For the romance factor, make this your next port of call...
With two venues in Ireland already, The Port House has made its move to the big smoke. Conveniently located on the Strand, yet with more of a Covent Garden feel, diners can enjoy traditional tapas and Basque pintxos, Spanish bar snacks. The restaurant also specialises in sherry, fine port and an intriguing collection of flavoured gin.
Walking into The Port House is like stepping into a cosy, underground vault. Long, narrow and intimate, its natural brickwork and candle-lit alcoves make it the ideal setting for a romantic night out. Set in the heart of the West End, it's fittingly reminiscent of the cellars in The Phantom of the Opera, minus the underground lake – and the kidnapping, obviously. For an informal bite, there's also a sit-at bar, which leads through to the main restaurant.
The two-page menu is split into cold dishes, pintxos and hot tapas, categorised by meat, vegetable and fish. Served when ready, it's a good idea to order as you eat (which also avoids any 'eyes too big for your stomach' scenarios).
The plato de chacineria (£10.50), is a generous selection of Spanish cured meats. Among them, moreish lomo de cerdo, chorizo and delicate slivers of pata negra, freshly carved from the bone.
Starting at £2.50 for toasted Gallician bread with crushed tomatoes, garlic and olive oil, most of the pintxos come served on toast. Variations include marinated and roasted mackerel fillet, served on toast (£4.25), and mini sirloin steak, grilled and served on garlic butter toast (£4.75).
The crispy croquetas are perfectly imperfect, individually made and a slightly different shape and size. For those unable to make the difficult decision between serrano, chicken or mushroom, there's a sharing platter offering two of each (£6) – job done.
Highly recommended is the slow-cooked duck confit leg with membrillo sauce (£7.50). The sweet quince glaze complements the natural fattiness of the meat and the expertly crisped duck skin. After sucking the bone clean, you'll be more than tempted to order another. For a tasty morsel, try the grilled marinated lamb chops (£9.95) – succulent, though small.
Calamares with alioli (£5.95) lack bite. With a slight sogginess to the batter, they're a minor disappointed given what's gone before, and for what should be a tapas staple, a surprising disappointment.
Served in beautifully garnished, oversized balloon glasses, gin and tonic lovers will find themselves in seventh heaven. The Dingle gin with orange, cinnamon and fever tree tonic adorned with flower petals and lemon rind spirals (£7.50) is a refreshingly, exotic tipple. Also on the menu is Bombay Sapphire with lime and lemongrass, as well as Beefeater 24 with pressed apple, and Hendrick's with cucumber – the taste of summer, whatever that looks like.
The Last Word
As far as ambience goes, The Port House has it in glassfuls – balloon glassfuls. The muted candlelight, intimate seating and convenient sharing plates make it a date night dream. Forget last-minute flowers and chocolates, if a trip to The Port House doesn't work, nothing will.