I’d enjoyed an evening of anti-semitism and now I wanted something to eat. I mean I’d spent the evening discussing how to stop anti-semitism, of course. There had been four serious and brilliant speakers and a large room full of other serious people. And me. I’m not making fun, I just want to let you know that my mind had been nourished and now, it was after nine, I needed the rest of me to be fed, too. It was a cold night and I saw a warm light through a big window. People inside looked like they were enjoying themselves. I went towards the light.
I was at Portland. It’s been open less than two months and has already been reviewed by Marina O’Laughlin in The Guardian and Giles Coren in The Times. They both agreed with me and loved it. In fact, Mr Coren called it ‘perfect’.
As it was so late they found me a table pretty quickly. The room was smart without being in the least overwhelming. The kitchen was open. There were no cloths on the handsome plywood tables. I studied the short menu. I love short menus. (I’m quite fond of short sentences, too). However, because of the hour almost everything I wanted to eat was finished. At least, all my first choices were. I wanted to eat pretty much everything they had.
I was brought a glass of something red and Italian that wasn’t Nancy Delolio. It cost £7 so of course it wasn’t her. Are we allowed to still make Nacy Delolio jokes? Is she still in the public eye?
I hope we’ll never forget Nancy. The wine was from Piedmont, a Piero Benevelli.
Some very welcome bread with a quenelle of whipped butter was placed on the table. Whipped butter – soft, airy, room temperature – is replacing butter from the fridge in London’s restaurants the way grey squirrels have usurped red in London’s parks. Frankly, I like my butter like I like my men – cold, hard and a little bit squirrelly.
Then a plate of culaccia arrived as the coppa was finished. Culaccia is a near relative of prosciutto but better. It was ruffled like a bridesmaid’s dress and just as pink. It was as far from prosciutto as Parma is from Peru and I didn’t mind one bit that the coppa had copped it.
My main was sea trout as my first choice of cod was also finished. The dish was a poem to carrots and the plate was an essay on orange. I had a side – I don’t know what made me order them but I’m glad I did – of fondant potatoes. What a happy surprise they were. They weren’t fondant potatoes, they were the best roasties I’ll ever eat. I once spent a weekend in Paris trying to discover the French for gooey. I was in love with semi-liquid cheese at the time. No time in Paris is wasted time, but the best the city could suggest was fondant, which means soft. The fondant potatoes at Portland were fat and generous, 70% crunchy outer, 30% soft inner and 100% gorgeous. I tried, without much success, to make them last.
For dessert I had a hazelnut éclair. The pastry was as light as spring blossom, the nutty custard within yielding and gentle. Crisp nuts on top supplied crunch. It was never too sweet and I want another right now.
It all came to £45 including service, so not nothing, but I’ve had a lot less for a lot more in too many other London restaurants. The service, included in the bill, was friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable. I was there by myself but never felt awkward about it as I’m sometimes made to feel when I eat alone. A perfectly liquid caramel contained in a snappy chocolate exterior came with the receipt. They were showing off and who could blame them?
As I was pulling on my coat the beautiful French couple at the next table were served their dinner. They’d also ordered the fondant potatoes. As they bit into their first they made that satisfied noise, the same sigh of pleasure, that I’d made. I laughed and we chatted about how good those potatoes are. I’m going again as soon as.
Portland, 113 Great Portland Street, London W1W 6QQ. 0207 436 3261