The Mercer Collection – I know, it sounds a bit like a clothing emporium or haute couture assortment – is a small hotel group within Southsea’s boundaries.
The empire comprises Florence House, Somerset House, Stattons and Number Four, which also has a boutique restaurant to go with this very boutique hotel.
Housed in a Victorian villa, it isn’t apparent there is any restaurant.
Once inside, customers are whisked away to kick-start their evening in the modern glitzy bar with lightly floating jazz, or to the tiny green and white restaurant in the basement, jazz migrating below stairs.
Minimal crisp décor – there is one large wooden carved piece of art on the wall and two non-descript glass café signs – matches the minimal white-clothed tables. Flowers punctuate the green and white.
Staff are Portuguese, friendly and efficient. On my own, and with no other diners, we discussed this hotel chain, Portuguese food, travel in the Far East, touched on Salazar, Portugal’s past dictator, and changing politics and social mores.
Who needs a dining companion?
The menu is small. Diners here, I am told, are mainly business people who possibly prefer small over impersonal chains.
Start with maybe sweet potato and lentil soup; smoked salmon with a potato and red pepper salad; wild mushroom and goat’s cheese tart with fennel and beetroot salad; chicken liver parfait with red onion marmalade and olive bread toast; scallops with spiced lentils and baked Parma ham or melon, mango and kiwi.
Move on to rosemary rump with aubergine, feta and broad bean salad; sirloin with pommes pont neuf, aka fat chips usually cooked in duck fat, with roasted tomatoes; duck breast; Moroccan tagine in filo pastry with saffron or chicken breast with butternut squash and cumin mash. Prices run from £5 –£9 for starters, £12 – £19 for mains.
If you order two courses, a small, smart wooden platter arrives with excellent olive bread, puff pastry sprinkled with spices and nuts and good quality olives.
A parfait, my choice, also impressed with its looks and taste on a square white plate, the smooth chicken livers nicely gutsy and needing that red onion marmalade to cut through the strong taste.
Sea bass followed, the pan-fried fillet draped over a chick pea and couscous timbale. A dotting of salsa completed the pretty picture.
The fish itself was skilfully cooked, not so the couscous though. It bore no resemblance to this wonderful staple, more of a mush packed into the timbale mould. Chick peas, bland unless spicing is added, didn’t lift this mishmash.
A separate bowl of delicious vegetables – new potatoes, courgettes, beans in plenty of butter – helped the fish along.
You’ll have to act fast if you wish to dine here, as the restaurant is moving to a sister hotel in time for Christmas, I’m told.
I’ll go along next year to see if standards are held. The kitchen could be a little less ‘safe’ and get out there with more pronounced flavours but, heck, it’s a godsend to diners who prefer quiet, well-mannered, professional staff and pleasant surroundings. My bill came to £26.10, not including a tip.
Number Four Hotel
69 Festing Road, Southsea, PO4 0NQ (023) 92 008444. Open 5.30pm to 9.30pm all week
Disabled access: Lots of stairs.
How to get there: Going east on Albert Road, turn right on to Festing Road. The hotel-restaurant is on the left towards the end of the street. On-street parking. Snacks available lunchtimes.
Ratings (maximum *****)