On a recent fleeting trip back to England, I managed to squeeze in a single review, making sure it was somewhere truly British. Portland, unsurprisingly located on Great Portland Street, opened less than a year ago, and has already been awarded a Michelin star for 2016.
It is a small, cosy space that was once an abandoned clothing showroom. Owners Will Lander and Daniel Morgenthau struggled to find an existing restaurant to suit their exact requirements, so everything here is designed by them and built from scratch. With only 45 covers and a private room for 16, Portland has kept the décor very simple and clean, in a way that gives off an unpretentious, instantly welcoming feel.
Portland’s ethos is centred around three things: a menu that is based on the creativity of the chefs and quality produce, a knowledgeable and welcoming team, and an interesting wine list. The kitchen, led by Chef Merlin Labron-Johnson (with a name like that you just have to be famous!), creates inventive dishes prepared with classical techniques that are inspired by the fresh produce of each day.
To encourage sharing, the frequently-changing menu, which is satisfyingly concise, begins with a selection of ‘snacks’. The good thing about snacks is that, in my opinion, they technically don’t count towards the meal proper, so you can have as many as you like without feeling guilty…right? At least that’s kind of what we did!
We began with the wild rice crisp with Albacore tuna from the specials board. Although quite tricky to share between four, these little bites were absolutely perfect, offering a variety of pleasing textures and so much freshness. The shiso and caviar gave it an earthiness that nicely balanced the whole thing out.
The crispy chicken skin was absolutely fantastic, topped with liver parfait, candied walnuts and Muscat grapes. Again, the crisp texture against the creamy pâté was a match made in heaven and I could very easily have decided not to share.
Eel is rarely offered outside a Japanese restaurant, so we were deeply intrigued by the BBQ eel with Portland sour cream and English wasabi. We initially thought the so-called ‘English wasabi’ must just be horseradish, yet it turns out that wasabi is indeed now grown in England – who knew?! The eel had a beautiful smoky flavour that was divine with the hit of wasabi.
The whipped cod roe wasn’t at all what we were expecting, and yet it was a pleasant surprise, as was the venison tartare with raspberry and candied beetroot. The former, served with little grelot onion slices and chervil was strangely comforting, while the latter had a lovely balance of rich gamey flavours with sweet fruitiness.
Moving onto mains, three out of the four of us ordered the Denham Estate deer from the specials board, served with purple haze carrot and pickled elderberry sauce. Again, this offered a rich, gamey flavour and melt-in-the-mouth texture.
My choice of BBQ grouse, however, was easily the winning dish. Here, the grouse came in three ways, served with black pudding, pistachio and wild berries. For some, it was overly heavy, yet I found the flavours absolutely spot on and have been craving this dish ever since. We shared a range of side dishes to complement our mains, including some fantastic ratte potatoes with Montgomery cheddar of which we nearly ordered a second helping.
For dessert, whilst the chocolate brownie and the pistachio millefeuille were excellent, we were recommended to try the discovery apple, which was the dessert that really shone. Without the recommendation, we would certainly not have ordered this dish, yet the combination of stewed apples with vanilla custard and hints of rosemary was stunning – though not quite visibly stunning enough to warrant a photo it seems!
Our meal at Portland, including a bottle of wine, came to around GBP240 for four of us (approximately HKD2,850). This is steeper than I remember London prices being, yet, for the quality and creativity of the food, combined with excellent service, it seemed fairly justified and certainly less than you’d pay for the same quality in HK. Congratulations to Portland for being awarded its first Michelin star, an accolade I think it truly deserves.
113 Great Portland Street
London W1W 6QQ
Tel: +44 (0) 207 436 3261