Restaurants in London typically have limited longevity, so it is impressive that Il Portico, set up in 1967, has been trading for 53 years and counting. It was established by Pino Chiavarini, whose son James now runs it along with a casual sister restaurant, Pizzicotto, which opened six years ago and is located just a few doors away. Il Portico has a few outside tables in front of the main dining room, an asset in these pandemic times. Heaters are available on the terrace, and the staff wear masks as a Covid-19 precaution. The family has a farm in Kent, and in the autumn the menu includes game from the farm, such as venison, pheasant and partridge.
The wine list mostly omitted vintages, and had examples such as Chianti Classico Riserva Rocca delle Macie at £48 for a wine that retails at roughly £16, depending on the vintage. The list featured a few quite grand wines, such as Antinori Tignanello and Tenuta San Guido Sassacaia at modest markups, but weirdly does not list the vintages even of most of these posh wines, though there are some exceptions. The Tignanello turned out to be a 2016 vintage, priced at £110 and actually below its retail price of £119. Tenute Argentiera Superior Bolgheri 2011 was £110 compared to its retail price of £65.
Bread was made from scratch in the kitchen and had good texture, tasting very fresh (14/20). Caponata is a classic Sicilian dish of aubergine that is chopped and fried, along with tomato sauce, celery, olives, capers and a sweet and sour sauce. This topped with burrata and came with some salad leaves (13/20). Porcini risotto was well made, using arborio rice and good stock, its texture good and being topped with lightly cooked porcini mushrooms and a little black truffle (14/20). Dover sole was served on the bone and was accurately cooked, the fish having good flavour, garnished with just a few leaves; such a noble fish needs little embellishment (14/20). Pappardelle pasta came with pork belly ragu, the pasta having good texture and the ragu being pleasingly rich and nicely seasoned (14/20). On the side to go with the fish, deep fried thin strips of courgette were pleasant, as were boiled new potatoes.
The desserts were made from scratch in the kitchen and were oddly out of synch with the rest of the meal. Torta della nonna is a classic Tuscan dessert, sugar pastry containing a filing of lemon-scented custard, topped with toasted pine nuts, paired here with vanilla ice cream. This version had very little lemon flavour and suffered from soggy pastry, the pine nuts at least providing an extra texture. However, this really didn’t work (10/20). Orange panna cotta was only a little better, the panna cotta being just too dense, topped with a little orange that in itself was fine (11/20). The restaurant, based on these two dishes at least, could usefully reconsider its pastry section, as the standard here was far below that of the savoury dishes.
The bill came to £111 per person, but that included a bottle of the Tignanello 2016 at £110. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per person might be around £60. Service, led by Marianna Chiavarini, the wife of the owner, was friendly and capable. Other than the desserts, the meal was very enjoyable and Il Portico was a welcoming and pleasant experience.
Further reviews: 04th Apr 2016
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