If the squished, sardine-like stretch between Leicester and Trafalgar Squares on a sizzling hot summer’s evening is enough to make you swear off Central London until at least October, then there’s the deepest of breaths to be found from syphoning off down Orange Street. Here you'll find the cool, calm entrance of The National Portrait Gallery’s newest edible attraction.
Helmed by Michelin-starred chef Richard Corrigan - head honcho of Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill, and thrice winner of The Great British Menu - everything about The Portrait is an oasis of unshowy opulence. From the sneak peeks of Paul McCartney’s current photo exhibition that adorn the walls before you’re ushered up into the lift, to the nonchalant way in which basically every London skyline landmark is visible at once from the bright, simple and airy restaurant space, The Portrait gives you all the good stuff without any of the pomp and bluster.
The Portrait is ‘November Rain’ in a Guns N’ Roses headline set: it’s not that the elements are any less exciting, they’ve just been treated more subtly.
The waiters are friendly and on the casual side of formal and the open kitchen allows you to get a glimpse of Corrigan and co’s inner workings. Within five minutes of sitting down, it’s like the bustle of the streets below are a distant mirage - aided by a deceptively smooth salt and vinegar Martini that could undoubtedly get you in as much of a pickle as the small silverskin onion at its bottom, should you consume too many.
This balance of decadence and restraint sits at the heart of Corrigan’s exceedingly pleasing menu, too. Packed with strong, confident ingredients but executed with the deftest of touches, The Portrait is ‘November Rain’ in a Guns N’ Roses headline set: it’s not that the elements are any less exciting, they’ve just been treated more subtly, without smashing you around the tastebuds with their heady presence.
Three Carlingford oysters - the creamiest little molluscs we ever did consume - came refreshingly dressed with ginger and lime to offset any potential richness. A whole artichoke smothered with crab was flavour-packed but lighter than air, while a starter of pig trotter ballotine, sliced and served with truffle shavings, could have been a Henry VIII-style gout-inducer. Instead, it was so delicate it seemed almost impossible to believe it was an ex-hoof, albeit one now adorned with a tart lemon gel and herb garnish.
A halibut main, served with borlotti bean puree and a bright green spinach puree that we could have happily slurped by the gallon, was perfectly matched with a side of chilli-flecked broccolini and fresh peas. If you want to go meaty, three impossibly tender lamb chops, buoyed by an unctuous-in-the-middle/crisp-on-the-outside baby aubergine also came with a puddle of that aforementioned spinach heaven. It’s testament to the lightness of the menu that, even after all of this, the idea of dessert didn’t feel like too much of a stretch.
For those of a less overtly sweet persuasion, a warm gooseberry creme, offset with slightly savoury, fennel seed-studded biscuits will tick all the boxes. A strawberry and cream-filled giant macaron - essentially an incredibly posh, reconstructed Eton mess - will surely be the star of The Portrait’s pudding show.
With the twinkling lights of London winking through the now-darkness, somehow we’d spent three hours at our table, such is the relaxed air of The Portrait. Not only will you leave just the right amount of full, but you’ll feel like you had a mental cleanse from the relentless thrum of the city: Corrigan’s latest is good enough to merit framing and placing alongside the treasures in its namesake gallery.
The vibe Laidback luxury with epic views and cultural clout.
The food Modern British delights with an emphasis on the light, fresh and seasonal.
The drink The wine selection is good but the cocktail menu is better - chilli pepper margaritas for all!
Time Out tip The puds are massive; get a macaron to share between two and you'll grab the tastiest bargain in town.