Portsmouth restaurants excited for 'proper dining atmosphere' as indoor dining returns

RESTAURATEURS and cafe owners who have waited for indoor dining to return say they are champing at the bit to get back to work.

While outdoor dining allowed many restaurants to reopen their gardens and terraces, there were many places that couldn’t reopen and were left to rely on takeaway services like JustEat and Deliveroo to survive.

From Monday, groups of six or two households will be able to enjoy meals and drinks inside venues, in a move which will see thousands of places reopen for the first time since the third lockdown hit.

But for Faz Ahmed owner of The Akash in Albert Road, Southsea, the hardest part of lockdown was seeing an empty restaurant.

Faz Ahmed inside The Akash restaurant in Albert Road, Southsea. Picture: Habibur Rahman

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He said: ‘Normally this place is full of life, and we have familiar faces coming in every evening. To me they’re not customers, they’re like an extended family, and the staff have really missed everyone too.

‘Further along the road there were places that had opened for outdoor dining – it was nice to see that happening but we couldn’t facilitate it ourselves.

‘I’m itching to get a full restaurant again, today honestly couldn’t come soon enough.’

King Street Tavern, Southsea. Picture: Habibur Rahman

Like many places, The Akash has gone through some renovation work during lockdown, with an extended kitchen and redecorating in the dining area.

Mr Ahmed is optimistic that the reopening of restaurants across the area will be a major success.

He added: ‘Supporting local businesses is so critical right now, because we’ve all really struggled through lockdown.

‘I think we’re going to be in for a busy few weeks – we already have some bookings sorted and I think with how fed up people are with lockdown, they’ll be out in droves now.

Owners of the pub, Mick Forfar and Steve Kingsley hope for the venue to be ready by the time lockdown ends. Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘I just hope that this is it now; we can’t have the government reversing this roadmap because it’ll do so much damage to the industry.’

In Palmerston Road, Southsea, the city council closed the road to vehicles so that diners could eat outdoors.

But just around the corner in Clarendon Road, staff at Fisherman’s Kitchen could do little more than watch from the sidelines.

Gary Moreton-Jones, co-owner of Fisherman's Kitchen in Southsea. Picture: Chris Moorhouse

Although takeaways have continued, co-owner Gary Moreton-Jones admitted that this doesn’t hold a candle to indoor dining.

He said: ‘We’ve still been getting fish and chips out to people, but I must admit it’s really not the same.

‘When there are customers in the atmosphere is completely different – there’s constant chatter as the smell of grilled fish and garlic butter wafts through the restaurant.

‘We’ve missed that, and cannot wait to welcome everybody back in.’

Elsewhere in the city, other venues had to be a bit more creative when it came to dealing with the demand for outdoor seating, and the British weather.

Café Rouge at Gunwharf Quays has launched two new outdoor dining pods and it has undergone an extensive renovation.

Cafe Rouge in Portsmouth

Jacki Fletcher, from the restaurant, said: ‘We are thrilled to be launching the outdoor dining pods just in time for the reopening of indoor dining.

‘We’re looking forward to bringing some much-needed cheer. With our brand-new menu and some exciting additions, there’s something for everyone and we can’t wait to reopen our doors.’

Sean Marshall, owner of one of Portsmouth's highest rated restaurants King Street Tavern, which won a Good Food Award for 2021, said he was raring to get back to business.

The Southsea venue created its own delivery service during lockdown, teaming up with Aqua Cars, after it grew frustrated with the chain delivery companies.

Sean has also rebranded the kitchen at King Street Tavern – and it’s now called Bear Bones BBQ Co, so that the business can be transported to other venues or appear at events.

Sean said: ‘We have been very lucky to have such wonderful support from our customers during lockdown but there’s no substitute for having people sitting in your place, enjoying themselves, having conversations and seeing the look on their faces as they enjoy themselves.’

Sean has also been busy converting the former Kitsch n Dor venue opposite, turning it into Scott’s Tap & Kellar, which is due to open in June.

Also looking forward to opening nearby is Carter & Co in Great Southsea Street.

The restaurant, which used to be the former Italian Bar and Grill, has been redeveloped by Mick Forfar and Steve Kingsley.

They have been working on the venue since December, but Steve said they have decided to wait to officially open – and they will be welcoming their first customers on Thursday, May 27.

He said: ‘We wanted to get it just right. It feels wonderful to be nearly there. It is so exciting.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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