DISH DETECTIVE: A pinch of salt brightens up a grey day at the marina

Cafe Salt at Wicor Marina, off Cranleigh Road, in Portchester.
Cafe Salt at Wicor Marina, off Cranleigh Road, in Portchester.
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It’s the tail end of Storm Brian and the wind is whipping around the sails in the boatyard causing the ropes to make that familiar boatyard clink.

It’s a miserable grey day, the kind where grey sea merges seamlessly into grey sky.

Avocado and feta on sourdough drizzled with chilli oil.

Avocado and feta on sourdough drizzled with chilli oil.

As we pull up in Wicor Marina, off Cranleigh Road, Portchester, men in oil-stained hoodies and wellies are working to winch up some kind of vessel for repair.

The car park is ramshackle and busy. We grab a space and hope we’re in the right place.

We are a short walk away from the cafe and as we turn the corner a bland container-like building with a few tables outside greets us.

We’re always told not to judge a book by its cover and Cafe Salt is a shining example of that old adage – for inside it’s warm, welcoming and tastefully decorated.

The view down the harbour from Cafe Salt.

The view down the harbour from Cafe Salt.

There’s carefully-chosen artwork hanging on the trendy grey walls, a wooden floor that gives the impression of being on-board an old boat, nautical oil lamps and a piano in the corner.

There are two rooms, with the far room decked with chandeliers and great views down the harbour towards the Solent from the end of the cafe.

That’s not to say the view isn’t spectacular from the other section – it is and the binoculars on the windowsills are a nice touch. You really could lose an afternoon here gazing out across the water watching all the boats coming in and out.

The place is busy too. There’s a big group that’s booked the best table (under the chandelier) plus families, friends, people working in the boatyard and plenty of dog walkers (furry friends are welcome here too) who have walked the 20 minutes or so along from Portchester Castle.

Inside Cafe Salt.

Inside Cafe Salt.

The menu is small – just a handful of brunch options served until 2pm. There’s a glass counter near the till with an array of home-made cakes including flapjacks, brownies and apple cake, and usually a few other lunch options, although we are in past 1pm so there’s just one lonely cheese straw left.

There’s a soup option and a vegan one handwritten on the board behind the counter.

We order from the menu choosing the crushed avocado, feta, crispy bacon and chilli oil on sourdough bread (£8.20), a can of lemon San Pellegrino (£2.20) and a slice of orange and almond cake (£4).

Lunch arrives fairly quickly and is well presented – a neat stack and a generous portion.

The avocado and feta is a little bland but the drizzle of chilli oil gives it a kick.

As we’re eating an order of the sausage sandwich passes our table, also artfully presented and smelling wonderful.

We enjoy our lunch then savour the sweet-but-just-right cake while looking out across the water.

A mix of funk and soul plays at just the right level creating a good ambience and the staff are busy but friendly. There’s no rush for our table either.

It’s not the cheapest lunch, our total bill comes to £14.40, and there’s only a limited choice, but Cafe Salt does its job well. This is a place to enjoy.

The chap on the counter says it’s the best job he’s had because of the views across the water he enjoys every shift.

And we agree, this is a wonderful gem tucked away in the most unlikely of places – Portchester’s very own diamond in the rough.

CAFE SALT, WICOR MARINA, PORTCHESTER

RATINGS (out of five)

Food: 4

Value: 4

Ambience: 3

Child-friendly: 4

Tel: 01329 248609