“ Address: 30 Great Southsea St / Southsea / Hampshire / England „
When I first moved back to Southsea in 1999, the India Arms was about two minutes' walk from where I lived but I never visited it because my sons went there and it definitely had a reputation as a student pub. On moving back to Southsea again in 2007, I was surprised to learn that the largest room in the pub had been converted into an Indian restaurant called the Tiffin Room which was fast earning a reputation for serving the best Indian cuisine in either Portsmouth or Southsea.
The Tiffin Room had initially served tapas-style meals, whereby you would order a number of small dishes and probably share them amongst yourselves. By the time of my first visit in late summer, however, all this had changed and the menu was organised in the traditional format of starter, main course and dessert. I remember choosing Old Madras lamb chops, unusual for me as I am not a great fan of red meat, but they were absolutely delicious.
My second visit to the Tiffin Room came eight months later, at 7.30 one Saturday evening. My son and his partner had been there several times during the winter, always without a reservation, but as we entered we realised that it was a very busy evening. The waiter explained that the restaurant was in fact full booked, apparently by a large party of priests and nuns who were intending to burst into song after their meal. (They didn't look like priests and nuns - not a habit in sight - but he may not have been familiar with our various religious denominations, so let's not hold it against him.) Standing in the front area of the pub, we saw that one couple was already seated at a table laid for dinner there, and we were told that we were very welcome to sit and eat at another such table in the pub if we liked. There seemed no reason not to, so we chose a round table; a tablecloth, napkins and place settings were soon brought, followed by menus.
People kept arriving, and not long afterwards there was a party of seven installed at a long table next to us and other smaller groups at tables similar to our own. It obviously has become a very popular place. The waiter asked if we would like poppadoms and home-made chutney but oddly didn't ask about drinks. The service does tend to be a little scatty here, but they were obviously run off their feet on this particular occasion.
We decided that we would order three different main courses but share them between us so that we could taste a variety of their dishes. The Tiffin Room specialises in southern Indian cuisine, but does also have a section of traditional dishes on its menu which includes vegetarian options. I liked the sound of Hill Station Chicken, honey and lime spiced, at £6.95 on the list of regional specialities. We also decided on a Chicken Pasanda cooked in almonds and fresh cream, again at £6.95, and a Tandoori Mixed Grill (chicken, lamb, hush [duck] and sheek kebab) at £10.95. There is a section of specialities that are mostly priced at £12.95 and include Sizzling Beef, Whole Crab, Grilled Sword Fish and Hush. As this was not a special occasion, we decided to keep to a more modest price range. The Tandoori Mixed Grill comes with salad and rice, and we also ordered one portion of coconut rice, a stuffed peshwari naan bread and a chapati.
There was quite a long wait for the main course as the restaurant was so busy, but we munched our way through the poppadoms and sipped our drinks, and it was not too noisy to easily have a conversation despite the number of people. Having a few weeks previously had excellent coffee in one of the back rooms of the pub, relaxing on a sofa to the accompaniment of Massive Attack, I was disappointed that on that particular evening Jamiroquai was providing music to our ears. After a while I commented that his songs all seemed to sound the same, but we came to the conclusion that it was actually one song on a loop. Again, I have to forgive them, as I think they were too busy to worry about the music.
After a while the waiter came to ask us if we would accept to have egg fried rice instead of coconut rice. We always associate egg fried rice with Chinese cuisine, however, so we asked for pilau rice. The food eventually arrived, perhaps forty-five minutes after we had ordered. We each took a share of the three main courses and the accompaniments, and soon realised that we had stopped talking because we were enjoying the food so much. They do tend to go for subtle, delicate flavours, but if you like hot spicy curry you can ask for extra spice or order Goan or Sylhet (described as the bomb), which are both very hot curries. The chicken, lamb and hush were all very tender, the pasanda sauce very creamy, and the Hill Station Chicken had a beautiful taste of honey which perhaps overpowered the lime.
We were all feeling very full by the time we had finished our main courses and could not possibly have managed a dessert. I have, however, been told that the home-made coconut and lime ice-cream is delicious. Rice pudding with cashews raisins and cardamom is also on offer, as is carrot halwa. I can definitely recommend the coffee, as I have already mentioned.
The bill came to £41.50, so we can say £15 a head including a tip. I would like to give a five-star rating because we all felt that this was the best Indian food we have tasted. The only problems were the lack of coconut rice, the delay in taking our order for drinks, and a surfeit of Jamiroquai monotony. To say that they were unusually busy on that particular evening, I think a lot more could have gone wrong. However, I have since heard that a group of people who went late on a Friday evening were not at all happy with the service. I feel it is only fair to give four stars if service is unreliable.
The Tiffin Room has recently started offering Sunday roast at £5.95, which I'm sure would be interesting to try. They do have a takeaway service, and ten per cent discount is given on the menu prices. There is a garden at the side of the restaurant which might be very pleasant in summer as the street is a fairly quiet residential one.
The Tiffin Room is situated on Great Southsea Street, off Kings Road. It is very close to Southsea common, and just a few minutes' walk from Palmerston Road shopping precinct. Gunwharf Quays is about ten minutes' walk away.
I was interested to notice as I walked home that an Indian restaurant on Elm Grove was only about half full. It seems that word has got round that the best Indian cuisine in the area is to be had at the Tiffin Room.
The Tiffin Room at the India Arms
30-32 Great Southsea Street
Tel. 023 9275 3058
Sunday 12noon to 2pm; 6pm to 10.30pm
Monday-Thursday and Saturday: 12noon to 2pm and 6pm to 11.30pm
Friday 6pm to 11.30pm