“ Cuisine: Modern a la carte / Location: 103 Palmerston Road, Southsea, PO5 3PS / Tel: 023 9281 6754 „
Sometimes it does you good to get out of your comfort zone. The Bistro Montparnasse is not the sort of place I would usually go to for a meal. However, at a recent conference I attended, this was the venue selected for a meal, so I was left with little choice. Having been there, all I can now say is that it is a real shame it's at the other end of the country from where I live, as it means I'm unlikely to ever have the opportunity to go again!
The bistro is located in Southsea, Portsmouth, around five minutes walk from the seafront and very close to Southsea shopping area. So, whether you are just arriving into Portsmouth by ferry or are looking for somewhere to eat after a hard day's shopping, the Montparnasse is easily accessible.
From the front, it doesn't do itself many favours and sits pretty unobtrusively amongst rows of other shops. Indeed, if you weren't looking for it, you could well walk right past it. Even if you stop to peer inside, you might not be that impressed as on first glance it appears a little dark and dingy. However, if you take a few extra seconds to look on the window at the many awards the restaurant has run you might start to think that it's worth a visit.
Inside, initial impressions are confirmed and the restaurant is quite dark - but in a pleasant atmospheric way. It has a slightly strange layout, and is obviously a former house that has been converted into a restaurant. As such, tables are set out in several "hidden" rooms and the dining area is a lot bigger than you initially might think. This means that larger parties can be accommodated in a room on their own to prevent other diners being disturbed, which is good. The layout of the restaurant is slightly labyrinthine, however, and you do need to have a good memory to find out where you are meant to be or to remember your route back if you get up to visit the toilet!
Staff at the bistro were incredibly friendly. As we walked in, every single member of staff we encountered gave us a cheery "hello"; as we left each gave us a cheery "goodbye" and they were unfailingly polite and friendly at all other times - a far cry from some places you go where staff can be surly and sometimes only just stop short of outright rudeness!
Organisation is also clearly a strong feature of the bistro. As we were a large party, we were asked to order in advance so that they could serve our food to us as quickly as possible and, as far as I'm aware, they got every single choice right. Not only this, but when we got there, they had made little place names with everyone's choices on them, which both helped you remember what you had ordered and meant they could easily get the right food to the right people. This is something all too few places do, but it meant that the food was quick and efficiently served, negating the normal scrum that's often associated with this activity!
And what food! As soon as the first course arrived, you could see why the bistro has won so many awards, as it was absolutely delicious and cooked to perfection. When the starter arrived, I was slightly concerned that it might be a case of "nice food, but where's the rest of it", as I was served a very fancily dressed plate which contained just three very small shallot tortes. In fact, it proved a perfect sized portion and any more would actually have been overpowering. They were perfectly cooked too, with pastry that just melted in the mouth and served with fantastic red onion marmalade. If I was being critical, the dish could perhaps have done with a touch more of the marmalade, but otherwise it was faultless.
For the main course, I had selected the whole roasted goat's cheese, served with some delicious garlic potatoes and roasted vegetables. These were cooked in a slightly sweet juice which really complemented their natural flavour and worked very well. As with the starter, the quantity was perfectly judged and, in actual fact, there were still a few vegetables left at the end of the course, and everyone had had enough. Again, if I was being slightly critical, the goat's cheese perhaps needed something else to complement its flavour and eating a whole one became a little bland after a while, but on the whole I had no real complaints.
If the first two courses were excellent, then things really stepped up a gear by the time we got to dessert. I'm not normally a pudding person, but having tasted these, I would kill someone to get my hands on more! The lemon tart I had ordered proved to be an inspired choice. Once again, it was beautifully presented. The tart itself was full of taste - just tangy enough but not so tart that it made you wince. This was accompanied by a blob of delicious homemade blackcurrant sorbet and an unidentifiable (but equally delicious!) something else. The flavours of this dish were out of this world and a worked really well together. Whoever puts the menus together at the bistro certainly knows how to combine different ingredients for maximum impact.
This was followed by coffee (slightly disappointingly, no refills were offered) and some very nice home made chocolates or fudge. Although these were gorgeous, they were also very sweet and no-one in our party was able to eat more than one.
Of course, superb food like this does not come cheap and it's in the bill that the Montparnasse might cause several shocks or even put people off eating there in the first place. The two course menu option will cost you £31.50, whilst a three course meal is £36.50. This is clearly more than you would pay in a lot of other places. On the other hand, you get what you pay for and the quality is such that it is well worth paying the extra premium for the superb food. Even so, it's not going to be somewhere that you will visit regularly, and it's more likely to be a place reserved for special occasions.
As I said at the start of this review, my only real regret is that Montparnasse is over 400 miles away from where I live. That's a real shame, as I'd love to go back and try some of the other dishes. Then again, for the sake of both my wallet and my waistline, perhaps it's a good job that it's so far away!
103 Palmerston Road
Southsea, PO5 3PS
Tel: 023 9281 6754
© Copyright SWSt 2011