This Notting Hill site was originally home to Leiths, and then to the Notting Hill Brasserie, before it changed hands and cuisines in July 2013. The Notting Hill Kitchen serves Portuguese food, with chef Luis Baena, who has worked in Portugal in both restaurants and private dining, and in the distant past in Rio de Janeiro for Paul Bocuse. The dining room has bare wooden tables, split into sections that follow the three houses that this restaurant was constructed from, with a large bar area. At capacity the room can seat 80 diners.
The wine list ranged around the world and featured some good growers, including a selection of seven fine German wines. It is an ambitious list, with plenty of classy wines. Marques de Caceres Gran Reserva 2001 was £41 for a wine that you can find in a shop for £19, and the superb JJ Prum Spatlese Wehlener Sonnenhur 2002 was £87 for a wine that retails at £33, Ermita 1996 at £530 for a wine that will set you back £290 in a shop. We drank the lovely Rioja Alta 904 2001 at £76 for a wine that retails at around £31.
There was a selection of small dishes to start with, priced £6.50 to £8, with main courses £17 - £23. The excellent Joselito pata negra ham was available for £8.50 for a small tasting plate; it was indeed very small, but was cut fairly well, and to be fair this is an expensive product. Bread was apparently made from scratch, and was a mixed bag. A brown roll was fine, a rye bread dense, garlic bread strange with plenty of garlic flavour but far too heavy.
A starter of spider crab mousse (£8) was served with brioche. The crab flavour did not come through very strongly, but it was pleasant enough except for a large piece of shell in the mousse. This is just laziness in the kitchen (10/20). A tuna and cuttlefish “burger” was really just the patty without a bun. I love tuna and I love cuttlefish, but this dried out concoction was quite unpleasant. I struggle to understand how two nice ingredients can be made to taste this bad (7/20). The manager offered to replace this, so I tried an oxtail dish with veal cheeks, artichokes and mash. This also resembled a burger patty, and managed to pull off the trick of being both fatty yet dry, lacking almost entirely in flavour; the mash and artichoke were fine, but this was again a train wreck of a dish (8/20). By contrast, a risotto of artichokes and mushrooms (£16) was perfectly pleasant. The stock could have had more flavour and I have had better mushrooms, but the texture of the rice was fine (13/20).
Nata (£6.50) was a modern take on the classic custard tart, here essentially laid out in “a thousand sheets” like a millefeuille, served with cinnamon ice cream with red fruits on the side. This was actually very nice, with good quality custard and pleasing texture (13/20). Even better was chocolate and hazelnut terrine with caramel parfait (£6). This was basically a take on the classic croustillant of Louis XV, and worked very well. The chocolate was of good quality, the texture of the terrine good, the hazelnut flavour coming through nicely; the caramel was a little grainy, but this was still a very good dessert (14/20). I am at a loss as to how to reconcile the desserts with the savoury courses.
Service was well-meaning, though only three tables were taken all evening, so the staff were not overly stretched. Wine was left on the table, which is much better than trying to top up unsuccessfully. We had a good bottle of wine, but even with a main course removed the bill was £74 a head. If you ordered a more modest wine and paid for three courses a typical bill, with coffee, water and service would be around £70 a head. This is very ambitious pricing given the wildly erratic food that was delivered. It is very hard to mark this overall, since the food varied from really quite good (dessert) through to basket case level. The restaurant has passed its soft opening phase so this level of inconsistency should simply not be happening. This is a large dining room, and a great deal will have to improve for this restaurant to prosper. There are not many Portuguese restaurants in London, and few if any at this price point. I fear there may be one less soon unless this manages to put together a more coherent and consistent customer offering.