“ Address: 87 Elm Grove / Southsea / Hampshire / PO5 1JF / Telephone: 023 9275 5944 „
Who would have thought that just along from Tesco Express and Ken's Kebabs would lie one of Southsea's best restaurants? But close to Elm Grove traffic lights, five minutes from the shopping precinct and less than a mile from the seafront, Rosie's Vineyard nestles between Nico's Cafe and an office furniture shop. You would not suspect that the narrow, original shopfront with its stained-glass window panes was the entrance to a jewel of a restaurant that could outdo any on the more select location of Osborne Road or the waterfront at Portsmouth's Gunwharf Quays.
My first visit was on a Monday evening, and I would say that any restaurant that's full at the beginning of the week must be worth its salt. Deciding on the spur of the moment to have dinner there one Saturday, I suggested going early as I knew how crowded it would be later on. Five thirty might seem a strange time for an evening meal, and we actually had the place to ourselves for the first hour. I noticed that every single table had a reserved sign on it, but ours was free until 9pm so there was no rush.
We were given a table on the ground floor alongside the bar; appearances really are deceptive, as there is a raised level at the back of the restaurant as well as a good number of tables in the basement. The tables are very basic plain wood, and most of the chairs look as though they might be cast-offs from an old church, having a place in the back for a hymn book. It probably sounds uncomfortable, but after the two hours that we spent there that was the last thing on my mind.
The waiting staff all seem to be very young, possibly students; I haven't seen any sign of a manager on either occasion. They are relaxed, polite, friendly, never intruding or rushing you. Menus and a wine list were brought, along with a slip of paper detailing the day's specials. We had decided that we would limit ourselves to a main course, so I can't unfortunately comment on starters or desserts. Starters on offer included free range pork grillette with red onion and port relish, mussels, spiced Shetland Isle crab gumbo, mixed mezze with warm pitta bread, and roasted Capricorn goat's cheese with wild rocket and tomato and basil confit.
On a previous occasion for main course I had chosen roasted vegetable tagine with cumin and coriander couscous; not actually being a vegetarian, I decided to try fish this time. The choice was between whole roasted sea bass (one of the specials) or seared salmon fillet with saffron roasted potatoes and salsa verde. The salmon just seemed to have the edge. Since leaving home, my son has developed a taste for butternut squash (it's something I never thought of cooking), and liked the sound of the squash and leek pithivier with new potatoes. Neither of us had ever had pithivier, but I remembered seeing Rick Stein make an onion one once on his journey through France, so I knew basically what it was. My son's partner had no hesitation whatsoever in ordering the Spanish spiced free-range sausages with fresh herb crushed potatoes. We ordered a bottle of house red and sat talking to the accompaniment of Dido.
I should mention that Rosie's, being a winebar as well as a restaurant, has an extensive wine list and there were leaflets on the table giving details of bin ends. I have, however, only tried their house red up until now.
It was about half an hour before the food arrived. My salmon and potatoes were accompanied by mangetout peas, and the sausages on the bed of crushed potatoes were surrounded by baby carrots. I had thought the pithivier would be similar to a pizza base, but it was actually a puff pastry case. We each made approving comments as we started eating, and by the time we had finished, we were all in agreement that it was the best food we had ever had. I've never tasted such tender, well-cooked salmon, and the accompanying diced roast potatoes were crisp and golden. The sausages were perfect - and that's coming from one not easily pleased - whilst the pithivier was a new discovery and a huge success. Three completely different dishes, yet each one was a work of art that totally satisfied the palate. None of us could criticize in any way.
Dessert would be difficult for me on any occasion after such a main course, but among those on offer are spiced plum tarte tatin, Bailey's Irish Cream parfait, and English and continental cheeses with biscuits and Rosie's own chutney. Two more glasses of wine were ordered, but I chose instead to have decaffeinated coffee. This was the only disappointment of the evening for me, as it didn't honestly taste of anything. I am very hard to please where coffee is concerned, liking it strong and bitter, but I normally drink only decaffeinated coffee late in the day and know that I am likely to be disappointed.
The toilets are situated in the basement, so unfortunately this is not really a place for disabled people. I found the ladies to be perfectly clean, and I was then intrigued to hear about the gents. Apparently simulated tiles have been painted on one wall along with a display of slogans along the lines of 'a man isn't really drunk if he can lie on the floor without holding on'. Well that's what I was told, and there were no complaints about cleanliness.
One of the special aspects of Rosie's Vineyard that I have yet to experience is that they have live jazz on Friday evenings and Sunday lunchtimes, with a roast on the menu on Sundays. My son can remember once coming on a Friday and just having a drink whilst watching the jazz. Live music venues are very few and far between in Southsea, and I know Rosie's gets extremely crowded at these times. Another attraction during the summer months is the garden, and this is accessed through the basement. Something to look forward too.
By the time we left, just after 7.30pm, several couples had arrived as well as a group of six giggling ladies; you could tell it was going to be a lively evening. Jazz had replaced Dido by that time. I had noticed on my first visit that there were people of all ages: it's obviously a place that holds great appeal for a wide diversity of people, and I can certainly see why.
Our bill came to £55, so £20 each covered the tip as well. I can't remember when we have all left a place feeling completely satisfied with the food, the service, the atmosphere... I can easily forgive the coffee. I'm sure we'll be going back very soon. The icing on the cake for me is that it's less than half a mile from where I live. If I could give Rosie's six stars out of five, I would.
I have since this occasion been back and sampled the caramelised apple crumble with creme chantilly, which is heavenly. The chocolate brownie, I am told, is slightly disappointing.
www.rosies-vineyard.co.uk/ gives details of the live jazz as well as menus, wine lists and opening times. Private functions can be booked.
87 Elm Grove