Portobello House

Sunday lunch served all day Saturday and Sunday

The blurb

‘Portobello House Hotel is situated in Notting Hill near the famous Portobello Road Market with all its colourful buzz and artistic counter culture. Our guests can enjoy the choice of brunch at the weekends, lunch, dinner or even a leisurely coffee in Notting Hill’s latest eclectic Bistro. Our talented chef has created a menu of inspired dishes, including some wonderful English classics. Whether you want to enjoy a quick bite whilst watching the world go by or relax into a long dinner, we have the ambience and the food to match your mood and pace.’

The style

A whitewashed oasis on the corner of Ladbroke Grove and Chesterton Road, where urban grit meets leafy, residential calm, Portobello House lures you in with its pavement tables under a smart navy blue awning, gleaming glassware, wonderful smells and happy hubbub of contented chatter. On sunny days it’s a lovely place to linger over a long lunch outside, as cleverly positioned foliage shelters you from the worst of the traffic, while still allowing you to watch the buses rolling by.

Inside, the high-ceilinged dining room, built around a central, well-stocked bar, is airy and welcoming, with large windows, gorgeous displays of peonies twinkling with fairy lights, pale grey-painted wood panelling and pretty red and white floral wallpaper on statement walls. Classic black and white movies—The Philadelphia Story the evening we visit—are projected against a back wall behind a cosy seating area populated by comfortable leather armchairs and low tables.

We are here to review the restaurant, but Portobello House is actually a boutique hotel, and after we’ve eaten, splendidly-named proprietor Carlo Angelo shows us around the beautiful individually decorated rooms upstairs. Everything has been done with consummate style, and nice touches abound—a whitewashed wooden bench piled high with colourful cushions under a window on one landing, a delicate bird-patterned wallpaper here, a cool retro lamp there.

The crowd

On Saturdays, the place is packed with tourists and shoppers escaping the chaos of Portobello Road; the rest of the time, it’s more of a magnet for in-the-know locals, as well, of course, as the hotel guests, who come from all over the world.

There’s live music every Sunday—the evening we visited, in the form of a sublime-voiced (and surreally beautiful) Italian girl with a guitar. A loud group of local boys at the next table was stunned into silence; afterwards several men gave her their cards. There are live DJs every Friday, and Portobello House also hosts one-off events, such as an evening of Spanish guitar, tapas and Sangria, which sounds a lot of fun.

The food

We were here specifically to review the Sunday lunch (late—it’s on the menu all day), but as we are exceptionally greedy we went for starters too. My mussels in a white wine reduction—a generous portion for £8—were spot on, the shellfish plump and spankingly fresh, the delicately savoury vinous emulsion lip-smackingly good. The warm ciabatta served alongside to mop up the juices tasted fresh from the oven. Andy’s crab and avocado boat with chilli, coriander and lime (£7.50) was equally successful, the zingy Mexican-inspired flavours working perfectly with the sweet crab meat and creamy avocado.

When presented with our Sunday roasts, we realised that we had perhaps been a little ambitious in ordering starters too. From a choice of beef, chicken, pork belly, lamb shank and veggie (all served with roast potatoes, carrots, Savoy cabbage and Yorkshire pudding), I went for the lamb, Andy the pork.

The sweet flesh of the lamb was beautifully pink and tender, no mean feat when cooking long and slow, and utterly yummy piled onto pillowy Yorkshire pudding with its unctuous, rich gravy. Andy’s full-flavoured pork belly—‘the best I’ve ever had’—had been rolled, all the fat rendered, and served with delectably crunchy crackling (yes, I pinched some). Again, the gravy was outstanding; when he mentioned it to Carlo it transpired the chef likes to do things properly, starting with a reduction of veal bones. We were also given a taste of the veggie option—a really rather toothsome nut roast (not an oxymoron) with well-seasoned mushrooms in gravy.

The veg were perfectly judged: not the depressing little bowls of mange tout and barely-cooked broccoli that so often accompany pub roasts, just sweet buttery carrots and a pile of dark green, iron-rich cabbage. Lovely. Potatoes were crisp on the outside, fluffy in the middle, exactly as they should be.

By now we could hardly move, but the food was so good that it seemed almost immoral to refuse pudding. My chocolate brownie (dense little fingers of yumminess) came with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream—heaven on a plate. Andy’s pannacotta with raspberry coulis was elegantly presented in a martini glass, decorated with edible flowers. It was creamy and perfectly wobbly, the tangy crimson coulis cutting nicely through its richness.

The drink

A crisp Sicilian Vitese Grillo to go with our fishy starters was well-judged, Carlo’s recommendation to accompany the roasts altogether more surprising: a Spanish cava, Molto Negre, the bottle decorated with a picture of a sheep smoking a fag. It was delicious, full bodied and brightly sparkling. More to the point, it worked extremely well with the richness of the meat.

Portobello House’s building used to be occupied by a horrendously run down old boozer called The Earl Percy—all stained carpet, fag burns and dodgy low-life patrons. I know, as it used to be my local—I lived on Chesterton Road—and sheer laziness made me lurk there more than I’m proud of. Carlo has done the most fantastic job transforming it into the really sensational destination venue it now is. It’s a pleasure to hang out there: go for a lazy lunch al fresco, a superb dinner accompanied by live music, or just enjoy the drinks and bar snacks. It’s exactly what this bit of Ladbroke Grove needed.

The details:

Portobello House, 225 Ladbroke Grove, London W10 6HQ; 0203 181 0920; info@portobellohouse.com; www.portobellohouse.com

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