Within the stronghold of Henry VIII’S Southsea Castle, diners enjoy their lunch against the backdrop of a well-preserved 16th century wall.
Thankfully, Tudor favourites such as blackbird and heron aren’t on the menu and the customers refreshing and refuelling in these historic surroundings are sipping tea, munching fresh salads or savouring soup of the day.
They are dining in the new cafe housed in the castle’s western bailey, an area once used as barracks and stores for the armed forces.
But while its setting is historic, the new eating house has a thoroughly modern aim.
This eatery is run by Yellow Kite – a social enterprise business that has set its sights on making the people of Portsmouth healthier.
Born out of the city council’s Healthy Pompey initiative, Yellow Kite runs cafes with healthier eating options and gives support to dining areas run by community centres, charities and other organisations.
The Southsea Castle facility opened recently as Yellow Kite’s flagship cafe. It is part of a programme to improve the castle as a visitor attraction. This includes cleaning centuries of grime off the walls with specialist muck-busting methods.
Yellow Kite has invested £250,000 in the project and a further £50,000 for a marquee in the eastern bailey. This means there are better facilities for weddings, as well as on-site refreshments for visitors.
And the income from the cafe and business generated from the project also means general admission to the castle is now free.
‘Yellow Kite is the legacy of Healthy Pompey,’ says the organisation’s chief executive Gambol Parker. ‘It was always the long-term aspiration that this would continue as a viable business, but we didn’t know if we would achieve that. I’m very proud of what we have done and of the fact that we now have our flagship cafe at Southsea Castle. I feel privileged to be here.’
The menu at the castle cafe reflects the policies, aims and intentions of Yellow Kite. Seasonal vegetables are used, so asparagus currently features on the menu, and ingredients are sourced locally wherever possible. There are plenty of healthy options as well as naughtier treats.
Omelettes, Greek yoghurt and blueberries, porridge and croissants are available for breakfast, lunch includes soup, home-made savoury tarts, mezze platters and the new ‘castle fish-cake.’ At tea there are traditional cakes, with some healthier options, and fruits.
‘It’s about giving people choice,’ says Gambol. ‘We have lots of organic produce and there are options. For instance we might use crème freche instead of cream.
‘People want the traditional things like cakes and we don’t want it to be all about health foods. It’s just a better choice. People are very responsive to that and will try new things. But it’s all about offering quality.’
Those dining at the cafe also have the satisfaction of knowing they are supporting a community scheme. Yellow Kite is a social enterprise, which means it is a viable business that puts profits into social schemes.
The organisation’s plans include a series of events at community centres in the city called Meatball Mondays. Residents can enjoy a meal for £1 and learn how to make it from the chef.
‘It won’t always be meatballs, we just liked the name,’ says Gambol. ‘We’ll offer menu cards but also people will be able to watch the chef at work. There’s nothing like seeing someone cooking, enjoying the food and then being able to go home and make it yourself.’
Another plan is to run a Yellow Kite training scheme, which will boost the skills and qualifications of people who need support. The organisation will work with charities like the Beneficial Foundation, which provides education, training and rehabilitation to adults with learning difficulties and other disabilities.
The community programmes will start after the summer season. Yellow Kite staff have plenty on their plates at the cafes at the D-Day Museum and castle.
As well as the day-to-day running of the eateries, there are weddings to cater for and plans for historically themed banquets. In keeping with the 16th century origins of the castle, these are likely to take the form of Tudor-themed feasts.