Give the mayfly-like life expectancy of many London restaurants, one that has been going for nearly 50 years must be doing something right. Il Portico was opened in 1967 by Mr Pino Chiavarini, whose son James runs the much newer Pizzicotto a few doors down. The cooking is based on that of Emilia Romagna in northern Italy, the home of Parmesan cheese, Parma ham and aged balsamic vinegar. Many of the products used in the restaurant are imported from small producers in that region. The dining room is simply decorated with tables quite closely packed together. The lighting levels were low in the evening, which also accounts for my murky photos.
The wine list puzzlingly omitted vintages in some cases, but had labels such as Leona de Castris Negro Amaro at £27 for a bottle that you can pick up in the high street for £6, San Michele Appiano Pinot Nero Riserva 2012 at £38 for a wine with a retail price of £13, and the excellent Brunello di Montalcino Castello Banfi 2010 at £65 for a bottle that will set you back £29 in the shops.
A dish of cappellacci pasta dumplings with butternut squash, cheese, butter and sage was enjoyable, managing to avoid the over-sweetness that can often accompany butternut squash dishes (13/20). Fresh tagliatelle with pork belly ragu had excellent texture and the sauce had plenty of robust flavour (14/20).
Sea bream with roasted fennel and pink peppercorns featured fish that was accurately cooked, and the fennel flavour came through well (13/20). Free-range poussin with garlic, chilli and rosemary was correctly cooked, and the gentle bite of chill enlivened the bird nicely (14/20). On the side, deep-fried courgettes were excellent (14/20), which made the soggy sautéed potatoes all the harder to understand (8/20).
Vanilla panna cotta with forest fruits was a capable dish, the vanilla flavour coming through well, the texture fine and the red fruits working well with the panna cotta (13/20).
The bill came to £85 a head but that was with a lovely Brunello and pre-dinner drinks. If you shared a modest bottle between two then a typical cost per head would be around £55. Service was excellent, the owner in evidence talking to guests. The dining room was packed out on a Monday evening, with tables being turned, quite impressive for a restaurant that does no discernible marketing. Il Portico is a pleasant and enjoyable place to spend an evening, with good cooking and a relaxed atmosphere. If only more local Italian restaurants were like this.