As a former chef-restaurateur, I started in the business by cooking classical French dishes, albeit with a lighter touch when fashions changed.
Southsea’s Kitsch n d’Or, now in its 13th year of Gallic know-how, goes down the rural French bistro route with utter conviction in les temps passès.
The bistro’s décor reflects French rusticity. Owner Paul Standley’s other métier is that of antique dealer, hence old road signs including St Maximin and Bordeaux Sud and familiar prints.
Dried sunflowers, that most nostalgic of French crops, are wound around a piece of wire above an old two-tier fountain, now home to used corks. Very entertaining and charismatic.
Find a table either in the simple, long bar or in the layered parts of the restaurant.
When I visited a large party of naval celebrants had all the menus, the only ones available chalked up on large boards and transported around the packed restaurant.
The changing menu may offer the ubiquitous onion soup with puff pastry and Gruyère; moules marinières; whole roasted Camembert with cured ham; wild boar or ham hock terrine; boeuf Bourguignon; duck with a Cognac and cèpes sauce; agneau pre-salé de Mont St. Michel (salt meadow lamb shank) and other riches of mostly northern, creamy France bar the famous southerly bouillabaisse. Perch, trout with almonds and other fish could feature too.
Currently, lunch or dinner Christmas menus are offered (£20 /£25.50 for two or three courses), Saveur de Tradition at £25.50, another one £28.50 – or go for the two-course lunch (£8.50).
The wine list of mainly French with some Italian, Spanish and one lone Lebanese label is a delight but it seemed just one wine was by the glass.
‘Oh no, all the wines are by the glass but it’s not written on the list,’ I was told
Pity it wasn’t mentioned when handing out the list. My choice was a terrific, powerful Château.
My black pudding salad looked hurriedly flung together, finger marks all over the square plate. Thin slices of tasteless pudding, on tired leaves, had a listless onion confit (a watery, dull effort), poor quality cucumber and tomato and a tiny strange red ribbon which turned out to be beetroot. But I had to ask. Not a sparkling Franco start.
I had been warned that the naval party had just ordered, with the kitchen coming to a halt for other tables, and that all steaks would be served medium rare. Fine.
Tables around me asked for extra bread and wine to while away the time, mostly over 45 minutes. I didn’t demolish the bread.
My steak with tarragon cream sauce tasted like it had barely touched a pan.
Under the unskilled sauce with no billed tarragon, the meat hadn’t hit a high heat to caramelise, essential for flavour.
The meat was very rare, not medium rare, and not seasoned. But al dente leeks, kale and broccoli were excellent.
Profiteroles, apple tart, Belgian waffles or other heavy desserts didn’t appeal.
But the service did: three skilled, friendly staff did their very best.
Kitsch n d’Or wins over many thanks to its hospitality, warmth and wine. But it has lost this past admirer. Charisma isn’t enough.
Kitsch n d’Or, 37 Eldon Street, Southsea, PO5 4BS, (023) 9286 1519.
Disabled access: Toilets are upstairs.
How to get there: Eldon Street is a continuation of Norfolk Street. It’s off Kings Road and the restaurant is on the right. There’s on-street parking.
Ratings (maximum *****)