The newly-opened J’s Italian, in a tiny listed building in Southsea, is the second restaurant from Scott Matthew.
The Relentless Steak and Lobster House chef/owner has chosen to go down a rather heavy Italian route, a far cry from Jamie Oliver’s or River Café’s simpler and truer style of Italian cooking.
But, first, the décor. Smart navy blue is the signage colour, the tablecloths yellow, the walls grey. Original features include the bar and etched glass and wood panels by the petite kitchen.
New additions include a glitzy chandelier, busts of people of past fame and other artefacts involving silver shells. Downstairs offers more seating in contemporary cool style. Opera tenors belt out hits.
The menu is titanic. Huge. A smaller, well-tailored menu would be far more user-friendly for chef and customer alike, the ‘less is more’ principle snubbed here.
More than 60 dishes (not including sides, sauces and desserts) are up for scrutiny. Aragosta e granchio torta (lobster, crab cake with rocket, parmesan, poached egg); cozze a la crema (mussels in white wine, cream sauce); pollo gnocchi gratin (chicken with gnocchi, mascarpone, parmesan, breadcrumbs) and caprese (mozzarella, pesto, tomatoes, rocket) are some starters.
Move on to pizzas (sliced steak, cheese, tomatoes included in the long list); pasta (lasagne, spaghetti, carbonara and others); risotto dishes and mains including salmon with lobster and crab fishcake with tomato base; pork loin with potatoes, beans and dolcelatte sauce; local crab with salad and prawns and sirloin with the trimmings.
Prices? From £5.50 to £30 (lobster) with many prices between. Pizzas start at £7.25. There’s a Sunday lunch menu too at £15 for three courses.
My choices were chilli floured squid rings with lemon mayo and rocket and chicken with risotto on two oversize plates. The orange-coloured squid tower needed more crispness and the non-lemon mayo was unimpressive.
Those of you who saw Professional Masterchef recently might have wondered at one chef’s judgment of how much rice to serve for one person.
Here it was the risotto, enough for a hungry three. Very creamy, porridgy and jam-packed with ham lardons, spring onions and wine, it was flavoursome as was the lovely, moist thyme chicken on the bone, placed on the rice mound.
But a slice of thick Parma ham under the chicken was superfluous and suffered from its heat. It was all far, far too rich and mostly left.
As was a tiramisu with trad mascarpone in a long-stemmed glass, one of the creamy desserts. Amaretto, that strong almond liqueur, overwhelmed.
Service is a dream by a Romanian waiter/Portsmouth psychology student – attentive, caring, solicitous. He’ll go far in his chosen career. Wines? A goodly list including three by the glass, mine an Italian red.
J’s Italian is big in all ways. Reining in enthusiasm to feed Southsea this generously might be worth considering if many plates are cleared without making a sizeable dent in the food.
Those with mega-big appetites will relish J’s. I couldn’t face another bite for 24 hours after my meal. Italian it may be, but it’s styled in weighty British ways over true Italian ones. Light it ain’t.
J’s Italian, 15 Jubilee Terrace, Southsea, PO5 3AS.
Open after 5pm, seven days a week, and for Sunday lunch.
Disabled access: Steps up to the entrance and down to (exceptionally nice) toilets.
How to get there: Jubilee Terrace is a continuation of King’s Terrace. The restaurant is on the right before Hambrook Street. There’s parking on the street.
Ratings (maximum *****)