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113 Great Portland Street
Will Lander’s Portland is a rare thing – a thoroughly grown-up, relaxed and “cosy” restaurant that deals in neighbourhood fine-dining without a hint of stuffiness. The cool, “understated” dining room is as dashing as a Savile Row suit, with its dark-wood flooring, Scandi furniture and watercolour portraits – all leading towards chef Merlin Labron-Johnson’s Michelin-starred open kitchen. The menu wows without overcomplicating things, and every dish “hits the heights” – from a show-stopping snack of crispy chicken skin loaded with rich chicken liver parfait to a little bowl of silky crayfish flan with a foamed, buttery bisque. Elsewhere, simplicity also reigns – witness thick, creamy mozzarella topped with the last of the summer’s tomatoes, tarragon leaves and earthy kombu seaweed or a dish of translucent cod with squid ink, hazelnuts, kale and a plump oyster. For dessert, strawberries atop a yoghurt cake with cashew-nut butter really highlights Portland’s use of stellar ingredients. “Textbook” wines are listed on the back of the menu, “friendly” staff are “attentive but don’t hover” and portions are big enough to “satisfy a rugby player” – in fact, it’s hard to have anything less than a “great experience” here.
StreetSmart - London restaurants
Best in Fitzrovia
Best Modern European restaurants in London
London's Hot 100 Restaurants
SquareMeal 3 Stars
113 Great Portland Street
020 7436 3261
Great Portland Street Tube Station 399m
Regents Park Tube Station 449m
University of Westminster 73m
Royal Institute of British Architects 225m
Mon-Sat 12N-2.30pm 6-11pm
Food & Drink:
Rate & Review
Food + drink: 3
We visited Portland twice in the couple of months of its opening, three years ago. We enjoyed it, wrote a complimentary review here and joined others in saying that maybe a star could be along soon, which it was. The thing that marked Portland then was its flavours. I recall blackened leaves in an sharp egg emulsion , and its then signature of game pithivier which got lots of attention as well as mine. It was those flavours rather than what the restaurant looked like that marked it out. Most people aren't going to go the Portland because its in an interesting part of London, or because the place itself was especially attractive or unusual- it was the food.
We called in again last Saturday and ate snacks followed by two courses each with a pleasant bottle of red . The food we had this time was certainly decently cooked and presented but it had nowhere close to the character and deep flavours that we enjoyed so much then. The amuse bouche set the scene for this, a savoury custard with nuts that was pleasantly textured without giving away much taste at all.
This trend unfortunately continued through the snacks starter and main- food cooked correctly and presented prettily but with little real flavour, which surprised me because, as I say, it was flavours that were, without a doubt this restaurant's major strength. My wife would perhaps be a little kinder than me , but I thought my chicken & madeira raviolo starter and pollock main course were both in general bland. Even the smoked beurre blanc ( albeit not present in large quantity) didn't add much flavour. The one exception was some celeriac which was strong to the point that I din't find it enjoyable and it served to swamp whatever flavour was present in the other elements. If this meal is representative of what Portland is serving up today, I'm forced to agree with the previous reviewers comment that maybe its star won't last forever. Frankly we enjoyed a visit to Clipstone ( more casual sibling) a few months ago much more.
I need to make another point . We'd indicated on reservation that my wife does not eat cream and soft cheese, and the restaurant clearly had this on board. But it turned out that most of what was on the menu had cream in it or on it and not easily left out, apparently. The effect was to reduce pretty much to one the choice available to her for starter and main. For the dessert it was worse and we waited for the results of inconclusive negotiation between front of house and kitchen for a little while before giving up and settling for
a very acid coffee and an unsatisfactory end to our meal. We eat in restaurants a lot and nearly all make a much better, more prepared fist of the cream avoidance issue than this one.
I doubt whether we'll go again without some clear sign that it has recovered its form.
Things looked good for Portland when it opened last year – a well-regarded team with famous pedigree operating their first solo venture in a trendy part of town. They looked even better when Portland got its Michelin star earlier this year. A recent effusive review in the FT also suggests that the place is firmly on-trend. I raved about the place when I initially visited in May 2015, but a recent evening visit with two friends suggested to me that Portland may struggle to keep its star. Indeed, there were some actively bad elements to the experience. Our party found the service bordering on the complacent; in general terms disorganised, hard to attract servers’ attention, mumbled commentaries about what our dishes comprised and so on. This was compounded by the fact that when we complained about the beef main (item five on a well-priced tasting menu), barely an apology or note of contrition was sounded. Our beef with the dish (no pun intended) was that it was simply too chewy, perhaps over-aged, or just badly prepared, almost to the point of being unpleasant. The server’s response was effectively to suggest that we were perhaps not quite intelligent enough to appreciate the unique texture of the Galician dairy cow whose hide we were being privileged to eat. I don’t want to sound too harsh, since the rest of the dishes showed the talent for which Portland became famous, both in terms of presentation and taste. Isle of Mull scallop with Jerusalem artichoke and chicken jus was a notable stand-out. Our Portuguese red from the Dao region also impressed, but an almost six-fold mark-up relative to its off-trade price did seem somewhat steep. Based on how full the place was, many people clearly seem to believe Portland is doing the right thing. But is certainly shouldn’t rest on its laurels.
Food + drink: 5
We kicked off with the charred vegetables with smoked hollandaise and summer truffle. This was paired with Domaine de l’Aumonier, Touraine Sauvignon (£9.95), the grassy and citrus notes really enhanced the smoky char.
Loved the Old Spot pig belly with a fine layer of fat (mmn tasty, tasty fat!) accompanied by a potato millefeuille. I don’t even want to think about what was done to that potato to achieve the myriad, crispy layers of deliciousness but I’m going to pretend it didn’t also involve copious amounts of fat and in my blissful ignorance chalk it up as one of my five a day. Potatoes are a vegetable right?! Plus actual veggies of fine beans and yellow courgettes.
We rounded things off with an almond pithivier with lashings of raspberry jam and cream fraiche paired perfectly with the red fruit flavours of the Rose D’Anjou, La Jaglerie (£7.99).
I floated home on a cloud of amazing food with a new found affection for the wines of the Loire, especially the Sauvignon Blanc Touraine which I can see myself sipping in the garden of my own chauteaux on the (hopefully!) many sunny afternoons to come.
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