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Brasserie on Portland: no longer a can of sardines

Gordo reports: It’s a jewel of a restaurant in what was a s*** ‘ole of an hotel

Written by . Published on July 12th 2006.

Brasserie on Portland: no longer a can of sardines

It’s now sixteen years or so since Gordo walked through the front doors of the Princess Hotel on Portland Street after it had received a half-cocked conversion from a cotton showroom into the hotel. For fourteen years it has been a can of sardines. The old Jewish joke goes like this;

“Hymie sells his pal and neighbour Alfie twenty cases of sardines at a much reduced price. Alfie gets Ruth to cook them for dinner that night, but they discover them to be rotten. Alfie nips round to Hymie’s to give him a piece of his mind. Hymie, however, looks at Alfie as if he has just got of the banana boat. “Alfie, are you mental? They’re for selling, not for eating”.”

The hotel over the years has been a can of very rotten sardines. Bought and sold more times than Gordo’s had hot dinners. However, a couple of years ago Gordo walked in one Saturday afternoon to find that the place had gone through a serious makeover. After a top notch steak sandwich Gordo struck up a conversation with a bloke with a big smile who turned out to be the new owner, James Alexander whom it turned out also owns The Castle Green Hotel up in Cumbria, (http://www.castlegreen.co.uk). Known to Gordo as a very well run, top of the mill gaff. In fact this year it has won the hotel of the year award amongst the Best Western group.

Shortly afterwards Gordo’s pal, Jonathon Schofield, gave the restaurant four out of five in his City Life column, a very high score for a hotel brasserie, along with a swipe at James’s colour scheme. “…the paintwork comes courtesy of the hitherto little known Crown paint range of Can’t Be Bothered colours…”. Vintage Schofield that. To the rest of us, this means relaxing creams and beige. Gordo rather likes it. It’s all kind of, well, Galaxy Chocolate. Yum.

We have reported a couple of times on the restaurant, but thought against scoring in case the rather good chef, Ashley Clark, ex Malmaison, was in there just as a stop gap. The lad is still there, so Gordo tripped down a couple of weeks ago to see how they were all getting on.

Walking through the entrance, to the right is a small, comfortable bar decked out in chocolate brown leather, with a good screen for watching sports. To the left is a large lounge area, thick carpets and very comfy sofas. You can sit down here and have a drink whilst looking at the menu. The restaurant itself is around the back, on a split level with an open kitchen where you can watch the brigade at work. The raised area looks across Portland street, which makes for lively viewing during the course of the evening.

The team have done a great job of creating a space that feels very much like a ‘proper’ restaurant in it’s own right. Space in places can be a little tight, they have to balance out the fact that the room has to serve all the breakfasts in the morning. This though, is where Gordo believes the team succeeds. It would be so easy to give up and cater to the travelling business people in the hotel. Instead, this small team are working their asses off to try and deliver food that will bring outsiders in. Do they succeed?

Lets start on a downer. The bread is poor, the type you get at a function, with enough poppy seeds to irritate, but not enough to flavour. Gordo had the Serrano ham and artichoke salad, green olive tapenade, red pepper salsa. All the starters were £6, by the way. The tapenade was a bit bland. It was an honest home made effort, all that’s needed here is a stronger raw ingredient to bring it up to scratch. The Serrano ham was the business. The hardest part is always dressing the salad, this was done well with a lightness of touch which shouts out “passion in the kitchen”.

For more information on the Brasserie on Portland, click here

Lindsay’s starter was Pan-fried salmon, Indian spiced fennel, coconut dressing. It crouched on a mattress-sized blini, which turned out to be deceptively light and fluffy. This was a total success. Loved it, salmon was just cooked in the middle; you, dear reader, may be the squeamish type so let them know how you would like it cooked.

Onto the mains. Lindsay’s was Market fish of the day, char-grilled squid, chickpea, spinach and lemon salad; the market fish was salmon again, it’s a good job Lindsay likes the stuff. The dish was a good ‘un, in particular the squid. It was outstanding. Gordo had the Rump of lamb studded with rosemary, confit shallot mash, green pepper sauce. The sauce looked a bit strange, kind of translucent, but tasted fab. The lamb was wonderful. Gordo guessed at the provenance; either Frosts Butchers or Alan Jackson in Alderley Edge. It was Frosts, not bad eh? The only other lamb that measured up this year was from Mark at The Malmaison, guess who served him that one? Yup, Frosts.

Sides of Fat Cut Chips were as good as Gordo’s home made, and the Southern Fried Onion rings should be banned they are just too moorish. But not with this cuisine guys. Serve them in the lounge with a good burger. Mind you, a bit pricy these sides at £3.50. Gordo is going to negotiate next time.

We shared a chocolate brownie. Another home made piece, this time a cracker served with a sharp orange ice cream. You will like this. All desserts are a fiver.

It was a hot night. We drank an outstanding Rosé, Rosato 1 Range, Crittenden, Australia; all strawberries and cream. "The best rose in the world?", asks the menu. £18.50. Not quite guys, that would be Domaine Ott, a Bandol from Provence, but pretty close behind and half the price.

Go to this little belter of a restaurant with rooms. It’s not perfect, but you will enjoy it. Not the least because everyone in the place takes a pride in it. They all want to be associated with good food and are passionate about making the restaurant a success. They deserve our support.


Great parking at the rear of the building by the way and a short walk to the theatres.

A Gordo Go.


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