First of all, I’m local and I was here before the other reviewers, okay? I just needed to eat here more than once. How could you trust me otherwise?
Plunked across from the crooked-legged Horse & Groom pub on the vein-main road to Oxford Street, Portland is convenient for BBC’s Broadcasting House. Not that that’s its audience. Who you’ll see here are design types: behind me sat a woman with hair like a mountaintop. The couple to my left: she spoke in French, he answered in English. It was like sitting right next to Switzerland The Person. But its core clientele aren’t the people who dress like its LFW every day. Portland is for people who like good food but are sick of paying a lot for it.
jars of kimchi and pickles lining the front of the counter, reminding me of the fairground freak show jars of my childhood
While it may look like a Scandi-land schoolroom, Portland’s pared down 45 covers (with 16 below, in a private Persian-rugged room) is a model of efficiency. With seven experts in the kitchen – one sous, one pastry and chef Merlin Labron-Johnson – it’s like dining in a sleek eating machine. Housed in an old clothing showroom, it’s comfortably functional with a clean gaze into the kitchen. The only thing to distract me whenever I go are the jars of kimchi and pickles lining the front of the counter, reminding me of the fairground freak show jars of my childhood, filled with… never mind.
These’re pickles, for chrissakes.
Other reviewers ooze, rightfully, about Portland’s “mandolined breakfast radishes” or its little gem lettuces, or the trout smoked over elder wood. I could bray about the tender venison, the intense mushroom miso, cheery serious charred brassicas and the tiny pig’s head croquettes that pack such flavour that they couldn’t be any larger. But not everything is fusion. They do a mean steak and there are enough dishes for any carrot killers, oh, I mean vegetarians.
Portland operates without marketing or press. How? Word of mouth from pleased mouths sure, but also one of the owners Will Lander (of Quality Chop House) is the son of Jancis Robinson and Nick Lander. So, yes, the wine list is no slouch. There are other experienced hands on board too, from one of my favourite Soho haunts 10 Greek Street. There are recyclable bottles of still and fizzy, and the French organic bread is brought in from Bermondsey.
There are only three things to say about Portland: the food is extremely, consistently tasty and interesting, the service is EXCEPTIONAL (I’m yelling) and inexpensive. It is a restaurant run by humans who like food and other humans. I ask Laura, our server, what she would eat if she were me. She suggests the chorizo. But when the plate comes, she says, “Oh, I got it wrong. I meant for you to have this plate, so I changed it.”
That’s what I like about Portland. Someone is participating in my dining pleasure – they’re actually helping me taste different things. I’m getting ‘dining assistance’. I love it.
Now, all you have to do is see their menu and try to book a table. What else do I have to do, chew the food for you? C
Portland, 113 Great Portland Street, London W1W 6QQ, UK
020-7436 3261; portlandrestaurant.co.uk