The Mercer Collection, a group of discreet, upmarket hotels housed in Victorian/Edwardian villas in Southsea, now includes a restaurant in handsome Florence House.
The Kitchen opened in February next door to the characterful building, taking over three small downstairs rooms and a bar.
Muted grey decor and subtle lighting add a degree of serenity to dining, not often found in these parts thanks to a multitude of noisy chains in the city.
Seating at the bar is at high pub-like tables, which seems at odds with the rest of the feel of The Kitchen. The restaurant is beautifully and charismatically run by Luis and Mary, a Portuguese couple who go the extra hundred kilometres to make you feel at home and there’s also an outside space due to open shortly.
The dinner menu is mercifully small with only seven starters and eight mains and the website states the team has 30 years of Michelin and Rosette experience.
Starters include Parma ham with curly endive, Parmesan shavings, rock salt and olive oil and pan fried scallops with garlic, spinach, bacon and red pesto dressing.
Follow this with the über fashionable 24-hour belly pork with bubble and squeak mash, cider jus or grilled fillet of salmon with king prawn, chorizo and tomato risotto – all priced from a very reasonable £5.95 to £18.95.
The Market Fish dish, my choice, was sea bass fillets with parsley mash, roasted cherry tomatoes, a bundle of vegetables tied with a designer leek strand and wholegrain mustard sauce.
The pretty dish, topped with long chive stalks, demonstrated that The Kitchen can cook a fine piece of fish.
But gluey, over-processed mash and tasteless vegetables were crying out for seasoning and butter.
The sauce was fine (in fact extra sauce would have been welcomed), though the style of the dish reminded me of more of ’80s cooking than that of 2014.
A bread board of various breads and olives needed fresher bread, while the wine list came up with an excellent French Grenache Blanc served in a terrific, thin glass.
Desserts are reputedly homemade though the meaningless words ‘luxury’, ‘exotic’ and ‘symphony’ sat uneasily in their descriptions, forcing the sweets to live up to their hype.
Options included banana caramel crumble tart; Symphony of Sweets (lemon posset, chocolate parfait, pistachio shortbread); mango Florentine with exotic fruit salad and a selection of local and continental cheeses. Prices ranged from £5.50 to £8.50.
My homemade chocolate brownie with creole fudge ice cream delivered disappointment on all levels.
Too dense and sweet, the brownie was uncomfortably sandwiched between an over-rich dark chocolate sauce and ice cream which had melted and re-frozen with shards of ice making it impossible to eat.
Covered in squiggles of chocolate and decorated with a strawberry and physalis, the dish also smacked of yesteryear.
If The Kitchen wishes to make its mark for hotel guests and locals, it has to up its game. It’s already there in service and atmosphere, which are both hugely impressive, but it has to live up to its name.
My bill came to £26.50, not including a well-deserved tip for Luis and Mary.