The Oak is arguably the original Pizza East. It certainly is in the Portobello sense anyway. An old pub (tick) with period features retained (tick) and yet a swish, upmarket menu focusing on antipasto and shared nibbles (tick) and then crowned with a massive pizza oven as a feature (tick tick tick).
The crowd is the same too; loud, chattering and rather annoying types, of whose kin I do not excuse myself. If you don't like hedge fund Yanks, consider Lucky 7 or Crazy Homies next door. Oh wait, they're overrun with them too. You'd better leave Notting Hill in that case...
What The Oak also has, is a cocktail bar upstairs. And a great one it is too. There are busts of famous historical savants, mounted hunting trophies (of the taxidermised kind), beautiful period features such as the fireplace and incredibly high ceilings (is this an estate agents’ blog now?) and the whole space has a warm, Chesterfield-y, Babington vibe. The irony.
It’s part New York, part whiskey room of a posh Scottish country hotel - you could happily nestle in for hot toddies and board games all night. But what they deliver is a great cocktail and wine list, and small tapas plates; formerly Spanish themed but now rather contemporarily dubbed as cicchetti.
It’s also so dark and broody upstairs that the photos of our pre-dinner cicchetti came out terribly. Skip the cubes of pork belly which were overcooked. But definitely order the cheese selection though (£11 ish), their blue is so deep with flavour, it almost tastes meaty. Amazing. And the salt and black pepper martini with Tanqueray gin is something special too - £8.50 or so.
Back downstairs, it’s on to pizzas gastro-pub style on obligatory church chairs. Service is a little better than upstairs, probably because we are more visible. Pizzas are good here; they’re huge and toppings are incredibly generous. As they're so crispy and thin in the Roman style, you really could do with steak knives.
The proscuitto, rocket and parmesan pizza is a monster. Slices of tender proscuitto dominate the pizza more so than the cheese or rocket leaves do. Great for a carnivore and priced at a Pizza East friendly £13.50. Ouch.
The stagioni with ham, artichokes and olives was more balanced than the previous ham-fest, but still generous. The tomato sauce was more noticeable too. With the proscuitto pizza, I think it had been applied a little thinly and so became dried in, on baking. Compared to Pizza East’s rich, decadent base, The Oak’s tomato sauce is perfunctory at best.
Pappardelle with duck ragu wasn’t as successful (£13.50). The pasta tasted homemade and was correctly cooked, but the sauce was a little weak and watery.
The seared tuna with salsa verde (£15.50) was an attractive dish: well-cooked and very nicely proportioned.
Overall, I think I prefer The Oak for this type of dining experience in the area. It’s less frenetic and sceney (although not to say that it isn’t guilty of either) and more spacious and relaxing. They don’t take reservations, but they will take your name and fetch you from the bar upstairs. They offer many tempting main courses if you don’t fancy pizza – I guess they’re not pigeon holing themselves by having pizza as their definitive proposition or indeed, in their name.
The cocktail bar certainly helps diversify things. If I didn’t want pizza, I wouldn’t go to Pizza East but you could easily spend a night boozing upstairs here. The private dining area is fantastic too.
Food – 7/10
Drink – 8/10
Service - 7/10
Value – 6/10 (quite steep: with cocktails, wine, snacks, mains and others, bills could nudge £60p/h)
Tap water tales – 8/10 (ice jug brought without asking)
Staff Hotness – 7/10