Café Rouge, Gunwharf, Portsmouth: Restaurant review

An exterior view of Cafe Rouge at Gunwharf Quays, in Portsmouth
An exterior view of Cafe Rouge at Gunwharf Quays, in Portsmouth
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Roll the clock back and dining at Café Rouge was once as fashionable as watching Friends at its peak.  The French-style chain enjoyed a surge in popularity in the decade that followed its founding in 1989. 

Everyone wanted to be seen eating and drinking there, it was very much en vogue.

The port salut and caramelised onion souffle at Cafe Rouge at Gunwharf Quays, in Portsmouth

The port salut and caramelised onion souffle at Cafe Rouge at Gunwharf Quays, in Portsmouth

Were Hugh Grant and Andie McDowell to thank for their visit to the Covent Garden branch in 1994’s Four Weddings and a Funeral?

Was it the doing of Bridget Jones as she supped on chardonnay there two years later?

Fast forward to 2019 and life for Café Rouge and its contemporaries is less certain, as once-high street mainstays shut their doors like venus fly traps in a room full of rotten fruit.

But with more than 120 venues across the UK the brand lives on – and it was at Gunwharf Quays the Dish Detective sought food and shelter on a windy and rainy night.

The steak frites at Cafe Rouge at Gunwharf Quays, in Portsmouth

The steak frites at Cafe Rouge at Gunwharf Quays, in Portsmouth

Boasting a unit hugging the Millennium Walkway, next to the marina’s towering blue Stothert and Pitt crane, first impressions of the restaurant from the outside are good.

As its name would suggest its signage and interior is mostly red.

It offsets fashionably against dark wooden, marble-topped tables and chequered flooring kissed by warm lighting from above.

So far, so French. 

The treacle tart and, above, creme brulee at Cafe Rouge at Gunwharf Quays, in Portsmouth

The treacle tart and, above, creme brulee at Cafe Rouge at Gunwharf Quays, in Portsmouth

My companion and I – who have never been to Café Rouge before – are seated quickly and politely on the upper level.

It’s busy but not heaving.

Off the bat we respectively opt for a large, 250ml Via Nova Pinot Grigio (£7.95) and a 175ml Côte Lavande Malbec (£5.75).

The latter, mine, is soft and fruity with tasty tones of blackberry and blackcurrant.

But both tipples are a little pricey for a chain, we think.

On to starters. In it for the long haul, we go down the route of the three-course, seasonal set menu.

This is more respectable at £18.95 per person.

Plucked from our four options, first up is a savoury port salut cheese and caramelised onion soufflé. It is delicious but slightly underdone.

There is no golden-brown crust and the soufflé itself is still slightly bouncy, but the combination of soft, hot cheese against tangy onion inside was gorgeous.

My main course, steak frites, also hits the spot but is not without fault.

Having asked for medium-rare, the 5oz Black Angus rump is bloodier than I’m used to – but a quick bit of research tells me this is the norm in France.

Nevertheless it is juicy, sumptuous and hefty for a set menu main. No wonder it carries a £2 supplement and a frankly cheeky £2.25 top-up for peppercorn sauce on the side. Garlic butter is free as standard, though.

The moules mariniére my friend orders is substantial and goes down a treat.

The third and final course brings with it a chance to satisfy Dish Detective’s famous sweet tooth.

Arriving in the form of a treacle tart, it is distinctly not French – but a set menu fixture nonetheless.

It is beautifully moist, perfectly warm and – served with a helping of vanilla crème fraîche –melts in the mouth how any good treacle tart should.

My opposite number is equally pleased to crack into her first ever crème brûlée. 

Ultimately, Café Rouge didn’t change our lives.

But it delivered good taste, atmosphere and value and there will be a second visit. 

Café Rouge, Gunwharf (023) 9275 4849

Ratings (out of five)

Food: 4

Value: 4

Ambience: 4

Child-friendly: 3