Streaming music instead of CDs. Tubes of garlic paste that mean you no longer need to slice your fingers or make your hands smell while cooking (and in the course of a lifetime will save you literally hours if not days of fiddly peeling and chopping). All great innovations, yet all just a twist on the usual.
Sometimes the same can be said for places which can suddenly become a favourite. And that’s what the Dish Detective thought when they went to one of Southsea’s newer restaurants, Carter & Co.
My word, it’s like what has gone before, but it’s so good.
The Dish Detective used to live round the corner from there, back in the days when it was the India Arms and still felt like a pub but, from memory, was trying out being a “curry tapas” place or something similar.
Also from memory, that phase didn’t last long. It then became the Italian Bar and Grill for the best part of a decade, and now has been taken over by Steve Kingsley, of nightclub Kingsley’s fame, and Mick Forfar, who turned The Wellington in Waterlooville into the desirably swanky Number 73, plus Steve’s son Tom.
Fair to say they’ve got form in the field. Carter & Co opened at the end of May and after giving it a couple of months the Dish Detective was eager to give it a go.
We dropped in for brunch, because nothing makes you feel like you are having a treat more than eating a meal you wouldn’t usually.
The first thing you notice is how well it’s been done up inside. It feels smart, but not flashy; upmarket, but welcoming. There are stylish touches, and also plenty of tables.
On a warm day, we walk through the bar and sit in the garden, which has also been given an overhaul compared to how it looked in recent years. It’s a little gem of a place, and dining al fresco in those surroundings makes us feel like we’re on holiday, albeit just for an hour or two, a few miles from home.
Steve is around, and truly is one of the best in the business. If there was an award for the nicest man in Southsea, he’d be right in the running - there’s a chat with everyone, a keen eye overseeing that things are running properly, and a desire to make sure that all guests are looked-after and enjoying themselves; exactly how things should be.
There’s work going on upstairs to create seven boutique rooms, which Steve makes sure doesn’t affect his guests’ enjoyment, but does pique our curiosity and will provide an interesting alternative for a night away.
We settle down and order an early-in-the-day pint – all part of the treat of brunch – of Neck Oil IPA (£4.20) on draught, perfect on a hot day, and have a look through the menu. There’s a lot we linger over – the prospect of a full English (£11) is enticing, knowing that Buckwell’s meat is in the kitchen – and salmon and eggs (£10), and baked eggs (£9) also sound good.
But we go for a Southsea Madame – sourdough bread with ham hock on top, smothered in melted cheddar and a fried egg. It’s delicious – the flavours complement each other, the salty ham, the tangy cheese and the soft egg working in unison. In some ways it may not be the hardest dish to prepare, but it’s done just right, and that skill is seen also in our companion’s order.
They choose three small plates – three green herb falafel (£7), which come with a bed of avocado with a slick of chilli jam on the plate; vegan halloumi fries (£7), chunky things that come dressed in rocket and prawns (£9), fried in chilli and garlic and dressed in a smoked garlic aioli. These are all dishes to take you away to somewhere warm on holiday, a Greek island or the south of France perhaps, the taste of sun and lazy days. Needless to say they all disappear sharpish.
The lunch menu is small but perfectly formed, and the dinner menu looks carefully curated too – and we are told the new Sunday roasts are also pretty good.
The Dish Detective is totally won over by Carter & Co. It’s simultaneously a holiday bar, fine dining and a pub with a few nooks in which we’d like to spend a long winter evening. It’s a great addition to Southsea, and we will be back. Soon.
Tel: (023) 9400 8103
A message from the editor, Mark Waldron.
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