Portal, Clerkenwell - Review
Cat Byers |
This elegant Portuguese restaurant in Clerkenwell is probably the best place you've never heard of. Not convinced? Just ask regular visitor Jose Mourinho...Despite being a beautiful coastal country in Western Europe (and tacked on to eternal tourist favourite Spain), Portugal somehow manages to get completely overlooked by, well, pretty much everyone. Spain has ten times more visitors annually; Italy six times more, and even Croatia, Ukraine and Hungary are more popular. To add insult to injury, their cuisine has been permanently tainted by Nandos, the grim chicken chain famous for its ‘Portuguese' Peri Peri chicken, despite actually being established in South Africa. Fortunately, the tide seems to be turning; the openings of Churchill's Port House, Canela and Fire & Feathers in the last few months suggest that they're finally inching towards the general acknowledgment . Leading this Portuguese culinary crusade is Portal, a family-run Portuguese fine dining restaurant, tapas bar and wine bar in Clerkenwell. Despite being open since 2005, it seems to have remained somewhat under the radar until now, which I suspect is a result of the regulars not wanting to share this gem with anyone else. No wonder – Portal serves some of the best food I've ever eaten in London, at a reasonable price, and in a beautiful setting. It's the stuff of urban legends. The green-tiled entrance is sophisticated and subtle, particularly in contrast to other restaurants on St John Street. After walking through the warm, moody wine and tapas bar (which serves a separate menu), the room opens out into a stunning carnivorous conservatory. The corrugated iron roof slopes upwards to reach a pane of glass that makes up the whole back wall of the restaurant. On the other side, a living wall of plants and vines give the impression of an incredibly deluxe greenhouse. After settling into the comfortable seats at our spacious, white-clothed table (all restaurants should offer chairs with arms like these, in case you need a rest from cutlery fatigue), we started with some dreamy, soft scallops in chicken broth with bok choi, an impressive octopus, sweet potato and pineapple salad, and the recommended wine pairings. After this strong opener we eagerly awaited the mains, and were not disappointed by a tender, melting sous-vide rabbit and a succulent guinea fowl. The carrot and ginger puree accompanying the rabbit was a bit heavy on the ginger, but the additional baby beetroot helped to tame the taste a little. We finished with a generous cheese platter of Neal's Yard British cheeses and selected Iberian cheeses with apple, Portuguese jam and biscuits. This lactose mountain left no room for dessert, but I've heard great things about the custard tart and the port selection, which is rumored to be the largest in London. Beg, borrow or steal, but just make sure you get to Portal as soon as possible - we very much doubt it will stay under the radar for long.
Dinner for two (excluding drinks): £65
Wine: £6 – £10.50 (175ml)
Portal Restaurant and Bar, 88 St John Street, EC1M 4EH
Tel: 020 7253 6950