Restaurant alley – Osborne Road in Southsea – has had a fair share of casualties recently (witness those boarded-up restaurants).
But there are successes too, including Chinese, Turkish, Greek and other long-standing eateries such as Barnaby’s.
This small place doesn’t shout about its wares. In fact, it is very self-effacing and even the simple website doesn’t give its address or opening times on the home page.
The timewarp decor wouldn’t look out of place in Life on Mars, the cult BBC drama about a present-day Manchester detective, Sam Tyler, who awakes to find himself living in 1973. However, do not be put off by the look. This restaurant offers some of the best, most solicitous service around thanks to Ellie, co-owner with chef Carl, and her delightful, warm staff.
It’s like being immersed in soothing balm, such are their skills in making guests feel at home and valued. Those opening restaurants in the future should come and study their hospitable prowess.
The English menu here would have been familiar to Sam Tyler and his fellow cop Gene Hunt. Try melon fan; house pâtè; breaded brie; tomato and basil soup; smoked salmon and prawn salad; mushroom, brie and hazelnut Wellington; nut roast; beef and peppercorn sauce; duck with orange sauce; salmon and tomato and basil sauce; roasts; steaks. Choose from a set Early Bird menu (lunch and early evening) from £7.95 for one course to £12.95 for three or the à la carte, with mains around £14.
The restaurant was full on a recent visit, no mean feat in fiercely cold February. A table by the window was swapped in favour of a recently-vacated one away from the cold.
Whitebait kicked off the meal. These were fat, beautifully deep-fried in good fat and served with an aïoli. I think the chef needs to sharpen his knowledge on this garlicky mayo, but the starter came with a good salad and some baguette slices and butter.
The roast of the day, pork with apple sauce, was next up. Pork cries out for no-demands, slow cooking and this loin was not given enough time in the oven. The result? Too chewy. The gravy didn’t help.
The roast potatoes, however, were simply the best. There are few more satisfying things to eat than properly-cooked ones. Separate vegetables were fine and dandy but could have used butter, seasoning or herbs to make them really come to life.
Trifle, bread and butter pudding, cheesecake and brownies were some of the desserts on offer. A small wine list yielded a passable Merlot and my bill came to just under £15.
Barnaby’s has many admirers judging by the warm conversations between diners and staff. Repeat business is the norm here.
If a return to an uncomplicated, undemanding gastronomic past is on your agenda, then look no further.
Barnaby’s, 56 Osborne Road, Southsea, PO5 3LU
(023) 9282 1089
Open: Tues-Sat noon–2.15pm (noon–4pm Sun), 5.30pm-9.30pm Sun-Thurs, 5.30pm-10.30pm Fri-Sat
Food: Three (Five)
Disabled access: Fine
How to get there: Osborne Road is off Clarence Parade. On-street parking.