What’s a girl to do after eating and judging many, many signature baked cakes, biscuits and other category offerings at the Great Portsdown Bake Off Competition at Widley’s Church Hall recently?
After declaring the winner with my co-judges – it was a fabulous lemon drizzle – this sugar-overloaded girl needed some oriental spicing. I chose Aroma near Havant station to down a chilli or two to regain balance.
The restaurant has been open for around a decade. There are white walls with a smattering of large landscapes of Chinese scenery including dramatic mountain peaks in a mist, with another of galloping horses.
An oversized fan decorated with delicate birds is joined by subtle screens with birds and blossoms in the long room. Chinese pop plays.
Naturally, there are chillies on the menu, a typically long, non-changing Chinese one. Start with maybe a wonton, chicken and sweet corn or chilli-hot and sour soup; crispy Mongolian lamb; satay skewers; chicken wings; mussels with hot chilli sauce and other dishes.
Move on to chicken balls; chicken with bamboo shoots and water chestnuts; beef with ginger and spring onions or with cashew nuts; roast pork curry or pork with green vegetables and black bean sauce; hoi sin roast duck or the quintessential crispy aromatic duck either quarter, half or whole with the usual pancakes, cucumber, spring onion and plum sauce.
There’s also king prawns with green peppers or ginger and spring onions; squid in garlic salt and chilli; mixed vegetables in an oyster sauce or with bean curd.
There are oodles of noodle dishes and sizzling ones including chow mein and scallops or squid or fillet of beef with Cantonese sauce. Prices are reasonable at £5-£7 for a main.
First up, the service was charming. The three young staff (two Chinese, one Malay) know how to manage the room and the takeaway with efficiency.
Quiet and smiling and married with knowledge of each dish, they get the show going and keep it well-oiled. Even an impatient, rude takeaway man was offered a seat at the front and a Coke to keep him still. There was no reason for his behaviour.
Those chillies in the sweet and sour soup were just what this over-sugared diner needed.
Sliced red ones married well with the prawns, shredded chicken, pork and carrot.
Up next, something I haven’t had for many years – crispy aromatic duck.
Each component was strategically placed in satellite formation around the duck platter. The bamboo steamer with the pancakes took up the rear alongside an order of vegetables in an oyster sauce.
Priced at a mere £9 for all that moist, flavoursome duck and the trimmings, this was bargain of the week.
A thoughtful finger bowl with lemon was also part of the combo. I would return for this dish alone. A small glass of French white (£3.10) was drinkable.
I left after cracking open my fortune cookie – you will come into a lot of money – with a lighter step than I came in with.
Never underestimate the power of chilli and a soothing, calming atmosphere. My bill came to £19.10, not including service.
Aroma, 43 North Street, Havant (023) 9249 9876.
Open seven days a week until 11pm.
Disabled access: Fine.
How to get there: Take the A27 to Havant.
Follow the signs to the station and just before the turning the restaurant is on the left.
There’s on-street parking.
Ratings (maximum *****)