Is it a pub? Is it a cocktail bar? No, it’s the Portobello Star, a hip and hectic watering hole that suffers from its cramped layout.
Portobello Star is quite possibly one of the worst laid out bars for somewhere that’s consistently busy. The exterior looks more like an upmarket gastropub than a cocktail bar, but step inside and you'll see it’s definitely more of the latter.
Initially, the space is incredibly narrow - it's almost corridor-like at the front with a few tables and chairs leading to a long bar on the left with a few high stools and chairs positioned by it, which makes it even tougher to negotiate your way through when there’s a crowd. It does, however, open out at the back to a larger seating area with brown leather sofa-style seating running around the outer edge of the space and white leather armchairs. A mirror helps to create the illusion of more space but it’s still very claustrophobic. The décor is neutral with lots of dark woods and brown and white leather, but it’s enlivened by a large orange starburst pattern covering one of the walls, which adds some interest.
Prepare to get squashed. The Portobello Star draws in tourists, market-goers and locals - and it draws in lots of them. It can get very cramped in here very quickly and you’ll soon be struggling to get to and from the bar. When they crank the music up loud at the weekend you’ll be shouting to be heard, elbowing your way in and out of the crowd, and will quickly tire of the melee. And the staff aren’t the most friendly in London, proving that hip isn’t always best.
Give ‘em their dues, the cocktails at the Portobello Star are excellent and they are very well priced with many coming in at £7-£8. And the cocktail menu itself is something to behold, more of a book with cute and interesting stories on each of the cocktails, really adding something to the experience of drinking here. They offer a good mix of classics and twists, such as the Earl Grey mar-tea-ni - a well mixed martini with a strong undertone of tea, which makes it surprisingly refreshing with an almost herbal kick. Otherwise, they mix a mean margarita that packs quite a kick but has a gentle aftertaste that shows they’re not trawling out the cheap spirits, despite the competitive prices.
The Last Word
Portobello Star would get a higher rating if it was based on the quality of the drinks alone; unfortunately, the cramped conditions really detract from the experience of drinking here. If you’re heading down early in the week when it’s quieter then stick another star on the rating.