Tel: +44 (0)20 7253 6950
Address: 88 St John Street, EC1M 4EH
Cuisine Type: Portuguese, Mediterranean
nearest tube station Farringdon, Barbican

From the moment we walked into one-year-old Portal, on a typically chaotic, sultry Clerkenwell summer’s evening, we felt instantly revived. With its airy, uncluttered decor, sizeable windows, bamboo trees and exposed brick, the space was just what was needed – a wonderfully sophisticated oasis.

We chose from the primarily modern European menu, which had been modified for the summer season. Deciding from a selection of 10 or so starters (£4.50 to £7.50), I went with the grilled squid with mixed peppers and chilli vinaigrette, while hubby chose the well-proportioned charcuterie assortment. I wished my vinaigrette was fierier, but it was tasty nonetheless. Cod and prawn carpaccio with lemon vinaigrette and truffle oil also caught my eye – one of many dishes I will be sure to try next time.

We debated on who was having what for our main courses, which ranged from a reasonable £9.50 for a vegetable talharin to £19.50 for the arroz of seafood. We embarked on the usual “if you have the fish, I will have the meat so we can share” exchange until we decided on roast duck with fried polenta for me, while hubby surprisingly chose the trio of cod specialty: bacalhau (salted cod) confit with sautéed turnip greens, poached cod with alvarino wine sauce and bacalhau with a coriander crust and a morcilla rosti. I detected the clear sounds of satisfaction from his end of the table so definitely a hit.

Refreshingly scrumptious desserts (£2.50 to £7.00) like gazpacho of summer fruits with a dribble of ice cream, and homemade caramel and egg flan with almond and milk ice cream topped off our Mediterranean experience.

From what we’d consumed, it’s obvious that the food is important, but given the passion for wine held by charming owner Antonio Correia, you might find yourself parking at the front bar and skipping food altogether. From his substantial wine collection primarily from Portugal, France and Spain, we sampled the gorgeously complex Quinta de Portal Touriga Nacional and the Quinta do Portal Reserva – both 2000 vineyards from the Duoro province, both magnificent, and both well worth the rather sizable outlay (think £35 to £55 per bottle for these beauties). That said, even the house wines are significantly above par in quality and are offered at very reasonable prices. As expected, an attractive port selection by the glass or bottle is also available.

You can experience the relaxed elegance of Portal for lunch, dinner or merely petiscos, which is Latin tapas for the uninitiated. For private dining, there is also a stunning wine cellar-like enclosed area called The Adega Room, which seats about 16. Perfect for stepping up your next client meeting.

Portal is flawlessly fashionable with tables filled, and just the right amount of buzz to assure you’ve landed in a fine one. With the popular St. John just up the road, I mused whether the establishments were amicable neighbours, and as it turns out the relationship is just so – with each proprietor proud of their own offerings and respectful of the other’s.

Service is delightfully knowledgeable yet completely unobtrusive. Visit Portal and observe your cares happily slipping away with every morsel and sip… and sip… and sip…

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