It was a slow day at the coal face of reviewing. I nearly nodded off twice in the same place, Hilsea’s Casa Sarda.
At the tiny café, two doors down from Pizza House the parent restaurant, I waited more than half-an-hour for a plate of antipasti – six types of cured meats and ham including pancetta, salamis and mortadella with rocket, olives, marinated mushrooms, garlic butter and bread, an assembly job which might have taken 10 minutes to put the meats on the slicer and dish them up attractively with shavings of Pecorino cheese and mozzarella. Initially, I was the only customer so it would have seemed possible, no, probable.
I made the mistake of ordering a pizza to take away after finishing the antipasti and waited well over 30 minutes for this to emerge from the on-view kitchen.
Meanwhile, a few people wandered in morphing into bored customers waiting for their orders, mostly filled baguettes stretching to other antipasti dishes including seafood and Marie Rose prawns and smoked salmon, stone-baked pizzas, sandwiches, jacket potatoes and coffees. There are teas, fruit smoothies, hot chocolate. Prices? Reasonable at £6–£7 for the antipasti and pizzas, sandwiches and baguettes from £3, Italian Breakfast (Italian sausage joins the usual suspects) £5.50.
It’s not as if the kitchen is stretched menu-wise, but they work at a snail’s pace. The head honcho is a delightful, caring man who is keen to please. A pity because, as well as the lack of speed, the door was left open on a chilly day and sitting in a coat and eating is not my idea of a good time.
However, the antipasti dish shone thanks to excellent Parma ham plus moreish pancetta. The mozzarella was the overflowing plate’s only let-down: rubbery, tasteless. An odd whipped garlic butter tasted not of the sacred cow but of oil, its floppy cream-like substance more emollient-like. Poor-quality, pappy baguettes were left after one bite.
Having read every section of my weighty newspaper and drinking a pleasing Americano while waiting for the pizza, I watched a huge TV screen, music from elsewhere clashing in the small space.
The pizza? I had expected at least one as eaten in Italy, failing that, Pizza Express. After all, the owners are Italian, their Pizza House menu resolutely mirroring Garibaldi’s unified nation. Tough, thin ‘cardboard’, the tomato paste and mozzarella were insignificant, the latter not oozing the deliciousness that makes this malleable cheese stand out.
Casa Sarda might work if able to package the chef’s enthusiasm and willingness to please and have it translated smartish on to a cafe plate. At lunchtimes we like a quick bite, not kicking your heels in a cold place waiting for things to happen s-l-o-w-l-y. My bill came to just less than £15.
Café Sarda, 11 Hilsea Market, Portsmouth PO2 9RA (023) 9307 2750
Monday to Saturday 8am to 5pm Closed Sunday.
Disabled access: fine.
How to get there: Hilsea Market is opposite the former home of The News. Access via A2047, London Road. Parking is limited.