Food review: Portobello, Aldridge
The best nights out are often when discovering great foodie finds out of the blue. Leigh Sanders did just that stumbling on a real Italian gem
William Shakespeare supposedly once said, ‘If music be the food of love, play on’.
Let’s change that a little bit – ‘If food be the music of love, play on’.
Food makes the world go around. We need it to survive and it has been traded since the days of our cave dwelling past.
In the modern world, food still holds sway. Are you feeling upset? Here’s some chocolate. Had a row? Get a takeaway to make amends. Celebrating an occasion? Let’s go out for dinner.
From the mundane to the magnificent we seem to mark many events with food.
It’s what sticks in the memory too. Quite often, an innocent venture out on a Wednesday after a hard day at work could lead to the discovery of a new favourite.
Years down the line it could be where you mark a major milestone suchs as announcing to your mum that in a few months’ time she is going to start having to put the word ‘grand’ at the start of her title. Or even popping the big question to your beloved.
Some of the best restaurant discoveries are the ones made by accident. After deciding with the other half that we fancied some food out instead of the usual routine of a supermarket trip together we jumped on good old Google.
A quick scan and we had a table booked at Portobello, a little Italian treat tucked away on Aldridge High Street.
It’s easy to find, the hub of eateries and pubs along the centre of the village is quite hard to get lost in.
For those that designate a driver, there is a public car park in the lane behind this row of establishments that needs to be paid for. And parking charges for one, two and three-hour stops were pretty reasonable.
The staff took the time to ask us if we planned to drive when booking by phone. I am not sure I would have thought to take the small turning close to the entrance if left to my own devices, so the tip beforehand was much appreciated and put the staff in a good light for the remainder of the night.
The approach is clean, tidy and welcoming with its outdoor seating area and heaters for those who wish to smoke.
As the weather is warmer the doors and windows were left open to let a nice breeze circulate inside.
The venue is split in two.
As well as the Italian restaurant, there is also a bar next door – Prego Bar – that you enter through first. Full of high-seated tables and a well-stocked bar it means that if you have a works function or want to make a full evening of it there is another option available either before or after food. Or both, if you want to really push the boat out.
We were seated quickly by staff as the restaurant was pretty empty early on a midweek evening.
We seated so that we could see both out into the high street and also easily into the open-plan kitchen where the food was being prepared. For nosy people watchers like us this was perfect.
The menus are nicely-sized and full of choice without making it overwhelming and too difficult to make a decision.
Get those Italian phrasebooks ready if you don’t want to seem an ‘ignorant Brit’ and just point at options.
Drinks were also brought quickly – I wouldn’t have expected less with the small number of tables sat at so far.
The staff were friendly and served with a smile. They helped with choices, explaining ingredients in certain dishes, offered us extra sides, but never seemed intrusive or uninterested.
With beers and spirits delivered to the table it was now time for food.
To start with I had the cannelloni al forno – tubes of pasta filled with beef and vegetables covered with Bolognese sauce then oven baked with mozzarella cheese.
As a cheese lover, this was ideal. Piping hot, it was perfectly melted over the pasta and added a lot of flavour to the dish. It perhaps could have been seasoned a little more to add a spark but the sauce and the contents had more than enough flavour as they were.
It was fairly sized – perhaps if looking for a quick snack on the go this would prove adequate. But it wasn’t overly huge. I didn’t finish it worrying about having to tackle a main next. A big plus when having a multi-course meal.
My girlfriend had the funghi con la panna, which consisted of whole button mushrooms with white wine, lemon and Parmesan in a cream and garlic sauce served with ciabatta. She too liked the amount of cheese she had on her dish as it made it an exciting treat for her taste buds. But she, being smaller than myself, thought the size was perhaps a bit on the large side and it could maybe have had less ciabatta which filled her up.
It was also at this point she noticed the flowers on our table had seen better days. While they may have lacked a bit of life, the food certainly didn’t and we were eagerly awaiting round two.
For me this was the pollo con prosciutto al forno. A tender breast of chicken, it was topped with cured ham and cooked in a rich Napoli sauce, then smothered in mozzarella cheese and baked in the oven.
I loved the texture of the meat here. I was a little concerned my chicken may be overdone and dry inside the mound of heat but it was as tender as the menu had promised and packed full of flavour. The ham added a nice zing to the dish and, again, the cheese was perfect for me – melted and releasing its own strong taste over the food.
My partner opted for a pizza, picking the prosciutto crudo. This was a cheese and tomato pizza base baked in the oven then covered with cured ham and fresh rocket.
We also had ordered side portions of olives and bread and oils which were rich in flavour and added a different seasonings for our taste buds to enjoy.
A huge rocket fan, she was chuffed with the amount she received, and the light and crispy nature of her pizza also pleased her as, again, it didn’t leave her feeling full and like she had overdone it.
I could say the same. Whereas at this point you are normally weighing up the possibility of a dessert pushing you to the point of feeling a bit ill, we were more than ready to take them on.
Picking from a specials board placed on our table we had the usual negotiating drama where my dessert choice often becomes something she likes so she can enjoy her own as well as trying what I’ve got.
For her it was the tiramisu – which, by the way, she described as the ‘best ever’ and she doesn’t usually laud things unnecessarily, believe me. It was creamy and the coffee was described as ‘super strong’ to give it a bitter twist that complemented the sweetness.
I had the Mars bar cheesecake which was absolutely beautiful. I wolfed the whole thing down. The smooth nature really giving the feel of eating the iconic chocolate bar itself with its nougat gooeyness. I would even go as far as calling it perfect. It was certainly my highlight of the evening.
So, with the quick service we received we were back at the car with plenty of time to spare on our parking ticket.
And we also had the knowledge and contentedness of discovering somewhere to bring people back to when we do have something to celebrate.