While the mammoth renovation at the National Portrait Gallery may have been the talk of the town over recent months, now there’s a new opening at the culture hot spot that’s causing all the buzz: The Portrait. Richard Corrigan’s latest restaurant venture has taken over the fourth floor, offering up beautifully cooked British fare in sumptuous surroundings, with a side order of some of the most spectacular views over London. Here’s why The Portrait is our restaurant of the week.
The National Portrait Gallery – you may have heard? – reopened in June to much fanfare after a three-year renovation costing £41.3m. To call it a success is an understatement. Visit today and you’ll find yourself doing battle with the hordes of tourists and culture vultures, clustering around Jamie Coreth’s portrait of the Prince of Wales and his Vampire’s Wife-clad princess.
If you need a cup of tea (or a stiff drink) first, we recommend scooting up in the lift to the 4th floor for the comparative peace and quiet of Richard Corrigan’s new opening The Portrait. I’ve been twice already. Once for a press lunch attended by a Who’s Who of London’s food cognoscenti (a reminder of the high esteem in which the avuncular Irish chef is held), and once for dinner.
On both occasions the weather was atrocious but, nevertheless, the panoramic views through the windows out over the rooftops of London were simply stunning. You can check off the famous sights as you turn your head 180 degrees: St Martin-in-the-Fields, the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament, Nelson’s Column…
The design by Brady Williams Studio is subtle and soft-toned, with lowkey luxury touches such as bespoke wall panels by de Gournay, ruched linen lampshades and brass-inlay honey-coloured floor tiles. The Portrait is just the sort of comfortable, respectable place you might want to take parents, grandparents, maybe an auntie, a godmother, or an out-of-town guest who doesn’t give a fig about joining the queue at Cadet or squeezing into Straker’s or wherever the youngsters go.
That’s not to damn it: there’s a lovely buzz in the packed dining room and it’s cheering to see old and young eating together. This is what a restaurant should look like! And the prices are sensible by central London standards too: £35 for a three-course lunch and pre-theatre menu; main courses not more than £35.
Richard Corrigan and co are cooking food to please that audience. As you’d expect of this proud champion of British Isles ingredients, his menu at The Portrait is all about exceptional ingredients such as traditional breed pork from Huntsham Farm, Cornish mackerel, Carlingford oysters, native lobster and seasonal ingredients including artichokes, sweetcorn and girolles. They’re used creatively in dishes that nod to tradition but also surprise. Thus, tomato salad with a Martini dressing, a whole globe artichoke with cock crab seasoned with kombu powder, and homemade pasta with snail bolognaise.
It’s good to see soup celebrated too (whatever happened to soup? People love soup). At The Portrait restaurant, you might find gazpacho with courgette cream and lobster, retro cauliflower ‘crème Dubarry’, or sweetcorn chowder with a swirl of salt cod cream and fresh jalapeño. A basket of Corrigan’s famous soda bread is a must. Halibut and brown crab hollandaise is as described; very simple, very comforting, and all the more so with a side of glossy olive oil mash. Pudding, a pot de crème with blackcurrants and shortbread, is a taste of the English summer.
About that cup of tea I mentioned. Even if you only nip into The Portrait for a drink, you’ll see the care taken. The tea is by top purveyors Jing, the pale ale is from social enterprise brewery Toast, and they’ll mix you a refreshingly lower alcohol aperitif such as a retro muscatel and tonic with a slice of orange. Wines start at £30 and roam across the globe from Croatia to Georgia, Lebanon to California. You could stay here all day. Perhaps you should see the art first after all…