The Portland opened in January 2015, set up by Will Lander (who also co-owns The Quality Chop House) and Daniel Morgenthau, who was previously connected with 10 Greek Street. The young head chef is Merlin Labron-Johnson, whose for the last two years was sous chef at Michelin starred In de Wulf in Belgium.
The restaurant seats up to 45 customers, with an additional private dining room. The room is simply decorate, with a tiled floor and tables without tablecloths. The noise levels were reasonable despite the all hard surfaces of the room.
The wine list changes monthly, with around 50 labels. Today it ranged in price from £21 to £150. Example labels were Montravel Domaine de Perreau 2013 at £25 for a wine that can be purchased from a shop for £13, Au Bon Climat Wild Boy Chardonnay 2012 at £56 for a bottle that retails at £20, and Javillier Mersault Les Clousots 2010 at £100 for a label that will set you back £42 in the high street.
Bread was from a supplier called the Little Bread Peddler and had very good texture (14/20). A starter of charred brassicas came with smoked egg emulsion, soy and Perigord truffle. This was enjoyable, the vegetables retaining good texture and the egg adding some richness (13/20). Mackerel flavoured with wasabi was wrapped in a sheet of beetroot. The flavour combination made sense to me but the wasabi flavour seemed very subtle, and the normally distinct flavour of the mackerel was rather overwhelmed by the beetroot (12/20).
Game pithivier (for two people only) was presented at the table before serving. I am a big fan of pithivier, the best I have eaten having been at Michel Guerard’s iconic Bordeaux restaurant, who makes the best pastry that I have ever tasted. I was obviously not expecting anything of that illustrious standard, but the version here was certainly enjoyable, with good pastry and the meat (mallard I beleive) properly seasoned. It was let down a little by duck that could have been more tender when yielding to my very sharp knife, but this was nonetheless a very pleasant dish (easily 14/20). On the side, fondant potatoes appeared not to have been seasoned at all, though the staff brought some salt without demur when asked (in the old days of Nico Ladenis such a request could result in a major drama). Cauliflower was flavoured with thyme, simply cooked and decent, retaining enough of its texture without being too hard. Red cabbage was pleasant though I would have preferred more sweet and sour effect from vinegar and sugar to liven it up.
For dessert, Muscavado sugar tart was good, served with burnt pear and “cultured cream” (presumably the uncultured version was too uncouth to serve). The pastry was fine and the filling not too sweet, with the pear available to provide some acidic balance (14/20). This was much better than a bitter chocolate ganache with macadamia nut and cep ice cream. It was presented in what an estate agent might call a deconstructed manner but looked to me as though some one had just dropped it and scooped it back on the plate. The nuts were fine but the chocolate itself lacked the rich flavour I was expecting, and a mushroom ice cream was a curious way to try and balance the dish (10/20). Coffee was quite good, fairly rich and avoiding bitterness. Service was fine, and the bill with just water to drink came to £46 a head. If you shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical bill might be more like £65 per person.
Overall Portland was very pleasant, though there were some things that could be improved. At lunch the lack of a concessionary menu pitches it into quite ambitious territory when you consider the competition e.g. for £30 you can eat a three courses lunch at Michelin-stared Alyn Williams. At the price point here customers might hope for a little more culinary wizardry from chef Merlin.