Salt beef, sea biscuits and the occasional weevil; the food endured by sailors during the Napoleonic wars is seldom imagined to be appealing.
Fast-forward to 2013 to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard’s Storehouse No. 9, a fine Georgian grade I listed building originally used to store supplies for the Royal Navy. No salt beef was apparent, nor sea biscuits. Weevils were off the menu too.
The glorious building, with its arcade and the ‘biggest antique shop in the south,’ adjoins The Georgian Tearooms and was crammed to the gills with artefacts – a 1770 flintlock at £765, naval uniforms, cutlasses.
The walls were laden with Union Jacks, nautical pictures for sale and Victorian or earlier period games to play. Heavy metal chairs and tables were well spaced apart on the sturdy, studded original floorboards.
It was counter service and a long queue snaked through the tables with the occasional loud shout from the partitioned kitchen. There was nothing to startle the visitor on the menu: paninis (brie & cranberry, beef and horseradish, cheese and onion and others); toasted sandwiches; baguettes (same fillings). Served with crisps and fruit, they are joined by jackets (cheese & bean or ham or tuna).
Or tomato soup; broccoli and cream cheese bake with salad; lasagne; the Dreadnought meat platter features turkey, beef, ham, pepperoni and sausage, the Vanguard cheese & meat platter of ham & brie, gherkins, chutney & side salad; bread and butter or a Ploughman’s platter.
Prices were around the £5–7 mark, a slice of cake £3.
There was a trad cream tea too. No rum rations but beers and tiny bottles of wine were available as well as teas, coffees (latte and cappuccino come powdered in a tin, an item which could have made it to the storehouse in earlier times if such artificial concentrates had been invented).
Finding a seat in the crowded place wasn’t easy, an uncleared table eventually bagged. The Vanguard came on a wooden paddle and the plastic, processed meat was inedible. The chalky brie was somewhat manageable but fridge cold. The dull iceberg-heavy salad had no dressing, there was no butter, the baguette was under-cooked and the chutney was a curious ginger mango which didn’t go with anything.
Over half a million visitors trundle down the Historic Dockyard’s cobblestoned streets a year – many of them from overseas. With this kind of poor quality food on offer, all tourists might very well have preferred to be served the sailors’ diet.
Service was fine and pleasant, but it was surprising to see a working staff member picking and eating food. Despite the five-star hygiene certificate, the place looked and felt grubby.
The cake stand covers needing a good scrub to rid them of all the finger marks – not impressive.
I walked across the road to Boathouse No.7’s restaurant. They were serving fabulous- looking fish and chips; sausages and other good-looking food in spotless surroundings.
Tourists expect better victuals like these, not poorly sourced and prepared food, to enable them to enjoy a better, more rounded Historic Dockyard experience.
In nautical terms, give ’em a wide berth and push the boat out elsewhere.
My bill came to £9.95.
Georgian Tearooms, Storehouse 9, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard,, PO1 3PX, (023) 92 85 1723. Open 10am–5pm (5.30pm close) every day.
Disabled access: Fine. Lots of space.
How to get there: Follow the signs to the Historic Dockyard and walk through the gates. Storehouse No.9 is on the left down the cobblestoned street. There’s on-street parking or a neighbouring car park.
FOOD Two stars out of Five
SERVICE Three stars out of Five
ATMOSPHERE Three stars out of Five