“ 108 Palmerston Road / Portsmouth / PO5 3PT / Tel: 02392 811139 „
I don't usually go to restaurants as part of a large group of people, but my visit to Soprano's in Palmerston Road, Southsea, was an exception to this rule. A colleague of ten years (mine of eight of those) was leaving to go and live with a Welsh farmer, so we had to give her a fitting send off. Soprano's was recommended to us by one of our younger colleagues, and knowing that it had won an award for best restaurant in the Portsmouth area in 2006, we were happy to go along with her choice; she made a booking several weeks in advance for thirteen of us (all women) for 7pm one Saturday evening. The superstitious among us were perhaps a little relieved that on the day only eleven attended.
Soprano's is essentially an Italian restaurant offering an extensive menu of salads, risottos, pasta and pizza, as well as filled panini and focaccia. Specials on that particular evening were steak (at a fairly hefty £16.75), salmon fillet (a more modest £9.95) and courgette soup. After ordering drinks, with four of us including myself deciding to share a bottle of Merlot, we studied the menu in detail. None of us ordered a starter; we all went straight for the main courses which are mostly priced between £7 and £9. Two opted for the steak, four for canelloni with a side salad, two chose different vegetarian varieties of tagliatelle, and three of us went for the salmon fillet. It was quite a lengthy wait for the food, but we had plenty to talk about especially as one of our company had just returned from a five-week stay in her native Canada. Even so early in the evening, however, the tiny restaurant was extremely busy and noisy with the general buzz of conversation and background music. It was difficult to talk to anyone seated more than two places away, which is disadvantageous when you are part of a large group.
I noticed that it was gone 8pm when our main courses were began to arrive. The tagliatelle was served in huge bowls with the other dishes being on square plates. The canelloni came in individual ovendishes with the salad by the side on the larger plate. The steak was piled high with onions and sauce, and it became apparent why the price of this special was so much higher than any of the other main courses. Our salmon fillets arrived last of all and were accompanied by baby roast potatoes and a generous helping of salad. I had been very impressed a few weeks previously by the salmon at Rosie's Vineyard, but this was just as good, very tender and cooked to perfection, as well as being slightly cheaper. Everyone enjoyed their pasta dishes too, but for some reason they only discovered the little bowls of grated parmesan when they had almost finished eating. Eleven of us, and not one complaint was there over our main courses.
Desserts were not included on the printed menus but detailed on a small blackboard that was brought to the table. Choices ranged from profiteroles or sticky toffee pudding through Neopolitana ice-cream or tiramisu to lemon brulee, a combination of lemon sorbet and vanilla ice-cream with a crisp brulee topping. All were priced at £3.50. Several of the company picked the Neopolitana ice-cream, one went for the profiteroles, another for the sticky toffee pudding and one for the lemon brulee. I decided to resist temptation and just ordered a decaffeinated coffee, whilst one other in the party asked for an ordinary coffee. The ice-creams were brought fairly quickly and consumed quite quickly too, with one exception as the generous helping of fresh cream on top was not appreciated. The sticky toffee pudding and the coffees followed, and I must say it was the best-tasting decaffeinated coffee I have ever had. It was some while before the profiteroles and lemon brulee appeared, so much so that we began to wonder if these had been forgotten. Soon after they arrived, however, one of the waitresses abruptly plonked our bill down in front of us and announced that our tables were in fact rebooked that evening, evidenced by three young women standing waiting. It seemed unbelievable that this was happening whilst two of our company had not even had the chance to finish their desserts.
It was by then about 9.10pm, and I remembered that we had not started our main courses until after 8pm. Had we chosen to order starters, I wonder what time we would have finished eating. It seemed outrageous that we were being asked to leave so early. In the end we reached a compromise: we offered to relinquish one of our three tables by squashing ourselves up closer and making do with two tables! The three women were thus able to be seated, and it seemed in fact that our other tables had not been booked again. We ended up staying until around 11pm, by which time a bucket and mop could be seen back in the kitchen, and the smell of disinfectant was giving us a powerful hint that it was time to go.
I did visit the ladies while I was there; there is just the one and it was perfectly clean, with tissues rather than a hand-dryer. I can't comment on the gents I'm afraid!
Before leaving we were handed a stack of promotional cards with vouchers that were valid for another two weeks. One voucher was for two-for-the-price-of-one at lunchtime, Mondays to Thursdays, which I am offering to one of my sons and his partner as they are both having a few days off work and live just round the corner from the restaurant. The second voucher was for a free bottle of house wine to accompany an evening meal for two to four people, again from Monday to Thursday. My other son lives even closer and loves Italian food, so I might propose a weekday dinner one day soon.
As far as food and prices are concerned, I would not hesitate in giving Soprano's top marks. The issue, however, of asking us to leave about two hours after arriving is quite a serious one. I know the restaurant is extremely popular and it was Saturday, but it obviously took them a long time to prepare our main courses and we would have been too rushed. As it was we stayed considerably longer, but only because we squeezed together! It wasn't that easy as we all had wet coats, bags and umbrellas draped round our chairs or on the floor. I suppose the answer would be for Soprano's to move to a bigger premises, but I don't know how feasible that would be.
One other small point: I found it very difficult to get to sleep that night and I began to wonder if they had got the coffees mixed up. I certainly have never tasted such strong decaffeinated coffee before. That doesn't really matter though; I took two Kalms and spent half an hour on the internet before finally drifting off. I shall definitely return to Soprano's to try their risotto or pasta, and I noticed on their menu that you can have a two-course lunch there for under £7. Definitely worth a visit, and it's only a few minutes' walk from the seafront.
108 Palmerston Road
Tel. 023 9281 1139
Opening hours: 10am to 10pm, Monday to Saturday