Street Knowledge: The Merchant House
Shhh! This is the spot that Southsea locals would prefer to keep to themselves.
Despite its urban surroundings, you’ll have to go on a bit of a hunt for this one. The Merchant House, located near Portsmouth’s trendy Albert Road, is just mere meters from Southsea seafront but is almost completely unknown to those who don’t live a couple of streets away. Don’t worry if you’re coming from further afield though, as there’s lots of free parking nearby.
First off, this isn’t the sort of place you need to get suited and booted for. With its stripped back floorboards, exposed brickwork and mismatched furniture, it’s as casual as they come.
The bi-fold windows at the front are wide open, allowing the summer sun to pour in whilst you sit back and watch the world go by. The paint is peeling in spots in a way that suggests it’s been ‘accidentally done on purpose’. There’s 60s music flowing but it’s not in your face, and tucked to one side is a wood burner ready and waiting for the colder nights to draw in.
The clientele is a mix of hardcore CAMRA ale-heads supping their hoppy pilsners, hip young things on the hunt for vegan eats, as well as families and friends enjoying a quiet bite and a chat to break up the day.
SCOFF & QUAFF
The Merchant House is centred around two things: craft beer and street food. There are television screens mounted around with page-upon-page of the beers they have stocked – from well-known breweries such as Tiny Rebel to lesser-known outfits such as Staggeringly Good. They even have an app where you can check-in what you’re drinking and see what ‘Dave’ was nursing a couple of hours ago. There’s a smallish wine selection and a range of unusual spirits, but beer and ale is definitely king of this gaff.
The main pull for many visitors is their fabled kitchen. Operated by local outfit, Need Street Food, they serve up a small selection of classics, with a helluva twist. We opted for Merchant Burgers and the Philly Cheese Fries to share. The burgers were priced at £7.50 a pop and were tasty, but size-wise it was certainly quality over quantity. The burger was topped with ‘Dirty Cheese’, sweet Maple bacon, caramelised onions and house sauce. Served a little bit more well done than I would normally have gone for, it was still juicy and was seasoned enough to cope with the extra bit of cooking. The bun was soft, toasted and soaked up all the flavours contained within the stack nicely.
The fries, already tossed with a generous portion of rosemary salt, came topped with enormous chunks of mouth-melting steak, Dijon mayo and some homemade bread & butter pickles. They stayed surprisingly crisp, despite the amount of sauce they were covered in (which was a relief as I initially envisioned being left with a soggy mess) and wooden forks were provided to save our fingers. The portion was absolutely huge, and between the two of us there was plenty left over – for £7, I was impressed.
The menu also has a whole section dedicated to vegan versions of their dishes – many of which rival their carnivorous counterparts – as well as a number of Korean and Vietnamese inspired platters. Dessert lovers, sorry to disappoint but there were no sweet treats to be spotted.
OUT & ABOUT
Southsea is the ‘cool’ bit of Portsmouth and there are a number of boutiques and other eateries just a short stroll from The Merchant House itself. Head toward the sea and you’ll be able to take a quiet amble around Canoe Lake, or alternatively head up and down the promenade for some brisk sea air.
In the summer, as you can imagine, it can get rather busy but weekdays and off-season it’s pretty quiet. This is an area that you wouldn’t go out of your way for, but if you stumble across it you’ll be pleasantly rewarded with good-quality, independent spots and free parking for the beach.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Taking friends and family for a day at the seaside. This is the spot to show off Hampshire’s trendy food and drink credentials.
Not for: That super swanky romantic date night – this place is more about the product and selection on offer than finesse. And although it’s kid-friendly with highchairs and a kids’ menu, it’s open frontage, lack of proper outside space and location by a relatively busy road may rule it out for those with toddlers and young children.
£: On the upper end of cheap. Affordable enough for a mid-week treat, but well-priced enough not to be skimping on quality ingredients.
The Merchant House, 9-11 Highland Rd, Portsmouth, Southsea PO4 9DA. Tel: N/A