delightful Pig’s head croquettes balanced on a dollop of kimchi mayonnaise. Rich and moist meat with a salty crunchy breadcrumbed exterior and a luxurious dip, it was the perfect combination.
We created a meal with an assortment of smaller dishes and a main. The chef’s interest in foraging was evident in the heritage carrot dish, where attractive varying shades of rustic vegetables are presented upright in a bed of puree. They had a lovely roasted caramelised flavour and were paired with shaved nutty Mimolette Vielle cheese and crunchy seeds. Charred brassicas were luscious green stems with a smoking egg emulsion (similar to Hollandaise sauce, but lighter), soy and Perigord truffle, an original recipe with oriental elements, and miraculously worked very well. For main course, the Fallow deer is a rich and glossy piece of meat, too rare for me but with a lovely crispy edge.
If you are in need of a sweet treat go for the chocolate bar with peanut butter praline and peanut ice-cream, a deliciously glorified Snickers dessert. Portland serve some short cocktails which work well as aperitifs and are well priced at £8-9. We drank a rather small glass of house wine each, an earthy fruity French white.
Portland has only been open a few weeks and is already a promising place to enjoy exciting food in a convivial environment. I’m excited to see how this restaurant progresses, hopefully bringing the success of Soho to the other side of Oxford Street.
More information and book here: portlandrestaurant.co.uk