You can do some pretty cool things in London.
You can grab a G&T on the top floor of a skyscraper at 4am on a Tuesday. You can get locked in an abandoned tube station during a zombie apocalypse and have actors chase you around screaming for your brains (believe it’s called a TFL tube strike). If you’re a real masochist, you can pay actual money to watch the likes of Lindsay Lohan fumble their way through a David Mamet play like utter fuckwits.
And of course, you can get brilliant, world-class food.
Recently, an interesting thing happened. A few restaurateurs decided they couldn’t be arsed to put white tablecloths on all the tables and hire difficult waiters, decided instead to simply serve brilliant food in more casual settings. Portland, a casual fine dining restaurant a few minutes walk from Oxford Circus, is perhaps the best example of this formal informality, and it’s one of our favourite restaurants in the city. This is a world class dining establishment, but you’ll find people here chilling with a glass of wine and sharing a couple of plates of food, as if it were a neighbourhood wine bar.
And while the chefs at Portland have certainly busted out the tweezers and microherbs on some dishes, they didn’t lose sight of the fact that the food also needs to be really, really tasty for anyone to give a damn.
Give a damn you will. The menu has a Mediterranean vibe to it, but often you’ll taste something familiar with a novel and delicious twist. The chef who makes the food will also serve it, and will also explain what exactly is on your perfectly arranged plate. That they genuinely seem to care that you enjoy it makes this restaurant that much more memorable. And for £45 you can get a brilliant set lunch menu at Portland, all with bread, amuse-bouches, and petits fours.
No matter how you do it, a meal at Portland is not just a brilliant introduction to anyone curious about fine dining, it’s also one of the city’s best examples of it. And it’s definitely better than watching washed-up Hollywood actors on stage.
They bring out a thin crisp of chicken skin - kind of like the best crispbread you’ve ever tasted - spread with some liver mousse for creaminess. It’s a ridiculous bite of food. We’re not crazy about the gougere (cheese puff) that comes with it, but it’s a nice contrast to the chicken nonetheless.
Thin slices of fatty tuna and white beetroot layered with creme fraiche, with a bit of caviar for saltiness - a little Japanese, a little Italian, a lot awesome.
Other than being a very pretty plate, this course is absolutely delicious. True to the meat’s Spanish origins, the pork’s nice and pink, and a sticky black garlic sauce is a nice touch.
Don’t be put off by the odd choice of ice cream - it’s as creamy as a good vanilla, and the dark chocolate shavings and milk chocolate make it taste like the puddings you were only allowed to eat occasionally when you were little.