Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Garage Lounge, Southsea

Not long ago, there actually was a garage at number 1, Albert Road, Southsea, but it closed during 2011. Albert Road is about ten minutes' walk from Southsea's main shopping centre, and it's a street filled with small restaurants, pubs and cafes, as well as a motley selection of shops, some of which are pretty quirky. It's a residential area where many of the sizeable old houses in the side streets have been turned into student housing. If you just wanted to go for a coffee, it would be hard to find anywhere in the evening, and during the day you would be more likely to head to the Palmerston Road area. The Garage Lounge, however, has made it possible to have breakfast, a light lunch, afternoon tea or a non-alcoholic evening drink away from the shopping precinct.

My first visit to the Garage Lounge was on a Sunday morning at around 11am. It was fairly busy, but my son and I managed to find a table in a corner at the back. The lounge is furnished in an unusually retro style unlike anywhere else locally. There are old-fashioned sofas and chairs, even a chaise longue. Lamps and flower vases are similarly from another era. Cream cakes and fruit salad are displayed in a large, dark wooden cabinet with panes of glass. Soft drinks are kept in old-style cooling boxes, and there's a row of glass jars containing a variety of fruit and herb teas. The coffee machine may be an ultra modern one, but the till on the counter is delightfully old-fashioned.

Customers have to order and pay at the counter, and food and drinks are then brought to the table by a waitress. We both decided to have an Americano along with a granola bar, and my son ordered an orange juice as well. The bill came to about £12. The coffee was served in mis-matched china and tasted wonderful, but we did have to request milk to go with it. The granola bars were served on what appeared to be place mats, but these were covered with a thin sheet of paper which seemed very hygienic and presumably saves on washing up. A small garnish of yoghurt and fruit salad came with the bars, which were so chunky that we had to eat them with our fingers rather than the large forks we were given. They were crammed with seeds and dried fruit and were very filling. We noticed that most of the breakfast items were removed from display soon after we arrived, and a little while later the cakes began to appear. A mental note was made to make a second visit at a later time. The waitresses are very quick to come and clear away empty cups and plates or mats, but we were nevertheless able to linger for a while and talk. My son noticed that there were covered sockets on the floor; the Garage Lounge offers free wifi. As it is open until 11pm, he thought it would be the ideal place to come in the evenings occasionally. Even though he lives near to central Southsea, he was quite envious that I live closer to the Garage Lounge than he does!

My second visit came the following Saturday at 1pm, when I was meeting a friend. I went in a few days beforehand to ask about booking a table. At first I was told that wouldn't be necessary, but my request was eventually written in the book and we were given a table by the front window that could actually seat four people. I decided to try the cake this time. There was a fair amount of choice, including butternut squash and coconut, chocolate and beetroot, apple and rhubarb crumble and one or two more creamy affairs. Not wishing to be too naughty, I chose parsnip, walnut and apricot cake (£3.50) along with a large Americano (£2.50). My friend looked at the quiches, where the choice was between goats' cheese and caramelised onion or ham and leek. Sandwiches included Toulouse sausage as well as roasted cherry tomato, aubergine and halloumi with rocket pesto. In the end she decided against those and went for a granola bar and an Americano, just as I had on my first visit.

My cake was served once again on thin paper on top of a mat, with the yoghurt and fruit salad garnish. It was a thick slice with tiny chunks of dried fruit on top. The consistency was just right, neither too soggy or too dry, so I was happy with my choice. The coffee was just as good as it had been the previous Sunday. My friend somehow managed to eat her granola bar with a fork, so she had more success than me. She had said she was very hungry, but the granola is so filling that she didn't quite finish it. We weren't in a hurry to leave, so she ordered an apple and lemon tea and I had a decaffeinated coffee. I was surprised that the coffee tasted almost as good as the Americano, but my friend was a bit disappointed with her tea, as she couldn't taste the apple at all. Our table was reserved for another group at 3pm, so we left about a quarter of an hour before this.

My friend wasn't quite as impressed with the Garage Lounge as I had been. She used to run a tearoom herself and was quick to notice that there was a crack in the sugar bowl on our table, and that the spout of her teapot was chipped. I do like the idea of the mismatched china, but it should be in good condition. We also found on the Saturday afternoon that the music was a little loud, although it hadn't been on the previous Sunday.

There is just one unisex toilet at the Garage Lounge but I can't comment on it. I was waiting outside for several minutes and was eventually invited to use the staff toilet instead. The suggestion was appreciated!

The Garage Lounge doesn't have a website, but I have had a look at their Facebook page. Most of the comments are very favourable, and it seems to be a very popular place. One commentator thought it was pretentious, which to me seems a little unfair. Its décor is very different from anywhere else in either Southsea or Portsmouth; the retro style won't please everyone, but I'm glad that it stands out and makes a statement. Another issue raised, however, is that some of the food on display is left uncovered, and this may have to be addressed. It's true that supermarkets have fresh bakery products on their shelves uncovered, but in a coffee house it should be easy to display cakes in containers with transparent lids.

On the Saturday evening I was in the area again and the Garage Lounge was still crowded just after 6pm. At around 8.15pm it was about half full. It stays open until 11pm, and I think it's a great idea to have somewhere other than a pub serving drinks in the evening. It may not be perfect, but it's stylish, serves wonderful coffee, and for me, it's local. I'm sure I shall be going there again.

The Garage Lounge
1 Albert Road Buildings

Tel. 023 9282 8432

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Ryde Tandoori Restaurant - Isle of Wight

After negotiating countless stone steps at Carisbrooke Castle one Saturday afternoon, we had worked up a good appetite and had just enough time for a bite to eat in Ryde on the Isle of Wight. Having gone for Italian on the previous occasion, I agreed that Indian would be worth a try and we headed for the Ryde Tandoori restaurant on Union Street. As soon as we went in I admired an over-sized Arabesque coffee pot in one corner and a delicate floral display in another. A large photo of a Bengal tiger on one wall seemed quite unusual and more striking than the Bengal landscape on the opposite wall.

We were seated at a table for two in a front corner of the restaurant. Although it was a small table, we did at least have room on the floor in the corner for our belongings. I noticed that all the other tables already had mango chutney, lime pickle and chopped raw onion ready and waiting on them, but ours didn't. Each table also had a pink carnation in a small vase, and ours had unfortunately seen better days. The waiter handed us a menu each and handed us our linen napkins to put on our laps straight away. We ordered a fruit juice each and started to have a look at the menu.

When our drinks were served, the waiter asked if we would like any poppadoms so we ordered three. As it was approaching 6.30pm and we had to catch the last hovercraft back to Southsea at 7.45pm, we asked if we could also order our main dishes then. I'd had a quick look at the specials, but then I'd noticed tandoori trout (£7.95) on the menu. I love trout and had never seen it on an Indian menu before, so I looked no further and decided that it would be my choice. My son had previously tried and very much enjoyed the moglai chicken (£8.45) amongst the specials, and he picked this again. We also order a portion of pilau rice (£2.15) and a vegetable stuffed paratha (£2.45), deciding that we would share everything between us.

Having finished our poppadoms, I hoped the main course would soon be served so that we wouldn't have to rush too much. A few minutes after we had arrived, a couple came in with their two grandchildren. It was obvious that they were regulars from the way they were greeted and chatted to after they had sat down. I was rather peeved that they were served before us, especially as we had been so quick in placing our order. We wondered if it was because tandoori trout takes longer to cook, so perhaps I should give them the benefit of the doubt.

It was nearing 7pm by the time the heater was brought to our table and the waiter brought the food on a trolley. The chutney and pickle had been left on the table, and there was just enough room for everything else. The whole trout was served alongside a salad consisting of two slices of cucumber, two tomato quarters and some finely sliced iceberg lettuce with red cabbage. A slice of lemon was also added. The fish looked gorgeous; I cut it down the middle and passed the tail end to my son. I started of with some rice alongside the trout, which tasted as good as it looked having been cooked to perfection. After a while I tried the moglai chicken, which comes in a creamy almond sauce with pieces of mango. It wouldn't be the right choice for someone who likes hot, spicy curries, but we both enjoyed the fruitiness and the smoothness of the sauce. The chicken was very tender, but nothing could quite compete with the trout for me. I realised that I was neglecting the paratha so had a few pieces of it as I finished off the moglai chicken.

When the waiter came to clear the dishes, we asked if we could have the bill straight away as we were in a hurry. There was no time for dessert – perhaps one day we'll go back on the ferry instead of the hovercraft so that we can have more time to linger. Orange segments and hot towels were brought first, followed by the bill with After Eight mints. The total was £26.90 which we paid by card, leaving a tip in cash.

My son told me that on the previous occasion he had been there, the Ryde Tandoori had been full, although it had been later in the evening. This time, there were plenty of customers coming in to collect takeaway orders, but not many eating in. It's hardly fair to judge, however, as England were playing in the World Cup that evening. I did feel that the tables were a little close together and there wouldn't be much privacy if all of them were occupied.

In terms of food I would say this was one of the best meals I have had in any Indian restaurant. The service was polite, but our waiter did seem a little lacking in confidence. I liked the restaurant itself; it is small with stylish furnishings and décor. Indian music is played at a fairly low volume that does not intrude on conversation.

Not everyone would enjoy the main dishes that we chose, but for those who like spicy Indian food the usual curries are on the menu. I noticed that one of the children who was with her grandparents was having chicken and chips, so there are options for members of a group who don't go for oriental food. 

The toilets were perfectly clean, but there were one or two tiles coming away from the wall in one corner. Paper towels were provided rather than a hand drier.

I would definitely recommend the Ryde Tandoori on the basis of food, but I would prefer to go early before it gets too busy. If I lived locally I can imagine I might use the takeaway service rather than eating in. I should mention that the staff were very friendly and welcoming towards the children who were there. The restaurant is just five minutes' walk from Ryde Esplanade, and therefore ideally located for anyone travelling to the Isle of Wight by ferry or hovercraft.

The Ryde Tandoori is open for lunch but closes between 2.30pm and 6pm, seven days a week.

Ryde Tandoori Restaurant
45 Union Street
Isle of Wight
PO33 2LF

Tel. 01983 563165

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Wagamama, Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth

Having visited Wagamama in Bristol a couple of times, I was enthusiastic about going to the branch that opened in Gunwharf Quays at the end of March. It took me a few weeks to get round to doing so, but I eventually did on a Sunday afternoon in early June. Wagamama is located on the upper level of the waterfront, above Zizzi's and sandwiched between La Tasca and the Slug and Lettuce. The weather was fine and warm enough to sit outside where there is a view of Gunwharf Marina and the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour.

We chose a table that was partly in the sun; there are large black parasols to give shade on the hottest days. The tables have wooden slats and a matching bench either side – there is no back rest, but surprisingly I find this a comfortable way to sit. I did find the bench a little heavy to move back so that I could actually get in, but once there I was fine. Before leaving I went inside the restaurant to the ladies; I was surprised to find several tables on either side with seats that had quite high backrests. Everyone was sitting at the tables that had those seats. They might be pleasantly surprised to find that the benches are more comfortable than they look.

A waitress had to attend to a couple who arrived seconds before us, but she then brought our menus. There was a small printed specials menu which I think is always the same; the crab cakes and kedgeree on this were no longer available. I might well have chosen the kedgeree as I love smoked haddock. The waitress put paper serviettes and a pair of chopsticks each beside a container that held soya sauce, chilli oil and packets of sugar.

It wasn't long before the waitress came to take our drinks order. We both decided on apple and lime juice – my son order a large one (£4.05) but I decided the regular size (£3) would be enough. The drinks at Wagamama are rather pricey, but they are not just juice from concentrate out of a carton. They have a layer of real fruit pulp at the top, and you can tell that they have a lot more goodness in them than run-of-the-mill fruit juice. The tables have a panel down the centre that the waitress writes the numbers of items as you order them with an erasable marker. My son could see the impressions of some numbers that had previously been rubbed off, and said to the waitress that it would tell you what the most popular dishes were! 

We continued to study our menus and decided to order some yasai gyoza (£4.90): five steamed, grilled vegetable dumplings, served with a sweet ginger soy dipping sauce. These were from the side order section, and our idea was to share them. 

Main dishes are priced between £6.45 and £10.45. They are divided into several sections, the majority of which feature noodles: big bowls of noodles in soup, noodles in a coconut based soup, noodles cooked on a hot, flat griddle or noodles in a spicy sauce. There are thick udon noodles as well as thinner ramen noodles. If noodles really aren't your thing, you can choose a rice-based dish or one of three salads. There are quite a few dishes that are suitable for vegetarians, but surprisingly few fish options. Unlike most Indian restaurants, Wagamama offers no western dishes such as steak and chips or omelette, so stay away if you have no desire for Japanese food.

One of my sons was with me and decided to order Miso ramen (£8.45) from the big bowls of noodles in soup section. This consists of 'noodles in a chicken and pork spiced miso soup topped with stir-fried chicken, carrot, leeks, garlic and bean sprouts, garnished with wakame, menma (pickled bamboo shoots), mixed sesame seeds and chilli oil' (quoted from Wagamama's menu). I had in the past few months tried udon noodles both at Wagamama Bristol and Sakura in Southsea, as well as salmon teriyaki at Yo! Sushi. I wanted to try something slightly different this time, so I chose  chicken tama rice (£7.65), grilled chicken breast stir-fried with courgettes, mushrooms, red onions and spring onions in an oyster, garlic and wine sauce, served on sticky white rice.

We then sat and waited, knowing that at Wagamama individual dishes are served as soon as they are ready, and that our main courses might not be served at the same time. So we waited, and we waited. Half an hour passed, which I know is not unheard of, but it is unusual for Wagamama. Fortunately we were not in a hurry and there were some mildly interesting events going on to commemorate D-Day down below on the waterfront.

Eventually the waitress came to apologise, explaining that not one but all the computers had crashed. Apparently it is impossible to prepare and serve food when the computer system is not functioning – that's progress for you in our technological age. I suppose we were lucky to have got our drinks just in time. The waitress assured us that the problem had just been fixed and that food was just beginning to be served again. Sure enough, I saw plenty of it arriving a couple of tables away, and then our yasai gyoza was brought on a stylish curved rectangular white dish. There were five of them, and I decided two would be plenty for me. They were nicely crisp on the bottom and softer on top. The vegetable stuffing was slightly crunchy without seeming undercooked and very tasty. I did enjoy them, but didn't find it very easy to hold on to them with the chopsticks and so didn't really take advantage of the dipping sauce.

It wasn't long before my chicken tama rice arrived, along with a spoon and fork in case I preferred them to the chopsticks. The chicken and vegetables sat on top of a dome of sticky rice, with a sauce the consistency of a clear soup around it. I did of course need the spoon for the sauce which was delicious, although I couldn't honestly detect much of a taste of garlic. The chicken was quite thinly sliced and very tender. The pieces of courgette were rather chunky but well cooked, and there were plenty of slices of red onions and spring onions, again perfectly cooked. The mushrooms were sliced into quite small pieces. I ate all the chicken and vegetables, but the rice proved too much for me and there was so much sauce that I left a little of that as well. Perhaps I shouldn't have had the dumplings, but they were more interesting than the rice.

My son's miso ramen was served soon after I had started eating, and it certainly was a big bowl. I was fascinated by the wooden ladle that came with it – you obviously use that for the soup but have chopsticks for the noodles, meat and vegetables. It was apparently quite spicy but definitely a good choice. Once again, though, it was such a large serving that my son couldn't finish it.

We were both far too full to even consider dessert and had waited longer than expected for our food to be served, so we asked for the bill. It came to £28.05, not including a tip – quite reasonable considering the price of the drinks.

The toilets were very clean and well appointed; the restaurant had of course only been open for just over two months, so I hope the high standard of cleanliness will be maintained.

I am no expert on Japanese food, but I would say that the dishes at Wagamama seem quite similar to those at Sakura, Southsea's traditional Japanese restaurant. The most striking differences are the lack of sushi at Wagamama and, as I mentioned, the limited number of fish-based dishes. If you are in Gunwharf Wagamama makes a change from the ubiquitous Italian chain restaurants and is in an ideal location if you enjoy looking out over the sea. I was happy with the polite and friendly service, although I think we could have been told a little sooner about the reason for the delay in serving our food. Presumably this is not a problem that occurs frequently. Wagamama may not be the favourite for families, although they do have a special children's menu for those who enjoy  Japanese food. I loved the food and hope I will have many an occasion to go back.

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday 12 noon – 11pm
Sunday – 12 noon – 10pm 

North Promenade
Gunwharf Quays

The restaurant is located on the upper floor at the waterfront; disabled access via the lift next to Vue cinema

Tel. 023 9286 1128

Monday, 31 May 2010

Royal Oak, Havant

The Royal Oak pub in Langstone, near Havant, is located in a row of three terraced cottages that date from the sixteenth century. It has been a pub for more than three hundred years, and some of the original beams and fireplaces still remain. It is situated at the north-eastern end of Langstone Harbour, with Hayling Island just to the south. There is a fine view looking towards Thorney Island and Chichester Harbour, with Langstone Mill just a few yards away. You can see swans, ducks and perhaps white egrets by the shore and on the mill pond nearby. It is a beautiful spot.

We arrived at about 6.45pm one Sunday evening in May, having walked from Havant railway station along the Hayling Billy trail – the old railway line that once ran from Havant to Hayling Island. The weather was warm but rather windy, so having had plenty of fresh air we decided to sit inside rather than at the picnic tables in the garden. There was a choice of several tables, but by the time we left the place was almost full.

It is rather dark inside the Royal Oak, but that adds to the atmosphere. In some places there is open brickwork which I prefered to the rather dull beige paint in other areas. The ceiling has dark wooden panels alongside the older beams, and the tables and chairs are similarly in dark wood. The chairs and long seats by the walls do have padded cushions, so they are comfortable. There were two of us but we were able to have a table for four – thankfully, as my son had his tripod and camera bag with him as usual.

Menus are provided on the table alongside a wine list, pepper and salt mills, a pot of oil, cutlery and serviettes. We didn't order starters, but they range from seasonal soup of the day with thick-cut bread and Somerset butter (£2.95) through tempura battered king prawns (£4.65) to oven-baked garlic and herb sharing bread topped with red chard and olives (£5.05).

Main dishes are divided into five sections, starting with steaks. You can choose from sirloin, rump or rib-eye with or without toppings, and prices range from £10.95 to £13.95; they are all served with chips and various other accompaniments. The Classics section includes British beef and Ruddles ale pie with chips or mash, vegetables and gravy (£8.15), hand-battered cod and chips with tartare sauce and petits pois or mushy peas (£7.45) or Kadai chicken curry with lemon and parsley basmati wild rice and poppadoms (£9.25). There are three kinds of Gourmet Burger priced between £6.95 and £9.25. The Chef's Selection has slow-cooked New Zealand lamb shank with pea mash and minted gravy (£9.95) as well as a classic paella of chicken, chorizo and seafood (£9.45). There are three main course salads, for example Loch Fyne smoked Scottish salmon and king prawn (£8.45). More mains were listed on the specials board, but the Sunday roast had been crossed off and we weren't tempted by any of the others.

The only vegetarian main dishes are peppered mushroom suet pudding (£9.45), Wensleydale grape, Tiptree honey and mint salad (£6.95), Red Leicester and spinach burger (£6.95) or butternut squash, spinach, lentil and spicy coconut curry (£7.95).

Side orders include carrots in chive butter (£2.29), dressed side salad (£2.09) and garlic ciabatta(£2.09). There is a notice at the bar where you order the food saying that if you are not asked if you would like any sides, the pub will offer you some free of charge. My son was asked when he ordered our food, so we didn't get any. That was probably just as well, as I don't think we could have eaten any more!

My son had a few weeks earlier enjoyed the fish and chips at the Royal Oak and decided to try something different. After considering the Tandoori chicken breast salad (£8.25), he eventually chose the paella. I was tempted by the traditional beef lasagne (£6.95) but decided to go for something more original. From the Chef's Selection I picked the farm-assured 'smothered' chicken breast with grilled bacon, goat's cheese and tomato Provencal sauce, topped with watercress and served with chips and a salad garnish (£8.65). We each ordered a fruit juice, and our bill came to £22.

It was around fifteen to twenty minutes before a waitress brought our food. We were asked if we wanted any sauces, so I asked for some tomato ketchup to go with my chips. My chicken came in an oval dish on a large plate, next to the chips and salad. The salad consisted of a few rather tired looking lettuce leaves and one very small cherry tomato, cut in half. It made me feel glad that I hadn't ordered a main course salad. The chicken was topped with a generous amount of watercress which I moved on top of the salad so that I could see what was underneath. There were two good-sized pieces of chicken which were very tender; one was topped with bacon, the other with goat's cheese. The Provencal sauce was very rich. My only criticism of the cooked food is that it had just started to burn around the edges of the dish, and one end of the bacon was rather burned. I actually quite like my food like this, but I'm sure there are people who would not have been happy with it. The chips were good and chunky – too many for me to finish, but I expect a lot of people would be able to polish them all off. My son was quite satisfied with his paella, and we both felt full by the time we had finished eating.

We considered going for a walk along the shore and coming back for dessert, but in the end neither of us felt we wanted any more to eat. The Puddings, as the menu calls them, range from Cornish clotted cream ice-cream with chocolate sauce (£3.75) through sticky dark chocolate and walnut brownie (£4.45) to a trio of classic hot puddings served with custard or double cream (£5.25) which you could perhaps share. There is also a cheese platter (£3.95), and lemon meringue pie featured on the specials board that day. Beside the bar was a small board showing various types of coffee that are available, but it was too late in the day for me to sample one.

I found the ladies' toilets to be very clean, pleasantly decorated and well appointed. While drying your hands you could even look out of the window at the view across the harbour if you wanted to!

While we were eating the waitress came over to ask if everything was all right. She came to remove our plates not long after we had finished, asking again if the food had been satisfactory and whether we wanted to order any desserts. At one point the owner/manager was clearing the next table but one from ours and chatting very amicably with a couple seated at the neighbouring table; I got the feeling they were regular customers.

The strong points of the Royal Oak are its location and atmosphere. I have no complaints about the service. The food was good, but I can imagine that if this pub was situated in the middle of Portsmouth, I probably wouldn't go out of my way to visit it. As it is, it is the perfect place to combine with a walk that includes a wooded path, a field with horses, and a picturesque shoreline. The Royal Oak offers curry and a pint on Wednesday evenings for £6.95 which would attract me if I lived nearer. There were quite a few children on the evening we were there, and the garden in particular would be an ideal place for families in fine weather. If you like the sound of the location, I would definitely recommend a visit.

The Royal Oak
19 Langstone High Street

Tel. 023 9248 3125

Monday, 3 May 2010

Yo Sushi - Gunwharf Quays

Restaurant chains seemed to have realised that Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth is the place to be, and hot on the heels of Wagamama came Yo! Sushi at the end of April. Situated opposite Marks and Spencer and next door to Cotton Traders, Yo! Sushi doesn't have the advantage of views from the waterfront, but it makes up for this in other ways.

Having visited Wagamama in Bristol as well as Sakura in Southsea, I wasn't totally unfamiliar with Japanese food, but I was quite unprepared for the conveyor belt experience. I also wasn't sure I would be comfortable sitting on a high chair with a low backrest at a counter, but here I was wrong. The back rest gave good support, and there was at least enough room under the counter for bags. The English waitress who had welcomed us brought menus and asked if we had visited Yo! Sushi before. When we said we hadn't, she explained we could help ourselves to the sushi and desserts that were going round on the double conveyor belt in front of us but that we could call her if we wanted to order hot food. She showed us in the menu that all dishes are priced according to a colour code: they are served on small plates or little shallow bowls with a coloured rim. They go from pale green rims at £1.70 through orange rims at £3.30 up to grey rims at £5 with a couple of others in between. When you finish your meal, the waitress counts how many plates you have of each colour and gives you a slip with details of your drinks as well to take to the till.

The waitress showed us that on the counter there were taps for both fizzy and still water; you can drink as much water as you like for £1. You can also order limitless Japanese green tea for £1.25. My son decided to stick with water, but I ordered a Frobisher's orange juice for £2.30. Yo! Sushi does also offer several wines, sake, Japanese beer, and one or two other soft drinks.

Also on the counter in front of us were a large supply of wooden chopsticks, some wooden teaspoons, glasses for water, a bottle of soya sauce, a pot of wasabi, a container of very thinly sliced fresh ginger, and some very small white dishes for the ginger. The waitress had also shown us that there was a help button you could press to call her. When you do this, the nearest vertical plastic tube, several of which are placed at intervals along the counter, turns from blue to red. Much more fun than having to catch someone's eye!

The waitress left us and we started to look at our menus, which are square booklets with sushi at one end and everything else at the other. There are illustrations of all the items, circled in the appropriate colour so that you can check the price code. I soon decided that I would try the salmon teriyaki, and started to watch the two rows of food passing by on the conveyor belts. They are all covered in transparent plastic domes. I tried to work out what some of the dishes were, but by the time I'd found them on my menu they had gone past! I wondered where the salmon teriyaki was, having already forgotten that hot food had to be ordered from the waitress. My facial expression must have been one of utter confusion, as my son asked me if I wanted to leave. I didn't, but I did feel rather flummoxed. The waitress came back so I ordered my salmon teriyaki and my son asked for a chicken katsu curry. He had already chosen a dish of assorted fish maki (filled rice rolls wrapped in seaweed) from the belt; there were six very small ones, two each of salmon, tuna and prawn with chives. I realised that I was going to have to pick something, but much as I love fish I cannot bring myself to try raw fish. I decided to play safe and grabbed a plate of tamago nigiri – two pieces of rice topped with sweet omelette. The omelette is bound to the rice with a thin strip of seaweed. It was very bland, but I didn't mind this as I had it with some gorgeous fresh ginger and soya sauce. If you aren't keen on ginger, though, stay away – it is a very strong flavour. I passed on the wasabi, which is very spicy.

My son had by that time enthusiastically taken some spicy chicken with grated Asian radish, assorted sprouts and green beans. He also chose a plate of two vegetable futomaki – rice rolls wrapped in seaweed and filled with cucumber, pickled radish, tamago (omelette), carrot and avocado. I tried a tiny piece of the chicken but didn't like the soft consistency, so I agreed to have one of the futomaki rolls. Although I don't normally like either cucumber or radish, I actually enjoyed this. The only problem was actually eating it; I couldn't cut it with the chopsticks so I picked the whole thing up and tried to bite a piece off. Let's just say I'm glad there were no cameras around at that point.

Our hot food was handed to us by a member of the kitchen staff, who work in a central area and are therefore in full view of the customers all the time. The teriyaki salmon was grilled and consisted of three small but quite thick slices, garnished with ginger, cress and a slice of lemon. It was perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious; I can't say I've had better salmon anywhere. My son was impressed by his chicken katsu curry, which is fried chicken on rice with a mild curry sauce and Japanese pickles.

I decided not to overdo the savoury food as the desserts chugging along in front of me were just too tempting. The fresh fruit salad, with slices of pineapple and melon as well as green and purple grapes and a strawberry, looked enticing and healthy, but we decided to try something new with a Japanese slant. My son reached for a plate of mochi – glutinous rice cakes with sweet fillings which are described in the menu as nutritious. I had no hesitation in going for the chocolate mochi, which have a dark chocolate ganache filling and are dusted with cocoa powder. There were two of each, mostly cut in half, so we decided to share them. The ordinary ones were pleasant enough and reminded me a little of marshmallows. The chocolate mochi were absolutely gorgeous, especially the cocoa powder, which had a strong but irresistible flavour. We ate the mochi with chopsticks, except for one that was whole which I cut with a spoon.

When you are ready for the bill, all you have to do is ring the bell and the waitress appears quite promptly. She counted our dishes and gave us a slip of paper with numbers against the colours of the plates, as well as details of the orange juice and water. When we checked, however, it looked as though she hadn't included our desserts, perhaps because the plates were still in front of us rather than stacked in the pile. The waitress came back and adjusted the numbers. Her mistake had been in our favour, but it would always be worth checking in case you are being overcharged.

The bill came to just over £28 to which we added a tip. We paid by card at the till, beside which is a takeaway counter. There were various boxes of sushi available here for around £7 or £8, but it was not fully stocked.

The ladies' toilet was very clean and well appointed. I should perhaps emphasise that the restaurant had only been open for just over forty-eight hours, so I hope the standards of cleanliness will be maintained.

When I went along to the toilets at the back of Yo! Sushi, I noticed that there were a couple of tables with comfortable sofas either side which are presumably intended for larger groups of people. There were a few children around that day, but I didn't see any babies or any sign of high chairs. The restaurant is accessible by wheelchairs.

I have no idea how close the food at Yo! Sushi comes to authentic Japanese food, but I can only say how much I enjoyed it. After my initial confusion, I felt that it was a refreshing change from the usual restaurant experience. Next time I go I will have much more of an idea of what the dishes travelling before me are and what has to be ordered separately. If you have a liking for Oriental food and enjoy variety, I would definitely recommend a visit.

Opening hours

Monday – Saturday: 12 noon until 11pm

Sunday: 12 noon until 10.30pm

Yo! Sushi

79 Gunwharf Quays



Tel. 023 9280 8110

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Spice Village, Emsworth

Considering Emsworth is such a small town, it has a surprisingly good choice of restaurants. A couple of them are right out of my price range, but the Spice Village, an Indian restaurant right in the centre of town, offers very good Oriental cuisine that is affordable as well.

Spice Village took over one of Emsworth's pubs a few years ago, and it is surprisingly spacious – larger than any Indian restaurant I've been in Southsea, for example. We arrived at about 6.15pm one Sunday evening, and things were still very quiet. I suggested we take a small table as there were only two of us, but the waiter encouraged us to sit at a table for four as my son had a tripod and camera bag and I had a couple of bags as well. The tripod went on the floor, safely behind the table, but we were asked to put everything else on the two spare chairs. Menus were brought and the waiter hovered a while until we each asked for a fruit juice.

Spice Village is very stylish, but if you are not keen on pink you might find it's a little overdone. Almost everything, from the walls to the tablecloths to the lighting, is in shades of pink. It is very comfortable, but it did occur to me that many of the tables are very close together so there wouldn't be much privacy at busy times. The waiters, thankfully, do not wear pink; they are smartly dressed in purple shirts and black trousers.

Taking a look at the menu, starters include onion bhaji (£2.50), mulligatawny soup (£2.95), king prawn butterfly (£4.75) and even prawn cocktail (£2.95). We decided just to order three plain papadoms (60p each) which were served with the usual mango chutney, raita and raw onion finely chopped with a few slices of cucumber and tomato.

Looking at main dishes, which are divided into several sections, I was tempted among the fish dishes by ayre delight (£10.50), having once enjoyed it at the Spice Merchants in Southsea. Passanda is another favourite of mine, and this was listed under the chef's recommendations in a chicken or lamb version (£5.95). The meat and chicken dishes offer the usual varieties such as korma, madras, bhuna, rogan and korai, and most are priced under £6. Biriani dishes range from mushroom or vegetable (£5.95) to king prawn (£9.95). Then come 'some modern favourite regional dishes' which include shahi duck (£9.50) and Himalayan chicken or lamb (£8.50). There are just four Persian dishes, such as meat, chicken or prawn dansak (£6.75) and king prawn patia (£9.50). The seafood section actually consists only of prawn curries of various kinds. A good variety of tandoori cuisine offers, for example, duck korai (£8.50) or lamb tikka massala (£6.95). Spice Village balti specials are served with nan bread and include balti jhinga massala with king prawns (£9.50). There is a special section for vegetarian curries such as dupiaza, jalfrazi and balti, all £5.50. For those who aren't fans of Indian cuisine, the choice is between sirloin steak (£8.95), fried chicken (£6.95) and chicken, prawn or mushroom omelette (£6.95).

There is a good choice of vegetable side dishes such as Bombay potato (£3.20), keema aloo (£3.10) or dhall tarka (£3.20). Various types of nan bread include coriander and cheese nan (£2.25), and the bread section also offers paratha and chapati. If you find plain rice (£1.95) boring, there are four other kinds to choose from, such as special fried rice with peas and egg (£3.10).

I eventually decided on tandoori chicken served with salad (£6.50), and my son chose Goan chicken (£8.50), a 'fairly hot' dish of marinated chicken cooked with garlic, ginger, coriander, Goan red chilli, coconut and cumin. We also ordered a portion of plain rice and a paratha stuffed with vegetables (£2.50), both to share between us. When I asked for the tandoori chicken, the waiter was at great pains to explain that it was dry, in other words served without sauce. I assured him that I was aware of this, but it sounded as though they must have had some complaints or misunderstandings in the past by customers expecting lashings of curry sauce with everything.

Our order was taken while we were enjoying our papadoms, and we didn't have to wait too long for the main dishes to arrive. My tandoori half chicken came on a large plate with finely chopped lettuce, one slice each of tomato and cucumber, a wedge of lemon and some lime pickle. A small bowl of raita was also served, but I'm not keen on it and left it as it was. The Goan chicken and vegetable paratha were both placed on a hotplate, with the bowl of rice on the table. The tandoori chicken was topped with finely sliced vegetables – mostly onion; the chicken was well cooked and very tender. I had a helping of rice alongside the salad, and almost forgot about the paratha. Eventually I had a few pieces of it but, delicious as it was, I just couldn't manage to finish my share. My son certainly enjoyed the Goan chicken; he had been to an excellent Indian restaurant on the Isle of Wight the previous weekend which had impressed him slightly more, but we both agreed that the food at Spice Village was as good as any we have had in Portsmouth or Southsea.

We asked for a glass of water each but were far too full to even think about having dessert. Hoping to get down to Emsworth beach before sunset, we asked for the bill. It came to just over £27, to which we added a tip. Payments by card are accepted.

The service was polite, attentive and efficient; all but one of the waiters had heavy accents, but we managed to understand them fairly easily. I think I do have to mention, however, that when my son went to wash his hands one of the waiters walked over and eyed up his camera (complete with extra lens) that was sitting on a chair. He then started chatting to one of his colleagues, and I heard the word 'camera' mentioned more than once. After we'd finished eating my son got out his iphone; in a twinkling there was the same waiter, peering over his shoulder. We concluded he must be a gadget freak, but I think it was bit of an odd way to behave.

The ladies' toilet was very clean and extremely pink, of course, right down to the toilet tissue. I forgot to ask my son whether the pinkness extended into the gents as well!

Spice Village offers a takeaway service and accepts telephone orders. There is an area by the bar with comfortable chairs where customers can wait for their takeaways. I remember visiting Spice Village three or four years ago when we lived near Havant and they were very obliging over calling a taxi for us. We were able to wait in that same area by the bar.

If you are visiting Emsworth or passing through, Spice Village is the place to go for Indian cuisine. I believe it gets busy on Friday and Saturday evenings, so a reservation would probably be necessary unless you arrive at around 6pm. It's not far at all from Havant, and both Portsmouth and Chichester are no great distance from Emsworth. We combined our visit with a walk along the shore of Thorney Island, which is just a few minutes' walk away, and an evening stroll by the beach in Emsworth. It's a refreshing change from the city.

Opening hours

Sunday – Thursday: 12 noon until 2.30pm and 5.30pm until 11.30pm

Friday and Saturday: 12 noon until 2.30pm and 5.30pm until midnight

Spice Village

47 High Street



PO10 7AL

There is a car park at the rear of the restaurant. The Coastliner 700 bus from Brighton to Portsmouth stops just a few yards from Spice Village.

Tel. 01243 379222 or 01243 389333

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Feed Caffe, Portsmouth

Feed is a tiny cafe situated under the railway on a stretch of road between two entrances to Gunwharf Quays. I wouldn't have given it a second look had I not found out that it was owned by the same company as the Olivo restaurant in Ryde, Isle of Wight, that had impressed me so much. It had to be worth trying.

My first visit to Feed was at 1pm on a weekday during school holidays, and the place was encouragingly busy. I sat down at the only vacant small table, noticing that the wooden tables and chairs were reminiscent of those at Olivo. A waitress brought me a menu, simply printed on an A4 sheet of white paper, along with a separate sheet for the day's specials. Sausage casserole had, she told me, run out, which was a shame as the sausages at Feed come from Buckwells, Southsea's best butcher. I ordered an orange juice (£1.55) and started to look at the menu.

Feed offers a surprisingly good choice of food whether you want breakfast, a sandwich, a hearty cooked meal or afternoon tea. Breakfasts range from toast and toppers (£3.50) to full English (£5.95) or the Mighty Meaty Feed Breakfast (£7.50) for those with a huge desire for protein. There are three varieties of omelette with which you could have chips and salad or toast and beans (or even toast and chips). Extras can be ordered, for example black pudding (£1.50), baguette (£1.20) or mushrooms (80p).

If burgers are your thing, there are five different choices including a spicy Mexican bean burger (£5.95) and a lamb and mint burger in a toasted ciabatta (£6.95); all are served with chips, coleslaw and mayonnaise. Jacket spuds come with a small salad garnish, homemade coleslaw and butter. Most fillings are £4.75, but the prawn Marie Rose as well as the sausage and bean toppings cost a pound or so more.

Baguettes, sandwiches and wraps are served with coleslaw and diced potato. They range from bacon (£3.50) to prawn Marie Rose (£4.95). The only vegetarian choice is Cheddar cheese and onion (£3.95). If you don't think one of these will satisfy your appetite, you could go for the Feed club sandwich (£7.25), a toasted one with chicken, ham, cheese, lettuce, cucumber, tomato, red onion, mustard and mayonnaise, served with coleslaw and diced potato.

For children there is a Little Fillers Menu. The price of £3.95 includes a drink, and the choices of food are full English breakfast, classic burger, sausage with chips and beans, ham or cheese sandwich with diced potatoes, or two slices of toast with either bacon, eggs or beans.

I considered ordering from the special menu where I liked the sound of the chicken and mushroom tortelloni more than the spicy chicken fajita, but in the end I decided on a veggie breakfast (£5.95). With two veggie sausages, an egg, fried diced potatoes, mushrooms, griddled tomato and toast, this sounded very filling. I only had to wait a few minutes until this was served. It was well presented and looked appetising; my only reservations were that brown or wholemeal toast had not been offered, and no alternative was given to a fried egg. Given the choice, I would have had wholemeal toast and scrambled egg. Portions were generous except for the tomato. The diced potatoes were very small and beautifully crisp, and the button mushrooms had also been sliced into small pieces. The veggie sausages were cooked to perfection. Everything was hot and tasted very good. Had I not had a long walk that morning I might have struggled to finish the veggie breakfast.

Feed do a selection of homemade cakes that sit tantalisingly in the window, but there was no way I could have found room for a slice that day. It will be a good excuse to go back one afternoon and decided whether to be vaguely healthy and go for carrot cake or indulge in coffee and walnut. I also resisted the temptation to try Feed's coffee. As well as espressos, lattes and cappuccinos, they serve hot chocolate with cream and mallows, Earl Grey tea, and a variety of Twining's flavoured teas.

Feed is actually situated in one of a number of arches underneath the railway line. Because of this, it has a curved ceiling and walls, as though you were in a short tunnel. The walls are exposed brickwork, and I realise that some people may be put off that this is a very small and not very stylish eatery. Others, however, will appreciate the originality of the setting and prefer Feed to the chain restaurants and the crowds of Gunwharf Quays.

My bill came to £7.50 to which I added a tip. Several young waitresses were on hand at Feed, and they were welcoming, friendly and efficient, just as they had been at Olivo in Ryde. I was alone yet did not feel uncomfortable in any way.

There is just one unisex toilet at Feed with a rather strange folding door that closes with a hook. Other than black grouting between the tiles, it was clean; turning the tap on and off, however, was almost beyond me as there wasn't anything much to get hold of! I had to tell one of the waitresses that I hadn't been able to turn it off properly and she kindly said she would see to it.

This is obviously a much smaller and simpler place than Olivo Restaurant in Ryde, but it nevertheless had a similar feel to it. The food was very good, and the place does seem popular despite the competition from Gunwharf Quays. I believe Feed is open until about 7.30pm, and it is in an ideal location for anyone visiting Portsmouth Historic Dockyard or for those who want to get away from the crowds at the shops. It may not have the views of the eateries at the waterfront, but it offers good food and a welcoming atmosphere that is genuinely refreshing.

Feed Caffe

Arch No. 7

The Hard