Is it a bar, or a bistro?
Member Name: frangliz
Advantages: Excellent food in a good atmosphere
Disadvantages: Service can be slow when it's busy
The Camber Dock area of Old Portsmouth is one that I was not particularly familiar with, but I suspect I will be visiting it more often in the future. My brother and his wife live just a hop, skip and a jump from there and often go for a bite to eat at Abarbistro, formerly known as the American Bar. My younger son was coming from Bristol one weekend and we thought it was about time we had a family lunch, so my brother booked a table for 1pm on the Sunday at Abarbistro. I was actually so unsure as to how to get there that I decided a taxi was the best bet, but next time I won't need to do so. You can turn off High Street into Lombard Street, by Portsmouth Cathedral, or you can go from Broad Street down White Hart Road. If you are coming from Gunwharf Quays, turn right and follow Gunwharf Road. Alternatively, you can take Warblington Street off St George's Road. In other words, just about all roads lead to Abarbistro. If you are confused, follow your nose to the fish market, which is right close by.
The place itself doesn't look anything special from the outside. The building dates from the late eighteenth century and was apparently once a place where convicts were brought as they waited to be shipped off to a penal colony in the States - hence the name The American Bar. Abarbistro has whitewashed walls with blue window frames, and recent renovations include three glass doors which give views of the Spinnaker Tower. As we went inside, I was surprised at how stylish the restaurant is. We were taken through the front area to a separate room that resembled a conservatory with blinds across the glass roof and extensive windows that overlooked the garden area. It was a beautifully sunny spring day and was the ideal place to sit. I am sure the garden would be wonderful on a fine summer's day.
Menus were brought to us as soon as we sat down at the light wood tables. My brother and his wife are apparently quite well known there and the waiters and waitresses were very friendly, but I had the impression that they would have been even if we had all been first-time visitors. Our drinks order was soon taken. My brother and younger son both decided on cider. As my son has been living in Bristol for some months now, he has become quite particular about his cider, but all that was on offer was Bulmer's draught or a pear cider. Neither really impressed, but the Bulmer's at £3.50 a pint was chosen. The rest of us decided on a bottle of red wine, and the waitress recommended Zarabanda Rioja at £14. We all approved of her choice.
We decided to go straight into the main course, but if you did want a starter they range from olives and focaccia at £2 through a plate of anchovies at £4 to rabbit terrine with prune chutney at £6. Soup of the day is £5, and on that particular day it was broccoli.
Specials were seafood pasta (£9) or catch of the day, which was rainbow trout, for £13. There was also a lamb shank roast at £10. We all, however, chose our main course from the standard menu. I decided on the fishcake with spinach and Hollandaise sauce (£10), whilst my younger son opted for sausages (from local butcher Buckwell's) and mash (£8). My elder son chose beer-battered fish and chips with pea puree (£8), and his partner picked camembert stuffed chicken wrapped in parma ham with ratatouille (£12), My brother and his wife both went for roast belly of pork with colcannon and cider sauce (£10), perhaps influenced by the recommendation from the author of a review that had appeared in the local paper two days earlier. My sister-in-law ordered an extra portion of green beans at £2.
Vegetarian options include Moroccan vegetable tagine with cous cous (£8) or roasted root vegetables with celeriac dauphinoise (£11).
We did not have to wait long for our food to be served. I was amazed when I saw my fishcake, which was a huge, rounded one sitting on the bed of spinach and covered in Hollandaise sauce. The taste lived up to expectations too. I don't know exactly what fish it had been made with, but the predominant colour was pink. It was not at all salty and the sauce just gave a slight sweetness. Even though there was no mash or chips with it, for me it was more than enough. The three sausages sitting on top of the mash did not look like a large portion on arrival, but appearances were deceptive and my son was quite satisfied with his choice. The pork belly, stuffed chicken and fish and chips were also enjoyed by everyone. The pea puree in particular was said to be the best ever tasted. Not a single complaint from any of us.
My younger son and I were both very full after our main courses, so as we are both ardent fans of coffee we restricted ourselves to the boule of espresso ice cream with a cup of espresso (£2). My sister-in-law picked the crème brulee which came with a shortbread biscuit (£5). The other three were all tempted by the apple and blackberry crumble with vanilla ice cream (£5). Service had slowed down considerably by this time, although it has to be said that the place was extremely busy by about 2pm. Fortunately we were not in a hurry.
I was delighted by my espresso ice cream, but I have to say that the unanimous approval of the apparently heavenly crumble made me feel that I would have to leave room for it next time I visit. To follow the espressos we just asked for a glass of water, but my elder son still had room for hot chocolate and the other three in the party ordered filter coffee. All hot drinks are £2.
The bill came to £113 to which we added a tip, making an average of £20 per head. There are one or two cheaper ways of doing things at Abarbistro that I will definitely bear in mind. If you just want to go for a light meal and a drink, you could opt for a hot brie and bacon baguette for £4, or even just a cone of home-cut chips for £3. On the first Friday of every month between 5.30pm and 7pm (last orders 6.45pm) you can have haddock, chips, tartare sauce and mushy peas followed by sticky toffee pudding, all for £10. You can of course just go and have a drink.
Don't be put off visiting Abarbistro with your offspring, even if they are considerably younger than mine. There was one gorgeously well-behaved baby in a high chair not far from us as well as several children, mostly in the garden area.
The toilets are on the ground floor, so there should be no problems for disabled people.
Abarbistro is open from 11am until midnight Mondays to Saturdays, and from noon until 11pm on Sundays. You can park free of charge outside the restaurant or on Lombard Street, the street that runs down to Portsmouth Cathedral.
Should you be visiting Gunwharf Quays and want to get away from the crowds, Abarbistro is only a few minutes' walk away. Southsea sea front is only about ten or fifteen minutes on foot. Abarbistro definitely makes a very pleasant change from chain restaurants.
58 White Hart Road
Tel. 023 9281 1585
Also posted on Ciao UK under my username, denella.
Summary: Excellent restaurant in Old Portsmouth