I forget exactly how I stumbled across Truffles of Southsea and made a booking, but I am glad I did. It has been a long time since I stayed in the Portsmouth area. Since my friend moved to Plymouth and then pastures further afield, I have been out of the loop of the local scene.
Regular readers will know I am fond of small and quirky. I should probably say that’s only the half of it. I like small, quirky, independent and under-recognised. These four criteria explain the basis of my positive reviews for The French Table and Bay Tree Restaurant in the last 12 months.
Strictly speaking, Truffles of Southsea (like the other examples) is recognised. Local people know it. TripAdvisor and OpenTable both have positive user experiences. But recognition in this context would mean Michelin Guide. Not necessarily the “stars” you may think, but an entry at least. This has the effect of changing the demand/supply dynamic for an establishment – it attracts gastro-tourists. I am acutely aware of the mild hypocrisy of such a statement from a food writer, but it’s true. Popularity can be the death-knell of many great places – either in terms of the prices increasing in relation to the demand or corners cut because they just become too popular to maintain their original standards.
Granted, many places grow through and survive such fortune. Others are not so lucky. I suspect that Truffles of Southsea has yet to cross this Rubicon, so I implore the fine people of South Hampshire to shoo away any Michelin inspectors forthwith.
Service and Decor at Truffles of Southsea
The restaurant is small; I reckon to the tune of 36 covers. It’s open plan and you can see right through to the kitchen. I instinctively like this. I’ve always said the best takeaways are the ones with an open plan kitchen where there is no hiding any shenanigans; same applies here. The decor is light, with a soft pastel blue and white motif that is rather fitting of its seaside location.
Despite many, if not all, of the serving staff being in a University town and of University age (and therefore I would assume are students) they had clearly been well trained and briefed, which led to a refreshing competence and efficiency. Having paused in a well-known chain (who also I think it is fair to assume employed local students) during the day for a quick snack and a drink or two, this attention to detail in the hiring and on-boarding makes a marked difference.
Warm bread, which I am confident in saying was home made (although I would’ve personally (and I stress the personally) preferred to have a harder crust with this initial offering), accompanies the menus and drinks. There are only two criticisms in this piece. The first is Truffles of Southsea’s wine list. There was a fair selection by the glass and there was nothing individually out of place there, but it just felt awkward. As I was on holiday and knowing things may lapse into a second bottle, I was reluctant to go for the Pinot Noir at the bottom end of the menu, nor did I fancy the Montepulciano at the top – whilst it is a favourite of mine, it does have a tendency to blow delicate flavours out of the water. I’ve felt this “awkwardness” before – in establishments that outsource their wine list to some degree. Granted it may be outsourced to reputable local or national merchants, but it runs the risk of being detached from the culture of the restaurant and leans towards that merchant’s personal preferences. All of this is supposition of course; and I wouldn’t be surprised if I received a polite correcting e-mail from Truffles of Southsea shortly. In any event, I settled for a South African Pinotage which was very nice.
That said, they should be commended for having English wines on the menu and for having a ripasso on there too (there’s a distinct Italian/Spanish influence to the list) which is an often overlooked technique and wine.
Food at Truffles of Southsea
The menu is clearly designed around the fresh (and one assumes local) produce that is accessible at that point in time. This is, in any establishment, an endearing quality. Truffles of Southsea take that and push the envelope somewhat into areas you wouldn’t expect. In terms of starters, I had a pan-fried breast of pigeon served with a savoury granola. Game birds were born to be paired with fruit and this is what the granola does; it adds both a crunchy texture and the fruit to compliment the meat. Pigeon can be an awkward meat; wild game always is, but this specimen was far from tough and cooked nicely rare with a mushroom sauce to offset it all nicely. Companion for the evening had scallops with a ham hock terrine; this worked extremely well and was a nicely innovative way of pairing this shellfish with its traditional pork accompaniment.
Companion’s main course was a summer vegetable risotto. The rice was cooked to the standard you’d expect and it showcased the delicate peas et al well; the second and last criticism in this piece is that I thought it was slightly under-seasoned….. companion disagrees though. I had a pressed pork belly which had a lovely layer of cracking on top, most of the fat neatly rendered out without making it dry with a sweet and spiced jus, sauteed new potatoes and fine green beans which had been tossed in truffle oil. The menu advertises the mains as complete, but also offers a side dish of chips with truffle oil and parmesan; having seen some being delivered to tables elsewhere, I regret not having some, despite the portion sizes being perfectly satisfactory.
We moved onto a shared dessert of homemade ice-creams. The mint-choc chip was extraordinary, being clearly made with fresh mint. The rum and raison, for me (OK, maybe this is borderline a third criticism), needed more rum, especially when it was served (at our choice) alongside the powerful mint.
Oh, and whilst I remember, the marinated olives are epic; I’ve always been a fan of sun-dried tomatoes and what arrived was basically olives in a bucket of sun-dried tomato marinade.
If you’re staying in Portsmouth or Southsea, please don’t be tempted by the plethora of chains at Gunwharf Quays. You’ll spend nearly as much and won’t have nearly as much fun or as good cuisine – and Truffles of Southsea is within easy reach. There’ll be a visit on the train before Christmas to the area; and I fully expect to pop in for lunch and avoid the madding crowds!
|Restaurant Name||Truffles of Southsea|
|Price Range||£40 a head (Dinner)|
|Address||67 Castle Rd Portsmouth Southsea, Portsmouth PO5 3AY,|