I must have walked past Portal on St. John Street in Clerkenwell over a thousand times in the past few years without ever knowing what was behind the unassuming outside. When having a peek through the window, it just looks like a smart little bar/cafe, so you can imagine my surprise when discovering that hidden behind this front bit is a beautiful restaurant, an airy green oasis, an absolute treat and retreat from the hustle and bustle of the busy Clerkenwell area.
Portal is the brainchild of Portuguese restauranteur and wine expert Antonio Correia, who commissioned renowned architects (and fellow Clerkenwellians) Mackay + Partners to transform this beautiful space into what it is today – creating a light and fresh space which seems to bring the outdoors indoors. The space forms the perfect backdrop to the modern Portuguese cuisine from chef Jeronimo Abreu.
As Portal is equally renowned for its food as it is for its impeccable wine selection (a lot of which come from the owner’s own Douro vineyard Quinta do Portal), we were taken on a tasting adventure of the wines and ports as the sommelier selected our drinks to match the dishes we ordered. The result was at times surprising – starting with a white port to go with the plate of Pata Negra we had before our starters. I always assumed port was more of an old-folks after-dinner drink, but I was clearly wrong – Port has as much depth and variations as wine, so learning about Port was an eyeopener. As I moved from starter (Portuguese squid) to main (filet mignon with homemade crisps) to dessert (traditional Portuguese custard tarts), so did the drinks, discovering the wonderful world of Portuguese wines and ports.
The restaurant features several rooms available for private dining (one inside the wine cellar) and a cracking set lunch menu. Walking out of the restaurant through the smaller bar at the front (which also serves tapas for more informal dining), I couldn’t help but feel I had just been let into a Clerkenwell secret. Now I’ve told you and this secret is well and truly out: Portal is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered.
Portal Restaurant and Bar
88 St John Street
Telephone +44 (0)20 7253 6950