The Canteen, Old Portsmouth
Lunch with a side of ummm.... military history? Muddy heads to The Canteen, a waterfront cafe housed in a former battery and barracks, to try out some top quality nosh.
You know that feeling when you come across somewhere that’s pretty darn special? That’s exactly how I felt the first time I visited The Canteen in Old Portsmouth. Even just looking at the building – a historic red brick battery and barracks, smack bang on the seafront – there’s something unmistakably unique about this waterfront cafe.
The area of Old Portsmouth (not to be confused with Southsea!) is quaint and has an entirely different feel to the rest of the city. The buildings here are historic, there’s a good chance you’ll come across someone dragging a sailboat out from their back yard, and there also happens to be a great ruddy gold bust of Charles I gawking over visitors. The whole area exudes ‘history’ and each turn you take around its streets, you’ll find cobbles, long-forgotten tram tracks and, an ever-increasing rarity, red telephone boxes.
While it’s owned by the same people behind the city’s famous Tenth Hole and aBar Bistro, The Canteen has its very own, very distinct character.
Entering through the glass frontage, you’ll find a counter stacked with delicious cakes and the famed Canteen Sausage rolls. The decor… well the building kind of comes with its own, with red brick arches and windows complete with solid metal shutters that look out over the Solent.
There’s an industrial feel to the place that harks back to its original military usage, however, it still manages to have an unexpected cosiness. The cafe also has its very own deck, right on the sea, perfect for lazy sunny days and snapping Instagram shots of the beach below.
We arrived on a Saturday lunchtime and the place was packed. Families with babies, walkers wrapped up from the elements and artists grabbing a quick coffee to go (more on that later). Coming into the cafe on a wet and windy day there was a wonderful buzz that made us feel instantly at ease.
Making the most of such an incredible venue, The Canteen is also available for weddings and private parties – with a capacity of up to 40 for a sit-down meal or 80 for a more casual gathering.
SCOFF & QUAFF
The fact they serve brunch all day, 7 days a week is enough to win me over immediately. Where else can you get Eggs Benedict at 3pm on a Tuesday? Nowhere, I tell you!
The menu is larger than a typical cafe, smaller than a restaurant, with top delights on the breakfast menu including fancy bacon butties (£4.50) and Maple Bacon Waffles topped with candied pecans (£6).
For something a little more savoury, there’s Devonshire Crab sandwiches (£8.50), vegan Buddha Bowls (£9) and even a Moroccan Chicken Tagine (£9).
Although it was closer to dinner than breakfast, I decided on The Canteen Breakfast Stack (£9) complete with potato rosti, beef tomato, truffled mushrooms, pork sausages, smoked streaky bacon and a poached egg. The egg? Poached to perfection. A gooey, yellow yolk that cascaded beautifully all over my plate when cut – I was a happy woman. The bacon was smoky and crispy, just the right amount of fattiness without being a greasy mess.
Mr decided to go for the Battered Fish Tacos (£8) complete with avo, soya yoghurt, sriracha and pickled red cabbage. Had mine not been so utterly fantastic, I would have had major food envy. The fish was battered, with a tempura lightness, and any misgivings I may have had about the soya yoghurt were unfounded. The tacos can also be made completely vegan with BBQ jackfruit instead of fish.
For drinks, diners can choose from a five classic cocktails (including a Negroni, woohoo!) and many of the drinks on offer are from the local vicinity. If you’re big on wine, there’s not a huge selection but the choices such as a South African Chenin or Argentinian Malbec are solid crowd-pleasers, at a good price point.
If you’ve got kids and teens in tow, this is a great spot to head. My kids were greeted with crayons, colouring sheets and big fusses made of them. You can also see boats sailing by which keeps them engaged and keen to stay at the table as well.
Food-wise, the kids’ menu had the obligatory pasta and fish fingers that prevents meltdowns, but each dish mirrored closely what was on the regular menu rather than beige offerings. Both my kids cleared their plates and my eldest even stated that it was “…much nicer than what you cook Mummy”. Ahem….
OUT & ABOUT
You don’t need to go far at all to get a culture fix. The cafe is located right in the middle of the Hotwalls Studios. Each arch is home to a local creative, and you can browse through paintings, jewellery, clothing and all sorts of unique artisan wares while here.
There was a macrame hanging workshop in action at Vanderhume when we visited and I saw flyers for lino workshops, textile crafting and all sorts of other cracking crafts as well.
Climbing to the top of the Round Tower is a must. The steps are literally outside the entrance to The Canteen and give an amazing view over the seafront, over to Gosport and even the Isle of Wight.
A few streets away is the Camber Dock, which is the centre of commercial fishing that still operates in the area, as well as home to Ben Ainslie Racing HQ – the epicentre of the Americas Cup when in Portsmouth.
If you head in the opposite direction you’ll find the Royal Garrison Church. Built in 1212, the church succumbed to bombings in 1941 and is unique in the fact it doesn’t have a roof.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Brunching. lunching, coffee and catch up. This is ideal for families, the perfect party spot with a difference and great for those who are interested in good food to go with their local art.
Not for: While the food is excellent quality and sourced from local outfits, this is casual dining rather than fine fancy fare. Also, if you’re hunting for dinner they shut at 5pm so you’ll need to book dinner reservations elsewhere.
The Damage: With breakfasts at around £8, lunches at about £9, and the most expensive glass of wine at just over £5, you get excellent value for money here.
The Canteen, Point Battery & Barracks, Broad Street, Portsmouth, Hampshire, PO1 2FS. Tel: 023 9235 1935