Montagu’s Café Bar and Bistro, in the world that is Whiteley Shopping Centre, is, to me, the sole building there worth a second look.
This is mostly because of its Garboesque – ‘I want to be alone’ – feel, sitting in a pedestrian precinct in a glass cube.
Of course, the owners of this small but well-formed café don’t wish to take the 1930s film star’s stance. They want you to be with them eating local, seasonal produce in simple yet smart surroundings.
The café is the only non-chain one at Whiteley. Eureka! Surrounded by the usual high street suspects – M&S, Next, Boots et al – this small building, with its cool mahogany tables, padded and non-padded chairs and boxed lighting mirroring the shape of the café, also has some artwork by the bar cum on-view kitchen.
There’s a list above the bar promoting seasonal produce, most of which is available year-round. This includes salmon, spinach, rocket and lamb. Come here for eggs Florentine (£6); croissants; smoked salmon and scrambled eggs and buttermilk pancakes (£5) for breakfast, but only at weekends. A Full Monty (£20) offers enough on the plate to set you up for the weekend.
In the week, as well as at weekends, there’s lemon and tarragon chicken with rosemary and garlic potatoes (£12); ribeye with black pepper and sea salt wedges; home-made burger with coleslaw, salsa and potatoes; roast squash fettuccine (£9) and leek, stilton and walnut tart among other dishes.
For those light-lunching, the entire menu is available at all times. There are salads and small plate selections such as the fabulous local Tunworth soft cheese with artisan breads, tiger prawn skewers (£6) and ciabattas filled with fillet steak, mushrooms, sausage and caramelised onions.
There’s a ‘healthy, nutritious and not-a-chicken-nugget-in-sight’ children’s menu so little people can eat like big people, another plus.
A vast bowl of excellent squash soup with a hint of harissa was up first, coriander leaves floating in the perfectly judged soup – the herb adding another fine layer. Served on a stylish wooden board with warm ‘artisan’ bread, the latter was OK, although the grill markings pointed to lookalike artisan.
My second choice, also a winner, was cured Parma ham around an Isle of Wight cheese served with a fig, whisky and orange chutney and salad. Again, the kitchen showed not only judicious sourcing of local produce but also fine execution. The roundels of salty ham and moreish cheese definitely worth a detour, even if you’re not in shopaholic mode.
Puddings included a selection of cakes in a tiered glass cake stand.The cafe is open for just coffee, tea, wine, beer and Champagne seven days a week until late. Service is swift and friendly.
Montagu’s not only scores highly in a menu offering local and seasonal sourcing and cooking, but also in marketing. Its website is a model of how to communicate. Far too many businesses go the ineffectual Facebook route these days. A good, up-to-date website is essential in 2014.
If would-be diners have to work to find out where some places are (plus their postcode for satnav) and when it’s open, they will give up.
My bill came to £11 for two courses, not including tip. My only drink was tap water.
Montagu’s Cafe Bar & Bistro, Unit K2, Whiteley Shopping Centre, Whiteley, PO15 7PD 01489 575047
Open 9am-10:30pm Wednesday to Friday; 8am-10:30pm Saturday; 9am-6pm Sunday, 9am to 8pm Monday & Tuesday.
Disabled access: Fine.
How to get there: Follow signs off M27 to Whiteley, near Fareham. Park in free car parks. Montagu’s is at far end of the complex.
Ratings (maximum *****)