For a light lunch of intriguing and delicious flavour combinations, look no further than the capital’s latest culinary offering, Portland, says Lady Barbara Judge…
Having already visited the Quality Chop House in Farringdon, which has been wonderfully revitalised by Will Lander, I was anxious to try his new venture, Portland – as the name suggests, located in Great Portland Street.
In its former incarnation, Portland was an old clothing showroom, with rather little redeeming social value. It has, however, certainly redeemed itself now. The simple, elegant white and black décor is a perfect modern setting for its very modern food.
The menu is in five parts: snacks, firsts, mains, sides and desserts, with a diverse array of offerings for each. I was dining with a great girl friend who had come over from Paris to spend the weekend with me – so we didn’t want French food. In fact, the snacks that we chose from a selection of six seemed like an English version of tapas (there was nothing French in sight). We had a small plate of pickled shitake mushrooms with soy and ginger, and another small plate of new season leeks with smoked salmon roe and ash. Both were delicious, with the latter being even more unusual and therefore more interesting.
Better yet were the starters. These included my choice of charred brassicas, which was a combination of cabbage, kale and deep-fried broccoli served with an emulsion of egg, soy and winter truffles. My friend had the hand-dived scallops with Jerusalem artichokes. The artichokes were rehydrated with a thick artichoke foam and were served in a bowl like a soup. This was topped with vegetable crisps that gave it a tiny tingle.
These two bowls of unusual combinations of ingredients and flavours were definitely the winners – although we did like the confit of steelhead trout with Chinese cabbage and horseradish, as well as the pigeon served rare with mushrooms and smoked
Our one regret was that we didn’t order the special of the day – roast suckling pig. It looked absolutely delicious, as various parts of the pig were being served all around us to other diners. However we were trying to be abstemious.
Not so much, though, as to eschew dessert – my favourite part of any meal. I chose the delicate sugar tart with honey ice cream and a cinnamon-flavoured poached pear. It was as sweet as its name and a lovely way to finish a light (almost) Saturday lunch.
The clientele of this restaurant was, apart from us, almost all young, hip people. We had come early, but about an hour after we arrived people were queuing and the modern music was definitely getting louder. Clearly the party was beginning and would probably continue on to dinner.
For a restaurant that has only been open since January, success is clearly in sight.
Lady Barbara Judge is currently the chairman of the Pension Protection Fund in the UK, and has held many posts across the corporate and charitable sector, including commissioner of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, and chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority. Lady Barbara has always had an abiding love for food, and her frequent international business travels have enabled her to indulge this passion in many top restaurants across the globe. (Lady Barbara Judge pays all of her own expenses.)