Continuing her Southsea Food Tour, Emily Priest finds a no-nonsense, traditional cafe offering good value for money.
The Country Pantry is tucked away on Highland Road, just opposite one of my favourite coffee shops, T and Thistle. It’s a very small place, lodged next to an antique book shop and hairdressers, and still retains its old, vintage shop front.
I have passed it on several occasions but it’s usually been shut. Their opening hours are unusual, 8.30am to 2pm each day. However, while it’s not great for an early supper or afternoon snack, it’s one of the few places nearby that open early for breakfast.
For a Wednesday morning, it was already quite busy when I arrived with a dozen people inside. The décor seems almost as dated as the shop front with its red and white plastic table cloths, old fashioned wooden frames and china pots and tea cups displayed on shelves.
Everyone inside seemed cheerful – two gap-toothed builders chatted, an elderly couple smiled at one another and a man in a hoodie gorged on a full English.
The menu, displayed on chalkboards around the walls, had a lot of choice from various sized English breakfasts, roast beef dinners, jacket potatoes, sandwiches and Bangers ‘n’ Mash. There were plenty more traditional English choices, but it was the prices that captivated me the most. A full English breakfast costs roughly £5.50 and £3.25 for a panini; certainly cheaper than some local places that charge £6+.
I approached the till and a pink haired woman greeted me cheerfully. I asked what fillings I could have in an omelette and she laughingly replied, ‘anything you want m’dear.’ So, I ordered one with ham, cheese and mushroom; enjoying the freedom to choose. To drink, I had a classic mug of tea and the whole lot came to just £6. A bargain.
I sat myself down and helped myself to cutlery and sauces at the front of the shop. I noticed that there were no cakes or snacks, such as pastries, on offer, only an empty cabinet where they might have been. Perhaps it’s normally stocked but not today, which was a shame as I was craving something sweet.
The tea arrived shortly after I had sat down, though in a stained mug, and my omelette came 5 minutes later. Given the price I wasn’t sure what to expect much but a large slab of an omelette arrived with a neat side salad. As I cut it open, big chunks of ham and mushroom fell out with gooey cheese oozing on top. The cooks were very generous and I liked that. I was impressed with how much filling they gave me – certainly too much for me.
I only managed half of the omelette before I gave up but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I wondered if their other meals were just as big, filling and tasty and looking over at the other people eating, I became certain this was the case.
One person had ham, egg and chips with a pile of fat-cut chips and another was halfway through a pile of chunky coleslaw. A few more people entered, one of which was my postman, and they all chatted to the friendly waitress. They asked her how her holidays had gone and she asked them how their mornings had been. Obviously, they enjoyed The Country Pantry to be on such good speaking terms with one another. They were regulars who would definitely be back again.
The Country Pantry doesn’t make it to my list of top eateries as for me, it lacks atmosphere and I wasn’t impressed by the dirty tea cup. However, this cafe is high on my list for affordable places to eat as £6 for a tea and a huge omelette, crammed with generous mushrooms, ham and cheese, is impressive. The opening times don’t work for me, but if you are after a hearty breakfast for next to nothing then this is your place.
The Country Pantry Café reminds me of Mumms Café, just down the road. Neither places are trying too hard to be something they’re not, but serve good, no nonsense food like your Nan would make. It’s cheap and it’s filling and on your way to work, or if you’re hungover, it’s just what you need.
I’ll remember that next time I go to Hampshire Boulevard.
Photography by Emily Priest.