Why any company other than a clothing one would wish to call their new chain Zippers after ‘an automatic continuing clothing closure’ may never be uncovered.
The brainchild of the Richoux Group, which also owns Dean’s Diner, Villagio and the Richoux restaurants, Zippers opened its doors in Port Solent this autumn.
Situated on the upper balcony overlooking the marina, the smart restaurant is pleasantly decorated with strips of hanging light globes alongside five framed, round mirrors. Ash blonde-grey flooring adds further fashion, as do faux marble tables, off-grey banquettes, white chairs and a yellow-grey bar.
The staff are uniformly charming and friendly, albeit in a somewhat corporate ‘Hi, I’m…..and I’ll be your server today,’ manner. They’re better than most chain restaurant staff though, as they notice things – a missing fork - and act upon them.
Zippers isn’t kidding with the use of ‘extensive’ in its range of dishes. But they all smack of central buying and package opening, highlighted by the strange sight of a huge row of Aunt Jemima Pancake Mixes taking pride of place on the kitchen’s on-view glass shelving.
You know this menu off by heart, with no imagination exerted. There are nachos; prawn and avocado cocktail; minestrone soup; calamari and chicken wings as starters. Follow those with a plethora of pasta dishes – penne carbonara, chicken or arrabiatta; meatballs with spaghetti; macaroni cheese bake or penne chicken bake. Or choose spicy calamari; scampi and chips; crab cakes; chicken Caesar or one with chicken, bacon and avocado; wraps. From the grill come more usual suspects: burgers; steaks; spit roast chicken; rack ribs. Prices range from £4.85 to £17.95, most mains around £10.
A nachos starter with guacamole, tomato salsa, jalapeňo peppers and sour cream demonstrated that the kitchen can assemble a dish by piling various sauces on nachos and cheese, the whole knitting together so well that when trying to extract one from the mound, the whole lot reared up. The peppers made the dish.
Meatballs with a tomato sauce followed. ‘It’s very spicy,’ warned one waitress. ‘Great,’ I replied, ‘can’t wait.’
If only the half-pork, half-beef meatballs had been spicy, it would have possibly detracted from their weird taste. They simply didn’t taste of meat and were rather gloppy in texture and flavour, as if slippery gelatine or similar had been added.
I query how much meat content there was. Even ready-made ones from a supermarket counter contain 98 per cent, the rest simply seasoning and softened breadcrumbs. Here?
Although a Parmesan-like cheese was grated over it by the waitress, this was bargain-basement cheese with zilch-all taste.
The pasta, at least, was pleasingly al dente, the tomato sauce uber-bland.
I didn’t go down the dessert route, an American diner one with those pancakes and maple syrup, cheesecake and apple pie.
With so many, many similar types of ‘family restaurants’ with the same menu choices, I shake my head, bemused why Richoux chose this family route.
My bill came to just under £14 including a small glass of acceptable Italian red.
Zippers, Units 24/25, The Boardwalk, Port Solent, PO6 4TP.
(023) 92 370992.
Open from 11am daily.
Disabled access: Take the communal lift to the first floor to enter and there are steep stairs from the ground, so not possible for wheelchair users.
How to get there: Follow the signs for Port Solent on the M27 and park in the large carpark. The restaurant is on the right at the entrance.
FOOD Two Stars (Out of Five)
SERVICE Four Stars (Out of Five)
ATMOSPHERE Three Stars (Out of Five)