Carol Godsmark reviews Phipps Café, New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth

New Theatre Royal, which houses Phipps Caf�
New Theatre Royal, which houses Phipps Caf�
  • Food: ****
  • Service: ****
  • Atmosphere: ****
  • Phipps Café, New Theatre Royal, Guildhall Walk, Portsmouth PO1 2DD. (023) 9264 9000. Open 11am–5pm and pre-show until curtain up
  • How to get there: follow signs to the theatre by Portsmouth University
  • Parking: on-street. Payment needed.
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Pass by New Theatre Royal these days and you’ll come to a halt as you look up to admire the newly reopened theatre.

Its cast iron and glass balcony on pillared arcading dates back to 1884. It is also home to Phipps Café named after the original designer.

The bowl is a beaut, large, white and broad-rimmed, and contains by far the best soup I’ve had this year

Frank Matcham, the celebrated theatre designer (London Coliseum, Blackpool Tower Ballroom) enlarged the theatre in 1900. The Portsmouth Times declared that: ‘A more brilliant scene than the opening of New Theatre Royal has not occurred in the annals of Portsmouth for some time.’

A recent £4.5 million major refurb, thanks to artistic director and CEO Caroline Sharman, her team and trustees, sees the building take city centre stage again.

The Matcham Bar is a welcoming, smart venue for theatre goers by the box office, as is the elegant Phipps Café upstairs.

Run by Keeley’s Kitchen, it hasn’t quite swung into gear despite the October 15 opening, no menu available nor much choice.

The very attractive small conservatory with plants space boasts beautiful windows, checkerboard tiling, colonial-type chairs and whirring fans, newly applied grey paint, marble tables with Victorian-type ornate metal bases and excellent round chairs of metal and wood.

Open to all, not just for those with a coveted ticket, staff say that an extensive menu will soon be out but in the meantime content yourself with a fine coffee from a whizz bang machine, cold meats, a salad, coleslaw, cheeses, three bread choices and caperberries. Or there’s soup and a smattering of bought-in cupcakes and the like.

I have the soup, something to test the kitchen with. It’s carrot and butter bean and served to table after ordering it at the very small counter wedged into a corner.

The bowl is a beaut, large, white and broad-rimmed, and contains by far the best soup I’ve had this year. This stunning, well-seasoned meal should be prescribed to all who take up a bed in the NHS for rapid recovery and excellent nourishment.

The dream bowlful was let down by a woefully undercooked baguette and less-than-classy Anchor butter pats.

Hopefully Keeley’s have the imagination to use the theatrical venue and Sharman’s programming to add theatre to the menu when it eventually emerges.

The Mousetrap cheeseboard anyone? Lysistrata Greek meatballs? Risen! puff pastry with pesto, spinach and Parmesan?

Staff, not privy to Keeley management thinking, are a willing if left-in-the-dark duo.

One thing’s for sure. You’ll not pass New Theatre Royal without the strong urge to see inside, and to experience Café Phipps when it hits its stride, as the theatre has from day one. The Portsmouth Times quote couldn’t be more fitting for 2015.

My bill? Just under £5 for soup and bread.