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What's the deal?
London’s restaurant scene moves at a breakneck pace. So it’s easy to miss the opening of a restaurant that’s sure to become a classic. The Portrait by Richard Corrrigan – thrice winner of Great British Menu, and the current head of Bentley’s Oyster Bar, which he resurrected from the brink of extinction – is one of those needles in a haystack, destined to sit in the pantheon of essential London restaurants.
That’s because, not only is the food great, it also fulfills a unique function – it offers a place of refuge quite literally on Trafalgar Square. The window-lined space – located atop the National Portrait Gallery – is almost impossibly serene given its proximity to M&M’s World. Bright and capacious, the decor simple but comfortable (thanks to Brady Williams, the brains behind the design at Bob Bob Ricard and others), it’s the view outside that really makes it – essentially every London landmark is visible, each one a peaceful floating point in the sky, their lower halves severed from view and from the hubbub below.
Vibes-wise, the food echoes the space – warming, considered, and riffing on classics. By his own admission, Corrigan isn’t keen on “ruffling feathers” or reinventing the wheel – familiar British-European dishes are the building blocks here, and flavours subtly challenge but don’t shout. That’s not to say there aren’t some curveballs – a stunning whole artichoke comes stuffed with crab meat and dusted in seaweed; lamb chops are served with baba ganoush – but everything feels rooted in the familiar. This may have something to do with the fact that British produce gets top billing: handmade conchigliette is given a delightful spin with a crowning of decidedly non-slimy, Dorset-sourced snails.
The composition of the menu is straightforward as well – starters, mains, and desserts, with some “primi”-style pasta dishes. The set menu option is a steal for central, with two courses for £34 and three for £39. Taken together,it’s a formula for a surefire hit – as precious a gem as the priceless works of art downstairs.
What should I eat?
There’s something about The Portrait that’s beautifully suited to oysters. And, since Corrgian literally runs another restaurant dedicated to the stuff, you’d hope he’d know his way around a mollusc. The seasonal version on the menu here – zipped up with ginger, lime, and coriander – is an addictive introduction to Corrigan’s cooking style.
Without much insight into how the poached egg, pumpkin, and parmesan is served on the menu, it’s a delightful surprise when the egg comes delicately halved in a foamy pool of parmesan cream, the pumpkin simply shaved delicately on top. As cockle-warming as a bowl of thick, cheesy soup, but light enough to be a first course.
Sometimes, a chef just needs to take on a classic dish and absolutely nail it to establish themselves as the alpha. That’s what Corrigan has done with the filet of beef, crisp potato, spanish and peppercorn sauce, plated delicately but just as red-blooded and libidinous as your rival steakhouse version.
Why should I go?
To witness the dawn of a new London classic.
2 St. Martin's Pl, London WC2H 0HE