The Perseverance pub, once part of the Portsmouth brewery Brickwoods, stopped trading in 2012, its beautifully-etched bow windows covered with ugly metal sheeting.
The 1842 property, near Havant station, was left in a sorry state, a distinct eyesore. But Red Chilli’s directors, owners of a Bangladeshi restaurant in Surrey, saw an opportunity and grabbed the property, transforming the space from a dingy, unloved pub into a smart restaurant with style.
Those windows are the sole reminders of its chequered past, the owners creating a vibrant interior thanks to green ceiling-panelled lighting and an entire wall also devoted to changing hues of yellow, red and blue.
Elsewhere are uniform rows of smart brown tables and brown-cream chairs. A bar with a large red chilli as its backdrop is a further smart addition. Music is Bangladeshi.
The extensive menu includes traditional Bangladeshi/Indian dishes including vegetarian ones.
Start with chilli chicken pakora; sheek kebab; king prawn butterfly; bhajees; lamb tikka; paneer pakora and fish pakora, chunks of fish with spices, herbs with gram flour.
A plethora of mains are available including madras, vindaloo, balti and jalfrezi. But stretch yourself by choosing from the signature dishes, maybe a spicy nutty chicken; duck naga shahi, the nagi chilli of Sylhet, a region of Bangladesh, adding extra dynamism. There’s also sharabi gosht, slow-cooked lamb with garlic, mushrooms, peppers and spices or fish shorisha, unidentified fish cooked in a mustard bhuna sauce.
The fish pakora, served on a pretty plate with chilli design, needed less deep-frying, but the fish filling and gram flour batter were both admirable, four fine nuggets to be dipped in a chilli sauce zigzag and a mint sauce for extra pzazz.
Lamb Hatkora was up next. Hatkora is a Bengali lemon, the rind of which is eaten as a vegetable. Here, the chopped-up rind is added to the lamb curry as well as shards of green chilli and spices.
The effect was magical, one of the better ones I’ve tried in a Bangladeshi restaurant.
The lamb, tender and beautifully-cooked, showed off the Red Chilli chef’s prowess as well as perfectly-judged spicing. A large bowl of white rice, equally excellent, was the only other dish necessary.
I would certainly return for this main dish alone, perhaps choosing another starter or just going straight to the chase. Why stand on two-course ceremony?
Criticism has been raised about slow service here due, mainly, to the high demand for takeaways. The waiting area at Red Chilli can be jammed on weekends with restaurant diners vying for service.
This is, of course, not unique to this Indian/Bangladeshi restaurant. The same thing occurs on Friday and Saturday nights elsewhere.
During my meal, however, service was first-rate, unobtrusive, friendly and efficient.
My advice is to go any other night. Ask when most bookings are and avoid this packed time. Or ask if you can order in advance.
Whatever you do, go. My bill came to £17.25 including a small Cobra beer in a smart glass but not a well-deserved tip.
Red Chilli, 51 North Street, Havant PO9 1PP
(023) 9245 4555.
Open 12pm–2.30pm and 5.30pm–11.30pm.
Disabled access: Excellent.
How to get there: Take the A27 to Havant, follow the signs to the station. Red Chilli is on the approach to the station on North Street. On-street parking or public car park free after 6 pm.
FOOD Four stars (Out of Five)
SERVICE Four stars (Out of Five)
ATMOSPHERE Four stars (Out of Five)