What springs to mind when you think of Laura Ashley? Swathes of floral fabrics, pastel coloured sofas, elegant light fittings and tasteful made-to-measure curtains?
Well there is nothing restrained or refined about the bonkers interior of the restaurant which has taken over the former furniture shop building in Palmerston Road, Southsea.
Panero Lounge Café Bar is part of a chain founded in the early noughties by three mates who just wanted somewhere cool and comfy to drink.
They admit food was an afterthought, but one restaurant became two, then three, and now there is a whole chain of lounges with truly eccentric decor.
From the outside it looks like a Cafe Rouge-sort of affair. It has a stylish European facade.
But inside it’s like stepping through Alice’s looking glass and ending up at the Mad Hatter’s tea party.
The ceiling is covered in tasselled lampshades of varying sizes, there are ornate chandeliers and huge metal star and crescent light fittings.
There isn’t an inch of space on the walls that isn’t covered in pictures – think the famous Chinese Girl painting, jostling alongside bicycle drawings. There are myriad mirrors and architectural drawings. It’s completely crazy,
But it’s difficult to spot the staff because they are all in casual clobber, which I know is the trendy thing to do nowadays, and fits with the café’s hipster image, but it’s a bit confusing.
My dining companion arrives early so walks around looking for me upstairs and down, not sure whether to wait to be seated or not.
There’s only a smattering of people in and plenty of staff and although she was clearly looking a bit lost no one asks if they can help. I know it's a small thing, but it matters.
And she didn’t know who worked there because everyone was dressed so casually and, to be honest, one member of staff looked a little scruffy, rather than cool.
Once I arrive we find a nice table in the window and work out we have to order at the bar – which is fine, it would just be handy to have had that pointed out.
There is so much on the menu to choose from and no real theme – steak frites, Mexican bowl full of rice and avocado, fishcakes, burgers, paninis and lots of information about dietary requirements.
I’d heard about the Tin Pan Louie’s Chilli (£9.25) from a friend who said it was really tasty. So that's what I go for.
My companion plumps for the three tapas and a glass of wine deal at £10.50.
Our food arrives quickly and the chilli has good chunks of beef, a dollop of soured cream, rice, a slice of lime and mature cheddar. The rumours are correct, it is good – and very spicy, though I’m a bit of a weed when it comes to heat. It's a hefty bowl of comfort food which I struggle to finish.
The tapas board of potatas bravas, teriyaki chicken and buttermilk chicken arrives with lots of ciabatta and what my dining companion says is a really good house sauvignon blanc. Not bad for less than £11. Although the buttermilk fried chicken is ‘too greasy’, the other dishes are ‘fine’.
We finish with a generous portion of churros covered in cinnamon with chocolate dipping sauce (£5.95). Lovely.
Panero Lounge isn’t a destination restaurant – you wouldn’t go there on a fancy date – but it doesn’t pretend to be. It's a great place for a quick bite, lunch, or somewhere to hang out with friends, and very reasonable. It's not an exciting dining experience – apart from the decor – but it’s good quality and value-for-money.
Much like Laura Ashley.
Panero Lounge, Southsea
(023) 9229 8269
Ratings (out of 5)