Perhaps one should start with the people – lets say friends who know you well, have similar gripes and moans to get off their chests, where conversation turns from blogging, to the Archers, to the correct consistency of a decent croquette and on to stories of foreign travels, vineyard visits and shared train journeys. You have to have plenty of laughs in between.
Thus time passes quickly, aided by some jolly decent Iberian wine, so a ‘quick spot of lunch’ turns into four hours, so without realising day turns to evening.
And that was last Saturday pretty much sown up. The venue, new to me and to London (it has been open little more than four months or so) is the Port House in the Strand just across the red-branded street from Charing Cross station. (That’s a monopoly reference, which will certainly be deleted by the editor). (If I had an editor). So Lunch at the Port House…
Important to the ‘great meal’ equation is the efficiency and friendliness of the staff. At the Port House they rate highly, the mix of Spanish and Irish adding much to the day and pointing to the Port Houses’ Irish origins. The small chain has similar venues in Dublin and this is their first opening in the UK. You should go, it’s rather good.
Previously a non-descript Italian it actually looks like an enclosed Georgian alley way – all bare brick walls and subdued lighting. The dark wood bar is a fine place to linger over a cocktail (the glasses for the gin mixes are huge!) or a salted almond (Almendra £3) and a sherry. And it was over one of these gin cocktails that I met ol’ Dougie-boy.
The gin cocktail menu changes often but do try out one made from the Dingle Original Gin from County Kerry. A gin unique to the venue and thus to London.
Rather than a plate of nuts, pickled Riojan chillies (£3) or Marinated anchovies (£3.50) perhaps a pintxos is more your style – the Tosta de Lomo Adobado (grilled marinated pork loin served on toasted bread with a smoked paprika mayo £4.50) was fantastic, the Pa amb Pernil (toasted Gallician bread with crushed tomatoes and garlic with Jamon), was almost as good, (£3.75).
Perching on a bar stool is not for everyone – further inside is the narrow downstairs candle-lit seating area. With two larger rooms upstairs the Port House can cater for rather a lot of people.
The Calamares (£5.95) looked rather pale but were perfectly cooked and encased in a very light, crisp batter. The Brochetas de Gambas al Pil Pil (prawn skewers £6.95) again looked a touch under cooked but were succulent to a fault. Most interesting and something I’ve never sampled (let alone seen on a tapas list before) were the Angulas con Gambas (Baby eels with prawns tossed in garlic and chili £8.65). While the chili quotient could perhaps be a little higher the eels had just the right level of fishiness to be tasty and a perfect accompaniment to a glass of Vallado Branco 2011 (£5.60 glass/£27 bottle). This is a Douro Portuguese white blend from Arinto, Gouvei, Ribigato and Vioshino offering a lovely freshness and cleansing acidity to make for a versatile match.
The croquetas I wasn’t too keen on (£6 for 2 each of Jamon, Pollo and Setas which are mushrooms). Think it was the rather gluey texture rather than the taste; the mushroom one for example had a good intense cep flavour but was sticky and heavy.
The morcilla from the Plato de Carne Caliente (Spanish meat selection) was pure Spanish, dusted with salt and that crumbly texture that sets morcilla apart from ‘black pudding’. I rather liked the firm textured Albondigas (meat balls in a tomato sauce £5) but Dougie-boy didn’t take to the tomato sauce.
Anyway, the red wines – a great selection, by the bottle and a goodly number available by the glass. The Salmos 2009, Priorat (£7/£34) gorgeous blend of smooth spicy fruit, ripe, full palate and a long finish and the plummy, peppery Callabriga 2009 from the Alentejo (£6.50/£29) were followed by the morcilla-loving Celeste Crianza 2007 from Ribera del Duero (£7.20/£35).
A good number of ports on the list too – the Hutcheson Colheita 1998 (£8 a glass) was a lovely end to the meal although rather swamped when sampled next to the salty and strong Picon blue cheese.
That ‘great meal’ equation is getting more complicated. Can you tell I’m far from being a mathematician? You have ambience, staff friendliness, quality of food, value and range of wine, a factor to cover the amiability of the company you are with and so much more. How you balance all these factors is rather beyond me. What I can say though is that, overall, The Port House is going to score rather decently.
Photo Gallery: Lunch at the Port House
Lunch at The Port House, 417 The Strand, London