The Canteen in Old Portsmouth is a ‘deli’ style’ cafe housed within old artillery barracks adjacent to the Round Tower – it’s to the left of the steps in this photo. It’s a lovely area of Portsmouth, where there’s always something going on out on the Solent and if you climb to the top of the tower or walk along the top of the fortifications above the Hotwalls you have spectacular views. Below, beach side, people swim or sunbathe, on the other there are the new Hotwall Studios, arty-farty places with paintings, jewellery, home furnishings etc.,
Inside it’s all arches and brickwork with pleasant lighting – although it’s still a little dark with not much natural light – plenty of tables (which cut into my legs as they are ‘A’ shaped – the chairs, not my legs) and chairs, some easy chairs with a low table made from a wooden rope reel. Apart from that and a coil of rope outside holding the door open this is where the nautical theme seems to end. In such an historic place I wasn’t sure the name, ‘The Canteen’ was very apt. My father suggested it was to do with the servicemen’s mess? Maybe. It conjours up images of work or school canteens for me.
I have visited the Canteen on three occasions now and I’m glad I have as the first two I wasn’t overly impressed with. The first, on a Sunday morning when they’d newly opened, we thought we’d just have a look around and if we didn’t like much on offer we’d have a ‘stop’ word which was ‘coffee’. There wasn’t a lot in the cabinet that we liked, Geoff doesn’t like filled croissants (ham or ricotta, I think), we wanted something more substantial than just a croissant and we couldn’t see anything sweet apart from a chocolate brownie. The ‘stop’ word was used and we sat inside and waited for our coffees, which is made with Orang Utan Coffee beans. We drank up after having a look around and went to Manna around the corner in the High Street, opposite the Cathedral.
On my second visit I dragged my friend, Sarah, with me after a session at the gym. It was a boiling hot summer’s day – yes, we have had a couple of days like that – but we couldn’t sit outside as there was nothing to provide us with any shade. There were a few nutters out there without any but we both agreed that we would too hot and to be honest we would have been burnt to a crisp. Above the outside tables and chairs there is a wooden structure going on, I can only presume that at some point there will be some sort of cover? I hope so.
You need to find a table first, remember the table number and then go up to the counter to order and pay, like their sister place the Tenth Hole in Eastney. A bit of a pain when there’s a big queue and you decide to have a cake after your sandwich or another drink. There seems to be no menu either which means if there’s a few of you you all have to go up and try and see what they have in the deli’ cold cabinet, which makes it even more busy around the entrance and a little frustrating. (I prefer waitress service, especially in busy places).
We chose the crab pasty and a mini quiche to share. Both at rather good prices. The mini quiche was just £2. The crab pasty was £4 and both were very nice and fresh. They didn’t come with any little salad garnish or a handful of crisps, just the item on a plate.
The quiche was cleverly done, I guessing this is how it was made – a piece of brown bread with the sides cut off, rolled thinly, put into a muffin tin (or similar) and filled with the eggy mixture and baked. I could be wrong though. It looked good. It was served cold which we were surprised at. We didn’t have a cake as again, there didn’t seem to be much on offer.
Although at the counter there are a few wraps and sandwiches on display upon wooden boards they don’t appear to be served this way. They come wrapped in paper on a plate so you have to unwrap it yourself. Personally I would prefer it unwrapped and as I said previously, with a salad garnish and handful of crisps, even if I had to pay an extra pound.
There is another outside seating area which overlooks the Solent. But beware of high tides! When we were there the decking was wet through with the waves coming over the sides and everyone out there huddled against the back wall. Less than an hour later it had subsided and dried out completely.
If you fancy an ice-cream The Canteen have ‘The Hut’ which sells Jude’s Ice Cream (from Twyford in Hampshire), delicious sounding flavours such as salted caramel, rum & raisin, gooseberry & elderflower served in a waffle cone.
My third visit was only this week and I must say that the staff really were very friendly indeed and the service was very good.
My friend, Sarah and I shared a sausage roll ( which we asked to be served warm this time), a pizza calzone – which was nothing like a pizza, more like a sausage roll but with a filling of tomatoes, peppers, chilli and pesto.
With them we had a vegetable salad which included almost everything we don’t like, celery, too many massive olives, courgettes and things we do like, roasted red pepper, sliced tomatoes, chickpeas and seeds. The potato salad wasn’t the usual kind, not with a mayonnaise dressing anyway, with tiny tiny pieces of onion, celery, peppers, a big piece of broccoli and wafer thin parma ham. All very fresh but we wouldn’t choose again.
We also shared a fruit blondie cake. I’m not sure what fruit it was, it could have been rhubarb but it was absolutely delicious! It was so moist and gooey, we loved it. We each took one home along with a chocolate & beetroot brownie too. Even Geoff mentioned how nice it was without me having to ask him.
The brownie was ok, nowhere near as good as the blondie though, having a ‘sponge-like’ texture and stuck to the roof of our mouths.
I’m glad I made another visit to The Canteen which changed my mind somewhat and you can’t say I haven’t tried but I’m afraid it still isn’t really a place for me. Try it yourself though as I’m sure there are tons of people out there who do and will love it.
P.S – I popped in again yesterday (after having lunch at Manna again) to buy a couple of blondies to take home but they had none 🙁
Living life, loving cake