Although the invitation was from Michael Stobbs, my preferred London wine merchant at Latimer Vintners, and supported by the promise of a bottle of Tertre Roteboeuf 1989, I must admit that I was somewhat hesitant.
After all, whenever someone mentions the words ‘Great Portland Street’, I think hospital. I think pregnancy, stress, tension, worries and finally great delight, if subdued or even drowned by the sound of innumerable screaming infants.
Either way, what it doesn’t conjure up is wistful dreamy food delights. At best, Villandry, but otherwise drab hospital food or cold coffee while fathers interminably wait for the newborn future house terror to make their grand entrance.
Be that as it may, my trust in Michael and in Tertre Roteboeuf swayed me into following him back into Great Portland Street to the (originally named) Portland restaurant.
Portland is an unassuming, simply decorated magic box. With cool naked light bulbs. And shy chefs. With amazing talent. The menu is short and simple, original but intriguing. What would you make of a pig’s head croquette? Wolfed. Or the tartare of mackerel and oyster, beetroot and wasabi? Gobbled. The Yorkshire mallard, enoki mushrooms and smoked onion tea? Devoured. Rice pudding, Seville orange and London-honey ice cream? Gulped.
The balance throughout was stunning. The rice pudding could have been, should have been, overly sweet or overly marmalady. But it was neither: gentle rice but still with a bite, sweet strong honey (must be the pollution) caught on the edge of coyness by the exact tinge of bitter sweet orange.
None of this was dainty but all of it was refined, simple, clear, clean, sharp and precise. Very fresh ingredients, often raw or barely cooked, others respectfully so. None shocking or gimmicky. Very true, earthy even, but with a touch of the ethereal nonetheless. You can feel the Noma influence here (where the chef has been), but I liked it perhaps a little more because it was more real, more accessible. Just like the restaurant, waiters and manager. Just like you wished it had all been at the Portland Hospital.
And as we left, I saw my friend Alain Ducasse (of so many Michelin stars I forget to count) get up from the next door table. We shook hands knowingly and he added, ‘That was very good wasn’t it?’
As I said, Michael really is in the know. And I need to buy more of that Tertre Roteboeuf too.