Carol Godsmark reviews: The Port House, Port Solent

The Port House at Port Solent

The Port House at Port Solent

Bar + Block at Whiteley Shopping Centre

FOOD REVIEW: Bar + Block, Whiteley Shopping Centre

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Jay Rayner’s recent delicious rant in his Observer restaurant column had a go at restaurants and cafés which think that posting menus and opening times on a website is for mere mortals.

It hits a nerve with this reviewer – and probably you too. It’s as if these businesses don’t want or value your custom. Twitter and Facebook entries are poor, lazy, incomplete substitutes.

The Port House, Port Solent is one such offender – the only mention they have is on Vanilla Catering’s website.

Major refurbishments have finished ‘which has seen the venue transformed into a beautiful waterside venue with contemporary furnishing and delicious bespoke Hampshire food produced by Vanilla. The Port House also has a 36-cover café that is open from 8.30am until 11pm daily.’

Open to berth holders and visitors, there’s no need to sign in. Just walk in the door to the right of the Portsmouth Harbour Yacht Club’s entrance. It shouldn’t be this hard to find out facts. Was it worth it?

Well, yes and no. The service by a sole young staff member was nothing short of excellent, her calmness and efficiency a lesson to many over-staffed eateries.

But the interior resembles a function room rather than the billed café, a few haphazard tables dotted around the large grey room with an L-shaped bar, a small deli for baguette-making and screened-off areas. Little attempt at décor is made apart from two pictures.

‘Beautiful?’ Hardly. I felt as if I had stumbled across the port’s banking business and that staff would surely ask me for my pin number and my mother’s maiden name. Only the veranda’s view of the marina stopped me from whipping my card out.

The menu, resolutely meaty despite being next to the water, offers butternut squash soup, a charcuterie plank, tarte tatin, ribeye steak, meat and veggie burgers, pork shoulder, a pie, Caesar salad, beef chilli and pasta with tomatoes.

One fish choice – prawn and crayfish – turns up as a cocktail with mayo. Prices? From £4.50 to £19.95, most mains around £9 and most with skinny fries.

While an American sorted out Europe’s refugee dilemma in a near-monologue, I waited for the Port House steak sandwich: a chargrilled minute steak with caramelised red onion marmalade, rocket and ciabatta with skinnies.

Excellent ciabatta held a decent piece of medium-cooked beef and a vast overload of very sweet red onion which I scraped off after one bite, the sweetness overwhelming other tastes.

Asking how diners like their steak – it was thick enough – was the only service negative and easily excused thanks to the waitress’ delightful personality.

Despite the sweetness of the marmalade, it showed that the kitchen knows its onions, and other dishes looked well made over many other Port Solent eateries’ offerings.

Finish with the usual suspects including sticky toffee pudding and a brownie (£5.50). This new place is not necessarily a destination, possibly only for sailors preferring a club house feel over a café.

But if those responsible wish for the wider public to come, get a website shouting your wares, the who, why, what, where of your business.

My bill came to just under £15, a tip most definitely left.

ESSENTIALS

Port Hope, Port Solent, Marina Keep, PO6 4TH (023)92 385389. Open for breakfast from 8.30am, other meals from 11am to 9pm, bar open until 11pm.

Food: ***

Service: *****

Atmosphere: **

Disabled access: fine.

How to get there: follow signs to Port Solent, continuing to signs for Port Hope just after the main shopping marina.

Parking: large car park right outside.

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