port to port

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last week, on a particularly monsoon-esque monday, i was invited along to portal in clerkenwell and transported away to sunnier climes. billed as a “modern portuguese restaurant and wine bar that combines the buzzy conviviality of iberian dining with bold interior design,” portal reflects the passion of veteran restaurateur and owner, antonio correia, and boasts a sleek elegant bar at the front which gives way to an airy glass-walled dining room and stunning hidden alfresco courtyard.

the “wow-factor” of the glass cubed dining hall is the work of renowned local architects mackay + partners, who were tasked with creating a light and fresh space that allows the natural beauty of traditional portuguese outdoor living to transfuse indoors – a much needed premise here in the uk, especially given the deluge of rainfall we experienced during our dining experience that night!

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we started at the bar supping a  ‘touriga nacional’ sparkling rosé from the beiras region in the north of portugal, whilst perusing a bar menu offering an array of petiscos (portugeuse tapas), from salchichon iberico de bellota (chorizo from acorn-fed ibérico pigs) and grilled chouriço (portuguese sausage) to terrincho dop merendeira (sheep’s cheese) and mini ‘francesinhas‘ with piri piri and beer sauce.

all sounded delectable, but we were saving ourselves for the main event…

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taking our place at a table just beside the courtyard doors, we were talked through the menu by our attentive, friendly waiter who was eager to impress with his extensive knowledge of celebrated portuguese chef vitor veloso’s cuisine, and keen to impart knowledge on which restaurants we should frequent should be be inspired to make a trip to lisbon in the near future (trust me, i am!). 

we went along with his recommendations of the octopus, sweet potato & pineapple salad, as well as the black pudding risotto with peas & apple to start, followed by the bacalhau (traditional portuguese salt cod) and slow cooked bisaro with a side of esparregado (creamed spinach – absolutely incredible!), and were certainly not disappointed; everything was spot-on, from the portion size to the exquisite fusion of flavours. just what exactly is bisaro i hear you ask? well, it’s a particular type of iberian pig apparently, and it’s meat is rather akin to wild boar. at portal it’s marinated for 12-16 hours in red wine, vegetables, garlic and other seasonings, for perfect melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness!

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amuse bouche: deep-fried prawn with tapioca

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starters: octopus, sweet potato & pineapple salad; black pudding risotto with peas & apple

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mains: bacalhau with broccoli purée, confit potato & garlic; slow cooked bisaro served with mushroom purée, bok choy, apple & raspberries, with a side of esparregado

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dessert: pasteis de nata with cinnamon ice cream

we rounded off our wonderful meal with one of portal’s most celebrated desserts; flaky portuguese pasteis de nata custard tarts served with cinnamon ice cream that added a nice spice to cut through the sweetness of the tarts. when the plates were first brought over i didn’t think i could possibly manage two of these sweet treats, but they were so light and delicate that i could happily have ordered another plate (although my waistline might have groaned…)

thanks so much for such a lovely meal portal, i look forward to returning again soon!

portal, 88 st. john street, ec1


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