Portland: Success gone to the head? (October 2016)

Things looked good for Portland when it opened last year – a well-regarded team with famous pedigree operating their first solo venture in a trendy part of town. They looked even better when Portland got its Michelin star earlier this year. A recent effusive review in the FT also suggests that the place is firmly on-trend. I raved about the place when I initially visited in May 2015, but a recent evening visit with two friends suggested to me that Portland may struggle to keep its star. Indeed, there were some actively bad elements to the experience. Our party found the service bordering on the complacent; in general terms disorganised, hard to attract servers’ attention, mumbled commentaries about what our dishes comprised and so on. This was compounded by the fact that when we complained about the beef main (item five on a well-priced tasting menu), barely an apology or note of contrition was sounded. Our beef with the dish (no pun intended) was that it was simply too chewy, perhaps over-aged, or just badly prepared, almost to the point of being unpleasant. The server’s response was effectively to suggest that we were perhaps not quite intelligent enough to appreciate the unique texture of the Galician dairy cow whose hide we were being privileged to eat. I don’t want to sound too harsh, since the rest of the dishes showed the talent for which Portland became famous, both in terms of presentation and taste. Isle of Mull scallop with Jerusalem artichoke and chicken jus was a notable stand-out. Our Portuguese red from the Dao region also impressed, but an almost six-fold mark-up relative to its off-trade price did seem somewhat steep. Based on how full the place was, many people clearly seem to believe Portland is doing the right thing. But it certainly shouldn’t rest on its laurels.