1865 Restaurant at Queens Hotel, Southsea | Restaurant review
If you were in charge of keeping Her Majesty well-fed during her recent trip to Portsmouth, where would you have taken her for a proper Pompey meal fit for a queen?
With so much attention focused on her tour of her eponymous aircraft carrier on the Saturday, there was no mention of how our 95-year-old monarch staved off her hunger throughout the day.
One venue in the city would have had fortune and branding on its side. The Queens Hotel at Southsea would satisfy anyone with an appreciation for the dead-pan obvious, and it has recently reopened its restaurant as part of a £4m redevelopment.
Named after the year the hotel was founded, 1865 reopened with Dish Detective among returning patrons.
The hotel and restaurant’s décor takes inspiration from a former monarch’s heyday, with vintage features meant to nod at Edwardian England style which largely succeeds at seemingly blending the old and modern. It's like a classy Agatha Christie set redesigned by someone who enjoys hanging out at London’s Soho House.
Of course, tasteful furniture does not mean you’re set for tasteful food.
Thankfully for 1865, the restaurant manages to marry the two.
Eating from a taster menu, the first course consisted of a brioche and tunworth cheese, with figs, candied walnuts, and balsamic shallot jam. Perfectly portioned, interesting, and overwhelmingly delicious – although just slightly on the sweet side due to the brioche, which made the whole dish come dangerously close to seeming like a dessert.
Next up was tandoori monkfish with monkfish pakora (spiced fritter), curried cauliflower, coconut sauce and coriander. The fish was perfectly cooked and its chewy consistency complimented with the slightly crunchy cauliflower pakora. The sauce worked well, and it would be safe for anyone who goes to an Indian restaurant and asks if the korma is spicy.
Then came the pork belly and scallops with black pudding, potato terrine, peas, honey and mustard sauce.
I have never tasted pork belly so good. Filling – even as a taster portion – and cooked so as to be effortless to eat. The pork flavour wasn't lost under the sauce, and the black pudding added an interesting contrasting texture. The scallop was cooked well, but felt like something of an afterthought.
For dessert, there was a Black Forest 'gateau' with cherries and hazelnuts and clotted ice cream. The scare-quotes made my table mates and I concerned we were going to be served something ironic, or worse – 'deconstructed'. Was I about to be served a handful of cocoa beans and be told bon appetit?
Thankfully, the Black Forest gateau was very much constructed, arriving as a solid block of chocolate cake firmly encased in more chocolate. I would gladly take part in its assembly to enjoy another sample.
Overall, the food was cooked and prepared to an excellent standard, and – aside from a very near miss with the starter – none of the dishes felt loaded down with sugar, salt, or fat. The ingredients and their combinations tasted fresh, filling, and interesting – without being pretentious. It seems like the kitchen is still finding its feet, with the brioche and scallops and scare-quotes all aspiring to a 'daring' idea of fine dining. Does it work? On the whole yes, but I would say it is less daring and more curious.
So, is it a meal fit for a queen? Dish Detective wouldn’t dream of second guessing the Queen’s taste – and after 70 years of rule, she’s earned the right to eat out wherever she pleases. What I can say with confidence is that 1865 is fit for a much-loved matriarch – or patriarch – of any family. Whether it’s a family visit, a birthday treat, an anniversary, or just for the sheer indulgent love of good food eaten somewhere other than your own home – 1865 is a regal choice.
1865 Restaurant at The Queens Hotel, Southsea
Tel: (023) 9282 2466