“ Address: 123 High Street / Old Portsmouth / Hampshire / PO1 2HW / England „
We went to Lemon Sole for a special meal for 4 of us for a birthday. It was so overpriced for what we received. 3 of us had our fish meals served 15 minutes before the last one of us received our meat dish.
You are charged a lot for very small veg dishes.
The waiting staff do not take your order you have to go and queue and choose your wine and food from a counter which for the price they charge wasn't very nice.
You also have to be careful not to be caught out on the price as a lot of the fish dishes are priced per weight of the fish and the price is not advertised.
£240 for 4 of us - never going back.
I don't mind paying these prices for excellent food and service. When we raised these issues with the manager he only offered us a £20 voucher to have off our next visit!!
oh and yes the toilet in the ladies was blocked, with the door left open for all to see!
Although on a quest to savour the delights of as many of the restaurants and cafes of my home town as possible, I have to admit that those mentioned in the Michelin Guide are usually beyond my budget. One of these is the renowned fish restaurant, Lemon Sole, on High Street, Old Portsmouth, so I was intrigued to find that they were advertising a special offer in the autumn edition of the Southsea Directory. This consisted of either lunch for £5 (£10 for Sunday roast) or dinner for £10, as long as your reservation was between 5.30pm and 7pm. A glass of wine was included.
A friend of mine, a non-red-meat-eater, was eager to take advantage of this offer and suggested we book for dinner on a weekday evening. I rang up about five days in advance and asked to reserve a table for two at 6.15pm on 9th December. I had to disappoint the man I spoke to by telling him that my name was not Elizabeth Arden as he thought he had heard me say, but he was nevertheless very friendly. I mentioned the special offer I had seen, and he told me that for December there was a slightly different one entitled A Taste of Christmas: the restaurant was offering either two courses for £10 or three for £15. This sounded equally enticing, even though there was no mention of the glass of wine this time.
On the day we arrived bang on time, having been lucky to find a parking space on High Street itself. The restaurant appeared to be empty and we were offered a table for two next to the large bay window in which sits a large model of a fish alongside a heron and a twisted branch of a tree. My chair was decidedly rickety, but I didn't want to get off to a bad start by complaining. The dark brown wood of the chairs did not by any stretch of imagination match the light wood of the tables either; I think some money does need to be spent on new chairs. Artificial lilies, unusual turquoise drinking glasses and a couple of Christmas crackers adorned our table. The serviettes were artistically folded linen ones.
The waiter brought us the special set menus and explained that when we were ready, we should come through to the back of the restaurant to choose our fish from the counter. We ordered a glass of red wine each and were surprised when the waiter returned with a bottle and a half of white wine. We managed to stop him before he began pouring, and he apologised and soon returned with a bottle of red. It was certainly very palatable. Studying the menu, there were some interesting starters such as devilled white bait, sardines with spicy barbecue sauce or goat's cheese tart with salad, but in the end my friend decided on the prawn cocktail to remind her of her childhood and I went for the soup of the day, stilton and broccoli.
Moving on to the main course, the salmon with lemon and rosemary sounded very tempting, but I often have salmon when I eat out and thought I should try something different. There were one or two alternatives such as duck for those who are not great fans of fish, and there is always a vegetarian option. Our attention was caught, however, by a fillet of fish called pangasius which neither of us had heard of. The waiter was not able to tell us more than that it was a white fish. We liked the sound of its accompanying ratatouille, salsa and balsamic dressing and decided we should take the opportunity to sample it. Off we went to find the fish counter and were quite amazed at how big the restaurant turned out to be. I'm afraid I wasn't impressed by the shabby carpet, though. Whilst most clients are able to choose exactly which fish or fillet they would like, it turned out that our pangasius was for some reason not on display. We ordered our starters and mains and returned to our table.
Whilst waiting, to the accompaniment of the likes of Coldplay and Travis, we had a look at a leaflet giving details of the restaurant's Christmas menu. There were two party menus, one at £20 and one at £30, as well as a Christmas Day menu at £45. In each case there was a good choice of starters, whereas the main courses included turkey with all the trimmings and a vegetarian option alongside several fish dishes. The Christmas Day menu included a glass of champagne on arrival as well as a sorbet between the starter and the main course. The choice of desserts on each menu was very similar to the one we were presented with.
It wasn't long before our starters were served. My soup came in an oval dish with a chunk of crusty bread and was topped with a swirl of cream. It was extremely hot but of a very smooth consistency and absolutely delicious. My friend enjoyed her prawn cocktail and reminisced about the times her mother used to make it.
By this time two other women had arrived and were seated in a corner of the front area of the restaurant. All the other people, mostly men, made a beeline for the rear of the restaurant, so things remained quiet in the area where we were. The waitress came with two plates announcing 'Lemon sole,' and we protested that we had ordered pangasius. She assured us that she had said the wrong thing and that it was in fact our order. Our half fillets of what was, presumably, pangasius came on oval plates with dressing, a wedge of lemon, and potatoes. My friend had ordered saute potatoes but I had for some reason stuck with the new potatoes that are served unless you request an alternative. They seemed a little boring, and I was glad of the ratatouille dressing to liven them up. The fish itself was good, quite a plain white fish really, certainly nothing exotic as its name suggests. Had I known, I might have chosen salmon instead, but no complaints.
As we were eligible for the special offer, we decided to make room for dessert as well. The apple and blackberry crumble with either custard or icecream was initially considered, but I thought it might be a little too filling. Crème brulee and homemade tiramisu were other serious contenders, but in the end we both felt that fresh fruit sherry trifle was making an unusual appearance on a menu and should not be ignored. It was (like the prawn cocktail) another reason for nostalgic recollection of how we ourselves or our mothers used to make trifle with differing amounts of sherry. Served in wineglasses, it proved to be the right choice for us both, and the sherry was there at the bottom, soaking the sponge, in no uncertain terms.
We decided to leave it there and wander down to a pub for a drink, so we asked for the bill. The restaurant automatically adds on a ten per cent service charge, so our total for the two of us for three courses and a glass of wine (and a cracker, of course) was £44. If you don't reserve, however, or if you go for dinner after 7pm, you can expect to pay around £18-£19 for a main course, which is obvously a lot more than we were charged. I would say that I enjoyed the soup and the trifle more than my main course, and aside from the special offer I think I would prefer to go to Rosie's Vineyard in Southsea. I was somewhat put off by the state of the chairs and the carpet at Lemon Sole, and the atmosphere was slightly lacking. No sign of fish knives and forks, which seem to have become a thing of the past.
I should mention that the toilets are upstairs, which would of course be a problem for disabled customers. You do, on the approach to the stairs, get a good chance to have a look at the kitchen.
In the basement is Annie Croft's Wine Cellar where food is also served. It is reached by a set of stone steps and apparently still has the original eighteenth-century stone floor. Alongside it is a well, which we could just make from our table by the front window of Lemon Sole: a sign clearly states 'Do not enter' - they must be afraid that inebriated clients might end up at the bottom of the well. My friend ventured down the steps as we were leaving and seemed to think Annie Croft's might be worth visiting on another occasion. The two establishments appear to be under the same management.
I would recommend Lemon Sole to anyone who loves fish and would like to be able to choose from the counter. If you are dining early or having lunch, there always seems to be a special offer provide you make a reservation. For anyone visiting Gunwharf Quays who wants to get away from the crowds, Lemon Sole is just a few minutes' walk away down St George's Road, turning right into High Street. (This is not a High Street filled with shops, I should point out.) I don't however, feel in a great hurry to go back. The food was very good, but I was expecting something a little more from a restaurant mentioned in the Michelin Guide. I definitely think a facelift is in order, particularly for the carpet and chairs. If I am able to afford it in the future, there are one or two other local restaurants in a similar price range that I would prefer to try out. Meanwhile, I shall content myself with Rosie's Vineyard which, interestingly enough, is the only Portsmouth/Southsea restaurant that features in Harden's Restaurant Guide.
Lemon Sole Seafood Restaurant
123 High Street
Tel. 023 9281 1303
Also to be posted on other review sites (on Ciao under my username denella).
Fine dining seafood restaurant.