Review: Southsea Beach Cafe

Southsea Beach Cafe along the Esplanade in Portsmouth.  Picture: Karla Tizard
Southsea Beach Cafe along the Esplanade in Portsmouth. Picture: Karla Tizard
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Southsea Beach Café is a rarity in the UK in that it’s right on the beach.

It has the feel of Littlehampton’s renowned East Beach Café, albeit without celebrated architect Thomas Heatherwick’s iconic architecture.

But it’s no slouch looks-wise, the wood inside and out cabin-like structure boasting a retractable roof and seaside deck.

The stylish, laid-back, hipster place was rightly packed – it was a lazy sunny Saturday afternoon – but I managed to bag a table inside.

The five-strong staff are terrific at meeting, greeting and seating, but it can be noisy and hot when the sun is out and the roof is on.

But what was that whiff in the air? Ozone billowing in from the sea? No, maddeningly, each white square table is scrubbed down with bleach disinfectant between use.

Team, use another whiffless cleaner, as the jarring smell interferes with the pleasures of the table.

Opened in 2014 by one Ian Clarke, the café has a simple philosophy: to serve local, high-quality food and drink.

It’s a clever menu of Sunrise to Noon (pastries; granola; porridge; eggs; full English); Til Sunset’s From the Sea (fishcakes, fish and chips, moules, local fish specials); From the Grill (chargrilled steak patty in brioche bun and, yes, cooked pink as they should be allowed to without Environmental Health interference as witnessed recently in Southsea).

Prices? Ungreedily from £2 to £11.90, most mains around £7.50.

Spying a crab and smoked haddock chowder on the specials next to pulled pork and local sea bass, I ordered this and a glass of French white.

Despite the awful bleach being liberally applied all around, the chowder was up there with the best of this New England stalwart, not only looking fabulous – trendily served in a mammoth deep blue cup on thick board with a crusty hunk of artisan sourdough and tiny cup of butter with sprinkled seasalt – it tasted magnificent too: creamy, smooth yet chunky with terrific haddock and quality bacon, all trad ingredients plus moreish sourdough croutons.

There was no crab, but this didn’t detract from the deeply flavoursome broth. I’d go back tomorrow for another fix of this fine bit of cooking.

And I’d return pronto too for the dense, glorious bread via a local artisan baker. What a crust! It’s a rare sight in any Southsea eatery, quality sourcing shining through.

Southsea is on the way up with its quirky indie cafés and civilised Southsea Beach Café is far ahead of many.

Bravo to the charming, helpful, informed, eye-meeting staff.

My bill came to £13.50, not including the tip.