Wimpy, Clarence Pier, Southsea | Restaurant review
If you ever want a trip back in time then Dish Detective has the answer.
We are on a family day out in Southsea, and with kids it’s almost impossible to swerve Clarence Pier and its alluring flashing arcade games and stomach-churning fairground rides.
The electronic tune of Oh My Darling Clementine acts like Pied Piper’s penny whistle, as it calls across the Common to anyone under the age of 16.
We join the packs of marauding teenagers, who seem to have a fashion for wearing oversized jumpers and looking miserable despite it being a perfectly acceptable mid-20 degrees on a sunny/cloudy summer’s day, and go in search of some fun - and some food.
After exhausting the small one with the dodgems, waltzer and log flume, and to get over the disappointment of having our pound coins swallowed by the kiddie machines at the front (not for the first time this summer, two points – will we ever learn? And will the amusement arcade ever fix them?) we decide that it’s time for some grub.
The new Mozzarella Joe replacement appeals, however with soggy jeans from the log flume, we can barely move our stiff legs, so we waddle up the stairs into Wimpy.
Little did we know at the bottom of the stairs that each of the steps, and there are plenty so avoid if you have a pushchair or wheelchair in your group, would be transporting us back a couple of years.
We arrive at the top and are greeted by a young lad who looks pleasant but thoroughly fed up after a busy day – and are welcomed into 1985… I mean Wimpy Southsea.
Everything about this place evokes childhood memories, the kids parties of the early 1990s come flooding back. The trips to Wimpy, a chain which was once as common on the high street as McDonald’s, at weekends – or on one particularly memorable 10th birthday, after school.
The tiled floor, the seats with metal trim, the smell, the stained glass light fixings, even the staff’s chequered uniforms, some parts of this place have clearly never changed.
The restaurant overlooks the arcades on one side, and the bus stop on the other. We opt for the bus stop, where there is an ambulance attending to a woman who has passed out and is lying on the pavement.
There are a few other customers, and I try not to look the other people in the eye and they do the same, as if we are breaking the unspoken gold standards of life by entering this place.
While a lot of things haven’t changed, including some of Wimpy’s core menu items, Covid has seen this particular restaurant scrap table service and we are instead handed a piece of A4 paper and a pen and told to fill that in and bring it up to the till.
A strange system, and I wonder just how many people have handled this pen on a busy day during a pandemic, and whether that constitutes more of a risk than a waiter standing near us talking. I also wonder about the amount of paper this place must be getting through. Well at least they will be keeping Ryman’s in business.I take our completed school work to the till, where I hand it through a hole in the Perspex and the server tries to decipher my handwriting while punching the order in.
I have opted for a kids’ meal burger and chips, (£4.95) plus garish-coloured slush (£2.10), and I go for a quarter pounder and chips with lemonade (£9.90).Our food takes a while to arrive as there are a few problems with orders on another table which causes a bit of commotion.But when our food gets to our table it looks underwhelming, limp and flat and served in a cardboard box, not the Wimpy of the golden age where it came on a plate with a knife and fork.We tuck in, the chips are okay, and the kids’ burger, which quite frankly I have seen better presented at car boot sale burger vans, has one bite taken from it and is then swiftly rejected.My quarter pounder is what you’d expect – and it’s not just the decor that’s taken me back a few decades, the combination of brown bun and sauce is just as it was 30 years ago. That classic Wimpy taste, probably the best part of our whole visit.
But for nearly £20 for two people, it’s so far wide of the mark of other places.
We eat what we can, vow never to return and scarper down the exit stairs past the sorry-looking closed down Pirate Pete’s soft play. The bright colours of the play centre has caught the young one’s attention so we ask when it’s going to open again and are told ‘probably never’.
Righto, so a trip up the stairs of Clarence Pier is as disappointing as the coin-swallowing kids’ rides by its entrance.
Even if you have stiff wet jeans, I’d recommend a stroll into Osborne Road/Palmerston Road. Anything there – and that includes Subway and Wetherspoons – would be better.
A message from the editor, Mark Waldron
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