One Woodbrook Place is becoming quite an interesting place for lovers of great food. Not long ago, the row of failed shops on the huge plaza of Port-of-Spain’s most exclusive address, looked and felt like an ill-conceived retail wasteland.
But several new restaurants have opened recently and on most nights, there’s a buzz as diners take the opportunity to enjoy al fresco dining.
One of the new places that’s quietly making a name for itself is The Port, a fine dining restaurant led by businessman Christian Espinet and his executive chef Akins Glasgow.
The Port is modern, comfortable and unpretentious with good service. This is exactly what owner Espinet wanted when he decided he wanted his own restaurant.
The 29-year-old isn’t just a businessman who feels a restaurant is a good money-making opportunity. He is a proper foodie who reads cookbooks like novels and finds joy in early-morning trips to the Central Market to ensure his kitchen has only the freshest produce. Espinet lived in the US for ten years, and worked at several positions in the restaurant industry there. As a result, he has a very clear vision of what he wanted his establishment to be like.
“I’m aiming for a culture of excellence here,” Espinet said. “In our team we want people to think and constantly innovate.”
Espinet is aiming for sustainability and balance, and at The Port, he wants to use as much local produce as possible.
“Our local pork is top and our tuna is top. We want to find a middle ground that’s healthy, reflects T&T’s flavours and is also creative.”
For that creativity, Espinet turned to Glasgow, a protégé of Khalid Mohammed, the highly-regarded chef behind Chaud and Chaud Cafe.
Glasgow is one of the “new guard” of relatively young chefs like Cristian Grini at Buzo and John Aboud at Aioli who are at the forefront of local fine dining.
Shortly after leaving the T&T Hospitality Institute, Glasgow joined Mohammed at Battimamselle as a sous chef. “Khalid made a heavy investment in my career and for this I’m really grateful. I gained some invaluable experience working with him.”
He worked with Mohammed at Chaud and was head chef when he left in 2013 to do his own catering and personal cheffing.
“Initially I blanked Christian,” he said with a cheeky laugh. “I was enjoying doing my own thing.”
But Espinet was determined and Glasgow said he was eventually won over by Espinet’s passion and clear vision of what he wanted.
Another thing that probably convinced Glasgow of Espinet’s seriousness was his choice of Italian Michelin star chef Gianfranco Chiarini as consultant chef for The Port.
The Italian, known for his flair and innovation, was here for a few weeks to advise the team at The Port on all aspects of the operation. Impressed by T&T’s various ethnic influences and the wealth of produce available, Chiarini urged Glasgow and his team to use the local flavours to their advantage.
And the result is an adventurous menu that succeeds because of accomplished cooking, bold flavours and great flair.
Inspired by chef Chiarini, Glasgow’s creativity comes through as he puts a twist on some of our accustomed flavours and delicacies. So, you can have his take on pholourie, served with basil gel, tamarind, prawn and cilantro. Curry crab and dumpling is the influence for a pasta dish of tagliatelle with crab and coconut curry.
Most people are curious about the use of sapodilla in the pork belly with sapodilla barbecue sauce served with sweet potato fries. The sweet tanginess of the sapodilla sauce works as a foil to the fattiness of the pork belly.
The Port also boasts an extensive sushi menu, including signature rolls like the Volcano Roll (spicy tuna, salmon skin, sriracha, tempura flakes and eel sauce) and Dancing Eel (cucumber, kanikama, sriracha, unagi and tobiko).
One of the attractions at The Port is the Friday special. The special is a dish that focuses on one ingredient. This week, lamb that has been whole roasted in the restaurant’s roasting and smoking closet is the special ingredient. The lamb is served with a selection of sides and sauces along with sangria, spritzer or beer for $100.
“I’m trying to make Friday a culinary showmanship day,” Espinet said. “You come in and get a well-executed, marvelously-tasting ingredient.”
Espinet, Glasgow and the young, dynamic team are on to something good. The Port is certainly helping to liven up the scene at One Woodbrook Place.
The Port, Unit No 5,
One Woodbrook Plaza,
Opening hours: 11 am–11 pm.
Reservations are recommended