This is a newish place, serving fancy food with a Portuguese slant. There is a bar at the front, and in the back a rather lovely glass conservatory with plant-shielded windows. The decor is similar to many other places of this genre - white table cloths, dark wood, exotic flower buds in little shot glasses on the tables.
It's a good place for a special treat, and for that the prices are quite reasonable. Before the meal we were treated to a selection of bread served with butter and olive oil/vinegar combo, shot glasses of warm green soup, little ramekins of some flavoursome vegetables, miniature vegetarian tarts and generous half-moons of ravioli stuffed with duck and wild mushrooms with a chilli sauce. Of the starters, the star was probably duo of tuna and salmon attain - deliciously fresh and tender raw fish. Mille feuille of goats cheese with asparagus, poached egg and hollandaise sauce was also gorgeous, if a little too rich. Anchovies served with roast tomatoes were, quite frankly, rather dull, but as the dish met its description word for mouthful and there were plenty of alternatives (a choice of 10 or so starters), one can't really complain. Tuna with foie gras came with two very generous slabs of the fatty goose liver pate, but might have been tastier had the tuna been cooked for less time. The main winner was braised bisaro (apparently some kind of Portuguese pig crossed with a wild boar), which very tender and flavoursome and hearty in a wintry casserole kind of way. The fillet of sea bass benefited from the rich flavours of an accompanying crab and sun dried tomato risotto. This is a place with an ambitious menu, and most of it works very well. There are the odd slip ups - a lump of something that looked and tasted like suet pudding that came with the tataki for example, or a bizarre little pot of green stuff which came with the Dover sole and tasted distantly of mustardy creamed spinach. But overall, the meal was a success.
The place seems to attract a mixed crowd, from groups of friends to business meetings to loved-up couples. The wine list has some interesting bottles from Portugal at reasonable prices, and a couple of bottle largers from that part of the world. The staff are friendly, though the service was perhaps a little too slow on this visit.
With booze and the 12 percent service charge, expect to pay about £90 for a two-course dinner for two. The bar, I believe, also offers an alternative menu of small tapas-style dishes, which we have yet to sample. It is advisable to book the restaurant unless you are going mid-week.
Portal, 88 St John's Street, London, EC1M 4EH, Tel. 0207 253 6950; Tube: Barbican; www.portalrestaurant.co.uk