Following on from the launch of our Indie Oxford Compendium (got yours yet? You can get a copy here or even in Portabello!) we were invited to go and try the new spring/summer menu at Portabello. Located in South Parade, Summertown Portabello is a cool, contemporary and open dining space with the added benefit of an outside terrace on the front and doors that fold back, bringing the outside in. Perfect for those warm evenings. Also, fun fact: I grew up literally two doors away! I seem to recall it was a curtains shop or similar back then….
The new menu focusses primarily on steaks and burgers but there is several fish dishes, including salmon steak, whole seabass and tuna steak, not often found on restaurant menus and that alone deserves a return trip. For non meat eaters there’s a cauliflower steak, a black bean and sweet potato burger plus several interesting sounding salads.
After some back and forth as to who was ordering what, always a problem when dining with someone who has similar tastes we finally decided on a quails eggs starter, £4.75 and crispy fried salt and pepper squid, £7.95. Unfortunately, there were no quails eggs available and so we ended up doubling on the squid! This arrived with a dish of what was described on the menu as sweet chilli sauce, which leads one to think of the generic and gutless Blue Dragon stuff but actually turned out to be pretty bloody good. More like a jam than a sauce, it was thick, sticky, sweet and had a decent kick of chilli heat. The squid was hot, crispy and well seasoned plus a decent sized portion.
For our main dishes, it had to be steak! On the menu is a choice of three cuts; flat iron £13.95, bavette £14.95 or rump at £19.95. All are dry aged for 21 days and you can choose between triple cooked chips, fries or new potatoes and a choice of garlic butter, bearnaise, peppercorn or chimichurri for your sauce accompaniment. Impressed with the option of some lesser known yet more flavourable cuts, I went for flat iron, with triple cooked and chimichurri, asking for my steak to be cooked rare.
My dining partner chose the half roast chicken in a lemon and herb marinade.
Again , dishes arrived promptly and were hot, served on warm plates. Something so simple that so many places fail at! We both agreed the triple cooked chips were good, well seasoned, crispy and fluffy in the centre. The chicken was moist, well marinated and the smoked aioli was gorgeous. But the main event was going to be the steak and that didn’t work quite so well for me.
I’m a meat eater. I love my steak. I love the contrast between a caramelised and seasoned crust with the almost raw, juicy flesh inside. I want to dig my teeth in and rip that meat apart! This steak didn’t give me that experience for one reason – it was cooked using the sous vide method. It had a light crust, a decent sprinkling of salt and pepper, a spot on pinkness and very fine marbling so should have ticked most of my boxes. Unfortunately the sous vide made it almost velvet like in texture and that felt odd in my mouth. It reminded me of when my gran used to cook liver and that was never one of my favourite dishes. Interestingly though, my guest loved it and he’s usually of a similar mind to me when it comes to steak.
Had the menu mentioned the cooking method I might have considered my choice differently but this certainly hasn’t put me off from going back for another steak – the meat quality was excellent.
Despite it being an extremely warm evening we still managed to leave room for dessert! Staying true to my favourites, I selected the chocolate fudge brownie with hazelnuts and vanilla ice-cream, £6.50. Two hunks of good brownie with a sprinkling of toasted chopped nuts and a proper vanilla ice-cream.
Also ordered was the strawberry panna cotta, garnished with candied lime and a layer of strawberry coulis, £6.50. I didn’t get to try any of that because it disappeared in seconds! A very happy diner described it as a perfect light and refreshing end to the meal.
We didn’t drink wine as it was a school night but there’s a good selection, ranging in price from £18 to £34 or £60 if you want the good fizz! There’s also a great selection of gins where they’ve taken the time to match and complement the botanicals with garnishes, rather than your standard sorry slice of lemon.
Despite the steak, which was more a case of personal preference, I really like Portabello. The colour scheme and design makes it one of my favourites, the portrait photography collection upstairs makes me stop and admire every time I go, the loos are lovely and have Robert Mapplethorpe prints as well as decent soap and hand lotion and the staff are friendly. Plus the fixed price lunch menu is a bargain, starting at just £7.95.
Finally, for those of you who are not meat eaters but managed to make it though this post, Portabello deserves special mention for being one of the few places to have a dedicated vegan menu. Not just one sad little option tucked away at the bottom of the menu but a choice of three starter and three mains. We’ll be sending our new vegan writer up there to try it soon!