Don't let the picture above fool you. The Portrait Restaurant at the top of the National Portrait Gallery was a mixed bag. Yes, they are entitled to a modicum of pride and bravado given the unparallelled view of London they afford the customer, but not if the customer leaves with an empty wallet and unsatisfied palate. We were there for lunch, and I was the lucky one: the Scallops with smoked bacon, pea shoots, and cauliflower purée (pictured above) was perfectly executed. The scallops were fat and luxuriously soft, and the bacon just crispy and meaty enough to offset the silky texture of the rest of the dish. But £22.50 for four scallops?! (I requested a main course serving, as it's only on the menu as a starter.) This eclipses Bentley's, purveyor of the capital's best seafood in my opinion, and is hard to justify.
I'll keep the descriptions of disappointments brief. J's Nordic pickled Herring Plate was a badly crafted dish, and elicited only a grimace and heavy silence from its recipient. A's Smoked Chicken Caesar Salad was likewise uninspiring: a satisfactory yet bland lunch dish that obviously passes through the kitchen galley from fridge to plate with just a cursory glance from the chef, if it's lucky. A quenelle of dark chocolate ice cream for dessert was rich, but somehow devoid of chocolatiness - the flavour disappearing as soon as it hit the tongue.
The service was enthusiastic and friendly, if a little chaotic. I spotted Jon Snow by the window, deep in conversation when we arrived and nursing a coffee when we left, and the rest of the clientele were well-heeled types, clearly bedded in for a long boozy lunch. I can't fault the restaurant for its setting and atmosphere, but do think the menu needs a little more attention before it truly hits the mark. I hear it's a rather special place for dinner, with the lights dimmed and the night skyline offering a romantic panorama, so may just return to give the food another try, armed with a glass of champagne.