Quentin Henrion and Silvana Correa de Castro opened Casa De Castro last year. Not for this Frenchman and his Brazilian chef wife the brash, flash methods of hard sell.
The tiny cafe’s discreet signage is at odds with others screaming their wares in non-too subtle ways along Southsea’s Albert Road.
At Casa De Castro, they go down the route of quality over quantity, the cafe’s window displaying cakes, pastries, croissants, brioches, pain au chocolat and tarts under smart, simple domes.
The Lilliputian cafe has a mere four tables, with a sign pointing to the garden for more seating. Before reaching the pretty courtyard garden’s door, the tiny kitchen is on-view.
This is where the Wessex Salon Culinaire Bronze medal-winning chef works her socks off to fill not only the window but also the refrigerated display case – part of the counter manned with ease, modesty and quiet charm by Quentin.
The day I went, pretty silver or china trays were filled with wedges of passion fruit cake, strawberry glazed tarts, vanilla bavarois and chocolate cake.
But you might easily find a number of other concoctions including blueberry muffins; cherry frangipane; walnut cake; brioche with crystalised fruit; apple cake; chocolate choux or chocolate eclairs and swirling, whirling pavlovas.
Silvana bakes Brit favourites as well as iconic French ones. Eccles cakes, Bakewell tarts, Chelsea buns, cinnamon whirls, flapjacks and others appear too and they ain’t anything like the factory-made ones.
Alongside these charmers are Brazilian ones, no Brasileiro party complete without Brigadeiros, chocolate fudge balls.
Or she may have rustled up some Brazilian savoury items, bolinho de carne, meat croquettes also on display next to the more familiar quiches or savoury tarts.
All the food on view tantalises visually. But what about the taste?
I chose a warm brioche-like pastry filled with melting cheese, ham and tomato and was instantly won over, the simplicity of this offering putting all similar pastries in the shade.
It came with an excellent filter coffee which had a tiny pain of chocolat mouthful on the saucer, a far cry from those sawdusty biscuit packs which pass for food in too many cafes.
I then went for the pear and frangipane tart, with its beautiful slivers of glazed pear and sparkling pastry.
Rarely have I tasted such sublime pastry in the UK, while the filling was also excellent.
And the prices? Well my entire bill was £5.60 for three items. The savoury pastry? £1.70. Pear tart? £2.10. Coffee? £1.80. The best taste and value in town.
▪ Carol is a chef, former restaurateur and editor of Savour, the Guild of Food Writers magazine
Casa de Castro, 96A Albert Road, Southsea PO5 2SN (023) 9281 1883
Open: Tues-Sat 9am-5pm. Unlicenced.
Food: * * * *
Service: * * * *
Atmosphere: * * * *
Disabled access: Very tight
How to get there: Casa de Castro is just before Lawrence Road on the right of Albert Road, going east. Parking is on-street.