I’d found myself in some kind of nightmare situation – it was a busy lunchtime in Portsmouth’s Commercial Road and Dish Detective was famished.
After the Lodge Cafe in Victoria Park was booted out by the council – and is currently lying sad and boarded up – and the cafe at BHS was cruelly snatched away by Sir Philip Green’s greed, where is someone meant to go for a bit of tranquillity and a decent sandwich in the centre of town?
Sure, there’s a plethora of chains if that’s your thing – Subway, Greggs, McDonald’s and Burger King to name a few. But what if you fancy supporting a local business and stepping away from the corporate world of fast food?
As Dish Detective was headed for the tried-and-tested Canvas Coffee at the station, there was a place that stood out like a diamond in the rough. Its trendy, non-corporate and slightly hipster exterior shimmered like a mirage in the desert.
Luckily, The Harbour Coffee House in Commercial Road, near to Sprinkles, is very real and stepping inside we could breathe a sigh of relief as it was clear this lunch was going to provide at least 30 minutes’ respite from the hubbub outside.
Lunch was freshly-prepared, with specials marked on a board. A simple menu of sandwiches and toasties with an array already made in the glass cabinet by the till. That day there was also a tomato and red pepper soup on offer – at £4 a go.
The decor is stripped-back, with original parquet flooring that doesn’t cover the whole shop, giving a nod to the building’s previous occupiers (last believed to be Sta Travel). There are hanging lights and a mismatch of chairs and tables, with cushions scattered about giving a relaxed vibe.
There are a few staff about – one busy in the back (perhaps preparing some more sandwiches), one busy practising the art of making a quality coffee on the professional coffee machine and a friendly chap on the counter taking orders.
I opt for a chicken and pesto toasted sandwich (£5.50) and a latte (£2.50) with a slice of apple cake(£2.50) to finish.
Although tempted by the range of smoothies and juices (£3.50) or a can of Whole Earth fizzy pop – this is clearly a place that cares about quality – I go for the free water that’s readily available.
The food arrives swiftly, and it’s delicious and quickly gobbled down – leaving DD pleasingly full.
The apple cake lives up to expectations and is moist and sweet – most likely also homemade – and a decent-sized portion.
While we’re eating, it’s obvious the place has proved popular since it opened in January with an array of people, from students to business people, coming and going. There’s clearly a need for a place with a difference in Portsmouth’s centre.
After a bit of research online, we find the coffee shop’s website – and discover it’s run by a church. You wouldn’t know from the experience although, reflecting back, there is something about it’s friendly welcoming atmosphere that lends itself to Christianity.
It is run by Harbour Church Portsmouth, which meets in the refurbished department store above the cafe. The church was set up in September by a group of young people who had relocated from St Peter’s Church, Brighton.
The cafe is managed by Lucy Piper, who runs an award-winning coffee shop in London called Café Fleur. Lucy, who grew up in Portsmouth, says on the site that she’s ‘hoping that the coffee shop will serve up great coffee, delicious food and fresh juice, as well as having a social action dimension.’
It has plans to partner with a charity and Portsmouth Cathedral to deliver an employability scheme offering classroom teaching, mentoring and work-based training to long-term unemployed people in Portsmouth.
Whatever it does, it’s well worth stepping away from the chains and dropping by for lunch.
THE HARBOUR COFFEE HOUSE,
COMMERCIAL RD, PORTSMOUTH
Tel: (023) 9281 8822
(ratings out of 5)