I'm now into my ninth week as a resident of Portsea Island, and this is what I have discovered so far...
1) Parking in the Southsea area is a bit of a mare.
2) Ignore 1). Parking in MOST places in Portsmouth is a bit of a mare.
3) The best value takeaway I have ever been to in my entire life.
Let me explain.
Every Friday in The News, the Dish Detective visits a local restaurant and pens roughly 650 words on it. Yes, in order to bring the best impartial reviews on the south coast, the DD fills their stomach for your benefit. A tough life for sure, but someone has to do it.
Anyway, today I'm going to write about somewhere remarkable in Portsmouth that sells great food and happily put my name to it. I don't do this in order to get a free meal next time I go there; indeed, I do it because the Dish Detective never writes about takeaways. And Kam Too, in St Mary's Road, Fratton, is the place voted 'the best value takeaway I have ever visited in my entire life'. And as in less than two months time I will blow out 50 candles on my birthday cake, I have been to a few.
As I'm typing this I've just told my partner that had I spent more than just nine weeks of my life living in Portsmouth, seemingly the takeaway capital of the south coast, I would have been to quite a few more! She thinks I'm joking, but I'm not.
Sue told me not long after we first met 'there's this fantastic Chinese takeaway near Fratton Park. It's ridiculously cheap and ridiculously popular. Every meal is less than three quid and you can buy a battered sausage for 30p. It's a nightmare to park near, but the queues snake out the door.'
Since I moved to this city in September we've been there three times and I've discovered Sue was not joking (unlike me a minute ago). Yes, it's not easy to park near, but Kam Too is in Portsmouth so that goes without saying. The queues DO snake out the door – one online review on Trip Advisor said they once counted 53 people either in the shop or queuing to get in – and the food is ridiculously cheap.
And, what's more, a battered sausage IS just 30p. It's been 30p for ages. Sue tells me she can't remember when Kam Too last raised their prices. Possibly 1992, but she wouldn't swear on that.
On our last visit, when my two teenage kids were visiting, we ordered five main dishes, large chips (a quid! – worthy of two exclamation marks, surely? No, steady on, just the one. ED) – a pancake roll the size of a loaf of bread, and a bag of prawn crackers which had I left them to go hard and stale would easily have served as sledges when it next snows. They were that large. And the total price? Under £19. Truly ridiculous indeed.
Now it goes without saying that cheap prices does not always equal a) good quality food or b) good-sized portions. And if Kam Too fell down in either of those key categories, I wouldn't be singing its praises from the metaphorical rooftop. The portions were more than reasonable and the quality impressive. For less than £19 four people (well, five really, as my 16-year-old son has the constitution of a whale) had a massive feast on a Saturday night, while there was still enough left over for two good-sized portions a day later, and a final portion I hoovered down for my lunch the day after that. How many takeaways for THAT price last THAT long?
I have also recently been introduced to another Portsmouth institution, Mick's 'Monster Burger' van up on Portsdown Hill. The likes of 'Blowout', 'Jawbreaker', 'Jawbreaker Special' and 'Gutbuster' will be familiar names to many of you. Sue informs me Mick is a city legend whose name deserves to be up there with the likes of Jimmy Dickinson and Charles Dickens. Visiting his van, and taking in the wonderful vistas afforded of the back of houses in Cosham and Paulsgrove, I was particularly impressed with the fact that under 'extra toppings' was listed 'extra burger'. The burger I had last week was as huge as it was delicious, and that wasn't even 'monster' size – it was just 'large'.
Since living in Portsmouth, I have also had a doner kebab delivered to my door – another first in my life. 'Well, it's easier than trying to park in London Road, North End,' I was told. Having been to North End, I wasn't about to argue.
So, quick recap, a takeaway where you can feed a small army for less than £20, a burger van selling 'Gutbusters', and a cheery delivery guy knocking on my door informing me 'here's your kebabs, Mr Carter.'
Welcome to Portsmouth, aka fastfoodopolis.
OK, time to change tack. So far, so jocular. But should you – good citizens of Portsmouth – be concerned about the amount of takeaway food easily available to you?
After all, study these facts:
1) In 2017 the percentage of first year schoolchildren in the city classified as obese rose from 8.9 per cent to 10.7 per cent.
2) In the same year, the percentage of children in their final year of primary school considered obese was up from 20.4 per cent to 21.6 per cent.
3) Again in 2017, Cambridge University's Centre for Diet and Activity Research revealed there were 1.32 takeaways in Portsmouth per 1,000 residents. Admittedly, that figure on its own does not sound a lot but it was 'significantly more' than the national average.
4) The university also totalled 271 takeaways in Portsmouth – a figure that had risen eight per cent in just three years.
After just a few weeks of living in the city, none of those figures surprises me.
(Here's another fact - Portsmouth also has the fattest seagulls I have ever seen as well – again, no surprise if they've lived on Portsdown Hill for a few months feeding off scraps).
Of course, this city is not alone in all this. Since 2014, more than 4,000 new takeaways have opened in England. God knows what Jamie Oliver must think of that.
Do not expect the figures to fall either. Thousands of takeaways have opened for one good reason – thousands of people enjoy filling their stomachs with foods bought from them. I am one of those thousands, so I am part of the problem. I freely admit that.
I have no solutions either. You could give every parent an extra £10 a week to spend on healthy vegetables for lunches and teas, and a percentage would no doubt use it to buy an extra takeaway. If they went to Kam Too their tenner would feed them for a few days (33 battered sausages for a start, and still have 10p change).
Jamie Oliver tried his best to educate a generation on prime time television, and he failed. Rotherham, in south Yorkshire, now has more takeaways than when he visited a decade ago. His was a valiant attempt, but doomed from the start.
Who knows what the future holds in this city.
Portsmouth council recently received an application for a new Papa John's pizza takeaway at Rodney Road, Milton. More than 250 residents have so far complained, with just one letter of support. Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said the application deserves to be thrown out, but no decision has yet been made.
Turning down the plans obviously won't make the city a healthier place overnight, because the damage has already been done. But at least it will send the right sort of signals to any other potential takeaway owners wanting their own lucrative slice of what is a particularly large pizza.