THE STILL & WEST, PORTSMOUTH REVIEW

Some food writers believe it is their duty to tell the world about a place if it is awful, but the moment I begin to call rubbish rubbish, a whirling match of mental tennis bats about vigorously between my ears… what if the restaurant is to close because of my review? What if the landlord hunts me down with a carving knife? What if the chef gets fired, his wife leaves him and he has to sleep on the streets? What about – err – karma?!

Therefore, I don’t do bad reviews. I’d rather not revisit that terrible meal and give a place energy if it’s no good. Yep, I’m yellow-bellied, white-livered, a poltroon some may say. But somebody’s got to pipe up eventually and if not me then who? You would hope the restaurant could only improve after such criticism and I can’t go through life just being a one-trick-foodwriter, clapping my hands gaily with the pleasures of eating. No. I’ve got to be serious and all that jazz. So here’s how I’m going to pursue the following piece:

COM•PLI•MENT SAND•WICH

noun |ˈkämpləmənt||ˈsanˌ(d)wi ch |

a technique used in the corporate world to masque an insult in order to make it pallatable for an audience.

USAGE begin the criticism with a compliment, follow up with a criticism/insult and then end with a compliment or something favorable about the receiver.

The Still and West lies at the mouth of Portsmouth Harbour on the old Spice Island, a land of smugglers taverns where restless spirits of swabs and their strumpets roam the streets. You can sit for dinner by the wall of windows and watch the ferries tootle by every ten, ploughing waves to the harbour wall below you as the sun passes behind Gosport and onto the West. The restaurant itself harks back to a grand old time with a refined fish menu and old fashioned nautical decor. It’s so close to the waters edge, if you spun around several times and got hit on the head, you might believe you were aboard the QE1 in its heyday.  I come from a navy family and we’ve been patrons here for generations. It’s the old salty dog’s greasy spoon of choice and as a little girl I would visit here with my grandmother. I loved the fine seafood, the sense of occasion, the feeling of being on an open sea voyage into unexplored culinary territory. Now we return, years on, she’s 90 and the pub, I later find out, has been bought by that brewery chain, Fullers. Back in the day it was difficult to get a table, but tonight, there is a ghostly hush; we have the only one laid.

I order the pint of shell-on prawns aioli to start but there is no garlic to speak of. In fact, the prawns arrive as if scooped straight off the ice at the fishmongers, half defrosted, swimming around in mirky water at the bottom of a glass with the faintest tinge of lager. The accompanying bread is a French baguette, stale, resoaked and warmed up in the oven. One side is still soggy from the half-hearted attempt at de-antiquing it. To share, we are presented with cockles, mussels and crabsticks so vinegary fresh from a tin, John West would be proud. Forget the QE2 Lizzy, this is authentic pirate food! The mains aren’t much better, every vegetable seems to have the same consistency as that ol’ seaside favourite, mushy peas. Fish is apparently their speciality and the menu is priced accordingly, but the mackerel is sad, the turbot defiled, the cod and chips at nearly £10, somehow, burnt. We didn’t stay for pudding.

It’s a different story downstairs, the fish and chips are decent and it’s hard to get a seat on a warm night because the terrace is full of punters slurping ales in the Spice Island air. It certainly is a popular public house in a special location and the alcohol sales appear to be the thing keeping it afloat. But wouldn’t it be amazing if there was still a reason to be that busy in the restaurant upstairs?

Still & West, Bath Square, Portsmouth, Hampshire

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