Thanks to a series of misappointed associates, I had – regrettably – been forced to cancel the first three bookings I made for Portland in early 2015. Before it got a Michelin star. Before everyone knew about it. And before the prices went up.
But, better late than never. So, 14 months down the road, I went, I ate, I drank and now I’m going to bore you all about it, because it is as good as everyone says it is.
The menu is neatly divided into snacks, first courses, mains and sides (with – obviously – pudding later). A series of snacks arrived looking beautifully neat, moreish – two morsels that divided neatly between two. White truffle and Gruyère macarons (£3) melted in the mouth, a surprisingly sweet shell balanced by just the right amount of cheese and the slightest hint of truffle. Squid toast, brown crab green asparagus (£3) disappeared in a mouthful and a half. Native lobster, red miso and daikon rolls (£4) were gloriously fresh tasting.
Poitou asparagus, girolles, preserved lemon and almonds (£12) was earthy and fresh, while my rump cap tartare, new season beetroots, smoked yoghurt (£12) looked unerringly good – a platter of blood-red protein that felt so deliciously iron-filled; a bowl of sweet, strengthening goodness. A side of sweet potato was underwhelming, cooked to melt-in-the-mouth softness but under-seasoned and unexciting.
The grand finale was Portland chocolate bar, peanut butter croustillant (£9) – the soothing salty ice cream cutting through the dark, dense chocolate, and a touch of caramel to round things out.
With such vinous lineage (owner Will Lander is Jancis Robinson MW’s son), I was excited about the list. I nailed a copita of Fino swiftly on arrival, but drinking alone (and cycling) I indulged in just one glass from their “special” list – 2007 Morgeot, Premier Cru, Chassagne-Montrachet, J.N. Gagnard (£19 – whoops). It was rich, heady, contemplative and all that I needed – but, alas, a little tight. With time I’m certain that it would have been utterly bewitching, but I couldn’t offer it any more.
And therein lies the issue with not getting a bottle. With a bottle, you have the first glass to ease into, to look one another up and down; you have the second glass to muse over, potentially to fall in love with; and the third in which to simply languish, to bathe indulgently in (or, if it’s a total disappointment – to reserve for cooking and move on to pastures greener). That’s why you need a drinking companion. All boozers should come in twos.
Even without a partner to halve a bottle (which perhaps was wise considering the price tags), Portland is worth the fuss. The service was impeccable, the atmosphere easy, the food just the right balance between creative and comforting. I may have been a year and a half behind the crowd, but cor, is it still good.