A great local eaterie that ticks the boxes for families, friends and business lunches. Buona sera, Portabello!
I first ate at Portabello last year, about 14 years after the rest of Summertown had descended for its first taste of this family-friendly modern European brasserie (hey don’t judge, there are a lot of eateries to get around!). The restaurant, with its raised outdoor seating and awning, sits close to the Banbury Road end of the chichi charms of South Parade, a street that also boasts the brilliant North Wall Theatre (and Teddies school behind it), Oxford Wine Cafe, the Sarah Wiseman Gallery (great exhibition on at the moment there of Sarah Spackman and Linda Bloomfield) Mamma Mia pizzeria (officially the best pizzeria in the UK 2017) and upmarket Vanilla boutique. The majority of customers will be locals and theatre goers, as Summertown, only two miles from the centre of Oxford, is still well off the tourist track.
Benignly buzzy. The clientelle are a tasteful mix of business types, retirees, families, and even some groups of children (St Edward’s School just down the road). With its sweeping bar, two eating areas, and the lure of the verandah, it manages what many other restaurants I visit fail to deliver and that’s atmosphere. Certainly it helps that Summertown is a well heeled, wealthy area and Portabello, along with The Oxford Cafe on Banbury Road, are probably its two most established restaurants.
The light, modern restaurant is split into two halves with a central bar scooping round in a semi-circle across both sides (below)…
Turn to the right as you enter and it’s banquette seating right down the side, set against exposed brick walls, large photo prints and ‘specials’ blackboards (where I ate first time – lunch, alone *gah*)
Turn left instead, where I ate for this review, for a cosy tan leather banquette cubby at the rear (below), and bistro tables to the front and the right side.
As you can see, the interior design is attractive – I love the floor tiles, simple pendant downlighters, exposed brickwork and the accents of teal paint that give intimacy in the candlelight but look clean and bright in the day.
Portabello offers a bit of everything really – charcuterie board (below) for nibblers; steaks and burgers for the beefy crowdpleasers; risottos, pastas and salads; and then the thoughtful stuff like menus for vegans and children.
Our charcuterie board (yes that is a bellini you’re seeing in the background) was much more filling than my photo gives it credit for, with ham croquettes, breasaola, home smoked duck breast, pickles and bread.
I could have stopped there really but that would require willpower. Instead, I ordered homemade ravioli of butternut squash, spinach and ricotta with a toasted pinenut and rocket salad (£13.95). The ravioli was a bit rustically chewy around the edges – no stinting on the pasta here! – but was otherwise delicious. Again, it was pretty enormous.
Dessert nodded hello to health with a white wine and saffron poached pear (yeah with icecream, what of it?). and was super-delicious.
The charms of South Parade will keep you busy for an hour or two (or more if you’re hitting the theatre) but otherwise it’s into Oxford with you. Easiest on the bus – I often park at Summertown to head into the city centre – but if you’re driving it will take you 10 minutes to be bumper to pillar with The Ashmolean, the colleges and Cornmarket for shopping.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Fams, friends, business lunchers and relaxed groups in the evenings. Brunchy nibblers out on that verandah are ideal when the weather allows. Anyone wanting excellent food on a budget – I thought the prices were very reasonable given the quality of food. Vegans and kids are catered for with their own menus. Monday nights you can bring your own wine for £5 corkage.
Not for: Anyone looking for a more formal dining experience. This is a superior brasserie serving the local area, but doesn’t make pretensions above that.
£££: Entrées mostly £7-9, Most mains £13-18, with ribeye steak at £22.50, desserts mostly £6.50. Fixed price lunch an enticing £7.95. Mon-Fri happy hour cocktails and fizz every day from 5 – 7.30pm.
Portabello, 7 South Parade, Summertown, Oxford, OX2 7JL. Tel: 01865 559653. portabellorestaurant.co.uk