Steki, the only Greek restaurant in Portsmouth, had a bad fire in 2009 and was closed for a long time.
Like the proverbial Phoenix, the ashes have now given way to a new place ‘where people meet habitually’– the meaning of the name. The Greek family who run it also have a branch in Brighton.
Greece is not really known for its prowess at the stoves. Menus are very predictable throughout the isles and mainland and the atmosphere of a seafront taverna offering local fish or chargrilled meat might not be replicated on a British high street.
Can Steki change our minds about Greek cuisine? Well, the music played here – wondrous sad songs layered with bouzoukis and harmonious voices – will transport you to anywheresville Greece. Very welcome it is too, as is the very good, warm service.
The hard chairs, however, don’t tempt you to linger. It’s a shame as the restaurant is attractive thanks to its wagon wheels of lights, one with hanging grapes, plus walls decorated with a mini bouzouki, worry beads and pictures of whitewashed seaside villages.
Yes, the menu is predictable. Start with chargrilled feta; courgette balls’ grilled octopus; fried squid; Greek salad; tzatziki; houmous; tarasalata and mussels. Move on to frikasse (diced lamb with spinach, lettuce and herbs); moussaka; pork or chicken souvlaki (marinated, chargrilled meat); imam baildi (stuffed aubergines); fasolakia (green beans with tomato sauce) or gigantes (baked lima beans with tomatoes).
There’s a Greek cheeseburger and specials on the board which may include sea bass or steak. Those in love with honeyed desserts will find baklavas (layered filo pastry, with walnuts and a honey syrup) on the menu alongside an unbaked chocolate cake and ice creams. Starters run at about £4, mains from £8 to £16.
The tzatziki, that über-simple mix of Greek yoghurt, cucumber, garlic and olive oil, eclipsed many of the variations I’ve had over the decades in the Dodecanese Islands and other parts of Greece I’ve criss-crossed by car, ferry, on a donkey, a scooter or on foot.
Luscious is the only word to describe this starter, lashings of it finding an unstable home on warm pitta bread. Less impressive were the soutzoukakia, little meatballs made from beef and onions shaped into sausages. The chef had taken his eye off the ball on the chargrill, some burnt lines not adding to rather dry sausage shapes.
This came with dull rice, an even duller salad of raw onion, tomato and lettuce and a less than sparkling houmus. An excellent glass of house red helped this lacklustre main course along, a good Greek coffee equally restoring. My bill came to £17.10 not including a tip.
Steki Taverna, 58 Osborne Road, Southsea PO5 3LU
(023) 9275 0200 steki.co.uk
Open: Noon-2.30pm and 5pm to late Mon-Thurs, noon until late Fri- Sun
Food: Three stars (out of five)
Service: Four stars
Atmosphere: Four stars
Disabled access: Fine
How to get there: Osborne Road is off Clarence Parade and the restaurant is on the right going east. Parking is on street or in Ashby Place.