DISH DETECTIVE SPECIAL: Where's the best food at Portsmouth's Commercial Road Christmas market?
BOUND by a commitment to living life in the shadows, the maddening buzz of Commercial Road is not something the Dish Detective yearns for.
But with Christmas fast approaching, this hustle and bustle is at its peak – bringing enough footfall to be confident I could go about my work incognito among the crowds.
Famous at this time of year are the destination’s festive stalls – collectively known as Portsmouth Christmas Market – boasting oodles of offerings from crafts and cards to food and drink.
Given the fact I wasn’t about to crunch my way through a bespoke bauble, the Schwenkgrill slap-bang outside Cascades seemed a solid place to go undercover once again.
This pop-up faux-German shack boasts an open-plan layout, centred around a big, swivelling grill above a platform of hot coals.
Four kinds of sausages are available, including the arguably now-pedestrian Bratwurst, but I settled on a spicy Krakauer to give my lunchtime a bit of a kick.
Service was blunt but swift, which didn’t disappoint me too much as the stall itself had next-to-no seating, so I wasn’t inclined to stick around for long.
When the £4.50 Krakauer arrived, I couldn’t help but smile and let out a silent laugh in my head. My sausage was served half-bare in a meagre excuse for a bun – I almost felt embarrassed for it.
Perhaps I’d drawn the short straw and caught the vendors at the end of a loaf, or maybe they just wanted to make their meat look massive. Either way, the bun was not big enough.
But it’s the taste that counts, so I pressed on and took a much-anticipated first bite. Delicious. But I had one question. What spice?
Sadly, my attempt at a vaguely fiery lunch fell flat. As enjoyable as it was, the sausage packed little-to-no heat. It simply didn’t do what was promised on the tin. For that reason, £4.50 felt a little steep.
Moving on, I meandered next door to the Alpine Bar. Its cheery staff greeted me with a friendly smile before taking my order of a hot chocolate.
It’s a very safe bet, admittedly, but a perfect winter warmer when it’s done right. I’m glad to say it was.
For £2, I received a reasonably-sized beverage topped with whipped cream, chocolate dust and half a Cadbury Flake.
With no need for sugar, this went down a treat as I sat at one of the bar’s multiple tables and watched the world go by – serenaded by gaudy Christmas tunes.
Its confines were a warm and welcome respite from the pouring rain and packed walkways and, as I was informed by staff, you can even take your market-bought food into the bar.
I’m sure they would prefer it if you made a purchase when you got there, but the reassurance of being welcome saves the awkwardness of a typically British ‘these-seats-are-only-for-customers’ turf war.
If hot chocolate or a simple cuppa doesn’t tickle your fancy, you can be more adventurous than I was by opting for a Glühwein (German mulled wine) for £4, or a pint of Kalternberg lager for 50p more.
No doubt steep for some, not least the Dish Detective, but the latter can even be enjoyed in an £8 plastic stein – the perfect item of memorabilia if you can’t bear to lose those memories of boozing in a high street market.
As my assignment drew to a close, I picked up a few ‘German kisses’ for the road, from a stall of the same name.
At £1-a-piece, these yummy chocolate confections are effectively Tunnock’s teacakes on steroids – packed with sweetened foam from egg whites instead of marshmallow.
Given their size (and indeed potential mess when eating), I likened them more to a sickly-sweet snog than a gentle peck, but as I learned from my Krakauer half-an-hour earlier, the Germans go big.
I ate three of the cakes that afternoon – one cappuccino-flavoured, one coconut and one milk chocolate. They went down a treat.
All-in-all I enjoyed my time at Portsmouth Christmas Market. It’s not a spot I would leave the house solely to visit, but its stalls are a sound way to break up a Christmas shopping trip.
The Dish Detective features every Friday in The Guide, inside The News.