It must be something in the water, or the sea air. The likes of Charles Dickens, HG Wells, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Isambard Brunel, Neville Chamberlain and James Callaghan have all either been born in or lived in Portsmouth.
Peter Sellers is another well-known name with Pompey associations. The actor came into the world in Castle Road, Southsea on September 8, 1925 and a blue plaque has been erected on his place of birth, which is now the Mayfair Chinese restaurant.
Opposite this is a coffee house named after him. Sellers Coffee House, housed in what was The Wheelbarrow (once the oldest hostelry in Portsmouth), has been opened on the spacious pub’s ground floor by property developers who live above these smart premises.
Black-and-white photographs of Sellers line the walls, as well as posters of his more famous films including Dr Strangelove.
Unprecedented table spacing is ideal for the yummy mummy set’s vast buggies and for those in favour of not being overheard. Perfect for wannabe M15 spies and Inspector Clouseau types.
Sit on either some black-painted wrought iron upholstered chairs around round tables, or in the sofa area where no less than eight buggies had been positioned the day I went.
For those more tranquil moments, newspapers and games are thoughtfully provided as well as a super book swap shop by the kitchens. There’s a community feel to the place.
Sellers played so many characters that he said he found it hard to be himself. But Sellers Coffee House definitely knows what it is. It’s not a boozer (just three types of wine and one bottled beer available) and it’s not a gastropub or a full-blown restaurant.
The menu features straightforward, ultra-familiar fare. There’s the Sellers Breakfast, either a meat or vegetarian-based one; sausage or bacon sandwiches; omelettes of many varieties; jacket potatoes with as many fillings as characters in the Goon Show; paninis, baguettes or toasties with salad, coleslaw and crisps; ploughman’s and salads.
Prices are of the ungreedy sort, an omelette from £3, a salad from £4. There are children’s choices too and a whole range of coffees and teas as well as shakes, smoothies and juices.
However, this kind of menu is predictable and a bit dull by today’s standards.
Service is excellent and unflappable. You order at the bar – trying to ignore the ‘handmade’ cakes on display – after finding a vacant table with a number. A vast coffee machine hisses on your right and Marshfield ice creams compete for attention in a large freezer to your left.
My choice, an omelette with two fillings – cheese and bacon – was delivered to my table, a salad garnish part of the £4.20 deal. The filling was excellent, but the eggs were rather overcooked. A more runny, less rubbery omelette would be preferred. But it was tasty, although the salad cried out for a dressing of simple olive oil and lemon instead of, well, nothing. Terrific pressed apple juice with a mass of ice was a fine addition to the meal.
Back to the cakes and coffee, one of the reasons for opening Sellers Coffee House. I would drop by for these alone, a Havant-made lemon cake one of the finest and moistest I have had the pleasure of eating. A super-strong espresso had perfect crema, that toffee brown creamy topping which only good baristas can achieve.
Sellers organised one last joke at his funeral, a request for the song In the Mood, which he hated. Well, Sellers Coffee House left me in the mood for more good coffee and cake. My bill came to £8.75.
Sellers Coffee House, 1 Kent Road, Southsea PO5 3EG
Tel: 07742 526738
Open: All week from 9am–5pm (6pm on Sat/Sun)
Food: Three (out of Five)
Disabled access: Can’t be faulted.
How to get there: Kent Road and Castle Road meet on Western Parade/Southsea Terrace. Sellers Coffee House is on the corner. On-street parking.