I remember my first visit to Portland Variety in the summer of 2014. Back then I was quite impressed with the quality of the food and cocktails. Flash forward to November 2015, and we’re visiting again to see what’s new and exciting on Portland Variety’s new fall/winter menu.
The kitchen is now helmed by Chef Matty Cowan, previously from the Rosebud, Simple Bistro, and Catch. For him, Portland Variety not only describes how the restaurant transforms from a bakery cafe in the morning, to a tapas restaurant at night, but also the style of food he aims to create. “My cooking is just that, a variety, of textures, flavours and culinary cultures”, exclaims Cowan. The new menu draws inspiration from the different cultures that make up the mosaic of our country.
The menu is divided into five categories. The “bits and bites” are small snacks that arrive quickly after ordering to start off your meal. From these, my favourite was definitely the Iberico chorizo croquettes, bringing back memories of the last time I was in Spain. They were delicate – crispy on the outside and creamy and soft on the inside. From the salads, the roasted heirloom roots was deliciously paired with burrata (pictured above), though I personally prefer burrata simple and accompanied with some crostini. My pick would be the black kale salad, with chèvre noir, picked grapes, hazelnuts, and burnt honey dressing. This was taste and fresh, and tickles your tastebuds with its layers of flavour.
From the cold category, I enjoyed the whipped house-made ricotta, with its richness contrasted with the refreshing spiced roasted plums, and the creaminess juxtaposed with the crushed pistachios. The hot section contained my hands-down favourites of the night. First, there was the piri piri fried hen with hot honey glaze, which was incredibly succulent, and had a nice balance of spicy and sweet. The sticky lamb ribs are sure to be an instant favourite with many. They are fall-off-the-bone good, and I loved the unexpected sprinkling of peanut brittle on top.
If that wasn’t enough deliciousness for one night, the composed section had braised shortribs, which were oh-so-tender. This was served on a bed of polenta with truffle oil. Also from the composed section was the gnocchi alla Romana, which were cooked to the right firmness, and served with a burnt butter puree. Finally, for dessert we had beignets, which were bite sized, with vanilla custard centres. It was hard to eat just one, even as full as we were.
The cocktail menu also had some new additions for the fall/winter menu. The Lolita, with Tromba silver tequila, agave syrup, fresh lime juice, tropical green tea, and fresh ginger was fresh and crisp. An old favourite – the tequila bong – is served literally smoking as it is poured in front of you.
I’ve returned multiple times to Portland Variety since they first opened. A few times I visited in the morning on my walk to work to grab a chocolate bomb and a coffee. Last summer, I sat on the patio with friends drinking cocktails and sharing tapas. And with this new seasonal menu, I’ll be sure to return for dinner this winter. Portland Variety is located at 587 King St. West, at the corner of King St. West and Portland St.
Photos by John Tan