Open Mon–Thu 11am–11pm, Fri–Sat 11am–midnight, Sun midday–10.30pm
The style & crowd:
Once upon a time there were gastropubs, which dared to offer restaurant quality food instead of nuts and crisps. Surprisingly, Portobello needs one of those. Now virtually all pubs do food, some of them sticking to tried and tested pub grub and some of them going the extra mile, getting a decent chef in and trying to prise some more revenue out of the punters by impressing them with decent eating. Finch’s is doing the latter.
The old Duke of Wellington now has this lovely room upstairs, where once there was a flat. There are sturdy rustic dining tables and reminders aplenty that you’re in swinging London. We’re talking pictures of ’60s Twiggy on the walls alongside Banksy prints and a lighting arrangement that is 100 per cent Hoxton cool. Blues music was the soundtrack, which puts you in an easy, good time mood. I’m yearning for the ‘Starters’ and ‘Mains’ comeback to start on menus; it’s ‘Small Plates’ and ‘Plates’ here, natch.
The food & the drinks:
Still, I was impressed with the menu. No Fish ‘n’ Chips, no Bangers ‘n’ Mash here, indeed nothing with an ‘n’ in it. Potted beef cheeks in Camden pale ale jelly (£6) sounded exciting! But they weren’t; they were bland, tasting of nothing except the crappy horseradish slathered all over the top, if anything at all. I was irritated by trying to extract the meat out of a kellner jar and getting it onto the too small board it had been served on that was already overcrowded by the (admittedly very good) Yorkshires. Just give me a bloody plate! Maybe the crab salad on crispy pork shin (£7.50) would be better. It wasn’t. The crackling was the kind that might break your teeth and the crab mostly tasted of the pig fat. Harumph.
Smiles returned with the mains, sort of. It’s the season for game pie (£13.50) and it didn’t disappoint, being generous and hearty, with a crispy, light pastry topping. Her beef borguinon (£12) was also good, having obviously been cooked patiently and with a good amount of wine thrown in. The accompanying mash was dried up instead of creamy though and we had to send back the bubble and squeak croquettes, which arrived cold in the middle. This was depressing.
Finally, puddings were good. A warm tarte tatin (£6) had lovely sweet pears and a frankly great pairing of salted caramel ice cream. The dark chocolate tart (£6) was not that dark, but beautiful, with a light biscuity base filled with chocolate mousse. There’s a decent wine list and we lucked out when our charming waitress brought us the more expensive Malbec rather than the one we asked for. Finch’s is to be applauded for trying to be ambitious with the food. It doesn’t need to as hordes of tourists will go in on a Saturday thinking it’s a traditional British pub. They’ll be surprised at the menu initially. Unfortunately there’s also a chance they’ll be disappointed when they taste it.