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Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth, England PO1 3TW
023 9281 7278
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Not the Best Seat in the House
Portsmouth, United Kingdom
July 19, 2009
Best of IgoUgo
Just after 4pm on a Sunday afternoon in December, one of my sons and I were ready for a very late lunch after returning a faulty item to a shop in Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth. Being very familiar already with Cafe Rouge and two of the Italian chain ...
Just after 4pm on a Sunday afternoon in December, one of my sons and I were ready for a very late lunch after returning a faulty item to a shop in Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth. Being very familiar already with Cafe Rouge and two of the Italian chain restaurants, Zizzi and Pizza Express, we decided to try out Strada, even though my other son had experienced poor service there and didn't recommend it.
It was a quiet time between lunch and dinner, and when we asked for a table for two the waitress pointed towards the back of the restaurant, with no suggestion of taking a table at the front of the L-shaped ground floor. We chose to go as far back as we could, a few tables away from the only other people in that area. I took the seat facing the end of the bar and a fire exit. The food menus were already on the table, underneath the linen napkin and knife and fork; the drinks menu was soon brought over by the waitress. Inside the menu was a removable leaflet with a special lunch offer, available until 5pm. This consisted of a choice of several main courses along with a drink, for the price of £7.95. My son ordered a fizzy lemonade and was asked if he meant limonata – everything on the menu has an Italian name. I got away with asking for apple juice. We were also brought a bottle of water that professed to be of the pure, filtered kind, but as the bottle was absolutely full to the brim and the stopper was not in place, were we really supposed to think that this was the genuine stuff?
I decided to confine myself to the lunch menu but didn't want anything spicy, which ruled out a pizza with spicy salami and a pasta dish with chili. There was a risotto that would normally have tempted me, but having had something similar the day before I wanted a change. A chicken dish might have been my choice had it not come with a £2 supplement which defeated the point of the lunch menu. So the onion and mushroom frittata it was, served with garlic ciabatta and rocket and red onion salad. My son was also tempted by the risotto, then suddenly decided to go a la carte and chose orechiette salsiccia e broccoli: spicy Mantovana sausage, pancetta and purple-sprouting broccoli sauteed with fresh red chilli butter, Parmesan and orechiette pasta.
The full menu can be found on Strada's website and includes sections on bread and olives, side orders (several salads, broccoli, potatoes) and eleven starters including soup, king prawns and a couple of dishes based on buffalo mozzarella. Prices for starters range from £4.75 to £6.25. Main courses cover the usual Italian ranges of pasta, risotto and 'authentic hand-stretched' pizza, but there are also five main-course salads and ten meat or fish dishes such as whole sea bass, fillet of pork, braised lamb shank or chargrilled chicken breast in sauce. There are of course vegetarian options amongst the pizzas, pastas and risottos. You can pay as little as £7.25 for a margheurita pizza, or as much as £16.25 for a rib-eye steak. Some dishes (marked with a red asterisk on the menu) are available in smaller sizes for children.
Whilst waitingto be served, it struck me that the tables were very close together, so at busy times this would not be a place to have any sort of private or intimate conversation. The lighting was low, thanks to large red lampshades, and the music rather bland but tolerable for most people. The walls were covered in what appeared to be bamboo blinds actually stuck on, but behind our table it looked as though some unruly customers had turned round and started trying to rip them off. I started to be less than impressed, but became even more so as I looked to my left beyond our table. Right at the end of the bar was an open rubbish bin, and in full view of me the waitress, having collected two finished plates from another table, was scraping the remains of the food into the bin. Well, I've been to a few restaurants in my time, but isn't that something that happens in the kitchen? Out of sight? Thank goodness I wasn't eating at the time, but it coloured my whole experience of the place from that moment on.
Our food arrived soon after that. Mine was basically an omelette, served flat, with rocket, red onion and tomato salad as well as the ciabatta placed on top. I would have prefered to have a rolled omelette with the salad and bread to the side, but it wasn't something that bothered me. I was, however, surprised to see slices of courgette all over the omelette as I could only remember the menu mentioning onion and mushroom. The mushroom was not apparent at first, but I did find a few pieces when I moved the salad away from the middle. I do like courgette, but it would have been a problem otherwise. The waitress offered my son some grated parmesan on his pasta, which he accepted. He was not, however, amazed by his meal, which was basically pasta shells with a few pieces of meat, some chilli, and ordinary broccoli – certainly not the purple-sprouting variety advertised in the menu. Again, he said that didn't exactly bother him, but Strada shouldn't specify a particular type of vegetable if that is not what they are serving. He was just unimpressed by the look and taste of what he was eating, as it had sounded quite special on the menu but turned out to be nothing out of the ordinary. I cannot complain about my frittata, which was quite acceptable especially as it was a lunch special. We were asked at one point whether everything was okay and decided that it wasn't worth making a fuss about the broccoli.
After we had finished, the waitress came along with the dessert menu and asked if we would like to see it, but I did not feel that I wanted to stay in the place any longer than I could help so we declined. Had we wanted a dessert, we would have had a choice of eight, from tiramisu through pannacotta or panettone to iced nougat or baked peaches with mascarpone and amaretti biscuits. Prices range from £3.95 to £4.95.
We asked for the bill, to which a 10% service charge is added but is indicated as optional. Our total came to £20.29 including the service charge, so we decided to pay £20. I didn't have any criticism of the service as my elder son had had, but whether it is not so good at busier times I do not know. After settling the bill we were given a voucher for 'two for the price of one' to use in January, but I don't feel a great deal of enthusiasm about going again, even with a special offer. Had we been seated at the front of the restaurant with a view of Gunwharf's Canalside rather than an open rubbish bin, I might have felt inclined to go back and sample something from the main menu, so it's a shame the waitress sat us where she did.
The toilets are located on the first floor, but according to Strada's website there are 'accessible toilets'. Step-free access to the restaurant does make it disabled friendly. The outside seating would be very pleasant in warmer weather. There is a further seating area upstairs as well, with one or two round tables suitable for groups.
It's hard to say whether I recommend Strada or not. If you go at a quiet time and choose your table carefully, you could have lunch and a drink for under £8 or something possibly more interesting from the main menu. If you are an ardent fan of purple-sprouting broccoli, be prepared for disappointment. But as far as I am concerned, Strada need to think carefully about what happens at the bar that should really be happening in the kitchen, away from the eyes of their customers.
Opening hours are from 11.30am until 11pm (Sunday until 10.30pm).