Mick Collins, ex-New Scotland Yard detective, has swapped the fingerprint ink for chocolate, for he is now in charge of The Chocolate Lounge at Copnor, Portsmouth.
The only creatures behind bars near the coffee and chocolate café are the reptiles for sale at Slip, Slither and Slide a few doors down.
By the looks of it he didn’t go too far for his furniture, the area is a second-hand haven. You will find many pre-loved – otherwise known as second-hand – objects to sit on, place your lunch or tea on, or to look at.
There are Union Flag-refurbished, throne-like chairs, the wood painted bright gold; regal red velvet plush is found on other massive chairs alongside equally large leather sofas.
Two elderly women, enveloped in coats and headscarves, sat side by side on the edge of one sofa eating ice cream on a cold day, their total commitment and concentration a marvel to witness.
Perhaps they were mesmerised by the teapot display, the distinctive clocks and a pair of bronze crossed legs in heels alongside a large painting of a seated nude. The soft side of the detective.
Chocolates, which Mick creates, dominate the left hand side of the café. Choices including mint, caramel, coffee, Baileys, hazelnut, orange, strawberry, Champagne, coconut. The right counter-cum-chiller cabinet is home to cakes, baguettes and scones. A coffee machine hisses on an adjacent wall by the small kitchen.
The menu is limited to tried and tested British favourites: jacket potatoes, filled baguettes, sandwiches. The fillings include prawn mayo; tuna and sweetcorn, ham and cheese.
There’s a Tea for one (£12) offering sandwiches, scones, tea and coffee and two chocolates (£20 for two). But, bizarrely, no cake is listed. Most other items range from £3.50-£5. A frothy cappuccino is £2.
I sat on one of the Union Flag thrones beside a highly original table – an archaic etched glass top above an odd circular zero-shaped table, a novelty which didn’t really set the furniture trade alight when manufactured, The Chocolate Lounge is possibly the only place in town or country with one.
The cappuccino (order at the counter) looked as if a fluffy cumulonimbus cloud had landed on it. Of course, it was sprinkled with chocolate.
A baguette filled with Coronation Chicken and salad was served by the sole, lovely staff member. The baguette was very under-baked, the filling dense, rich and very filling. I only ate half. The tomato or lettuce wouldn’t win any prizes for quality, but were perky.
A piece of coffee cake followed. It needed more coffee to make it really sing. I took away some chocolates, not cheap at 80p per chocolate, so I limited myself to five, a peppermint my top choice.
The eccentric Lounge may show Mick’s determination to get as far away from the Yard as possible. Blandness is avoided by not only the décor but also the chocolate choice.
He might up the game a little by adding more quality to the food choice, but no doubt he has his reasons for this safe menu, with Copnor perhaps not attracting a more fizzy crowd.
He has certainly chosen a different career path. The Met’s loss is Copnor’s gain though, the new chocolatier is in his second career element.
My bill came to £13 including the chocolates.
The Chocolate Lounge, 323 Copnor Road, Portsmouth, PO3 5EG. (023)9217 7036. Open 9am – 5pm Mon–Sat.
Disabled access: space for wheelchairs.
Directions: from Portsbridge roundabout take London Road going south to Copnor Road (A288), the café is on the right a way down the long road. On-street parking.