The Southsea Food Tour: Aurora Café and Lounge

In a brand new series for S&C, journalist and food critic Emily Priest will be visiting Southsea’s most delectable diners, exquisite eateries and luscious luncheonettes.

Named after the statue above the Kings Theatre, Aurora Café and Lounge has been in business since 2015 when it replaced Magick Bean. Since then it’s been making a big impression on Albert Road.

I was welcomed by Aurora’s gold décor and reggae music playing softly in the background, which suits this sunny day of barbecues on the common and ice cream on the pier. There were rows of wooden rustic tables and cushioned sofas, around them Egyptian statues, hanging lamps, a large gold-framed mirror and chalkboards boasting the specials of the day. One of them was homemade vegetarian chilli.

The girl behind the counter asked me with a smile how my day was going and what I would like.

‘I would love some cake,’ I replied, gesturing at the countless treats stacked upon the till. ‘What flavours are they?’

Enthusiastically she listed them for me – chocolate and ginger brownie, apple and cinnamon cake, pineapple and banana loaf, and fruit scones.

I chose a slice of the raspberry and yogurt loaf, a millionaire’s shortbread and a standard tea. I sat on one of the sofas lined in dark blue velvet, right next to the towering mirror. Waiting for my drink and cakes, I read the menu. There wasn’t a great deal of choice – a few salads, paninis and sandwiches – but there were enough flavours and tastes to cater to anyone including vegetarians. I ordered a ham and cheese panini.

My tea came in one of those glass hipster mugs and the sugar cubes were stashed in a dainty pot on the table. Very quaint. But I soon forgot what shape or size the sugar came and started to focus on the thick slices of cake that the waitress was placing before me. I quickly thanked her before shoving a fat forkful of the raspberry and yogurt loaf into my gob.

It was moist, soft and bouncy. The yogurt and the raspberry fused together to create creamy pockets of flavour – just the right thing to get you ready for the summer. I left the crust like a kid does with a sandwich as sadly it didn’t have the same quality of taste as the goo inside.

The millionaire’s shortbread was the best I’d ever had and doesn’t fall apart with each bite like most. For once, by the end, I wasn’t smothered in crumbs.

Just as my stomach was about to surrender, I received my panini plus side salad with cucumber and tomato chunks with balsamic dressing. It certainly beat what they do in most cafés: lazily throwing a handful of packaged leaves onto a plate. The only downside to Aurora’s offering was the sheer amount of dressing, which spewed onto the rest of the plate and onto my panini, making it soggy in parts.

The panini was pleasant enough, with melted cheese and thick ham. But that’s all it was, a ham and cheese panini. It was nothing spectacular, but it wasn’t terrible either. Perhaps a dash of Dijon mustard to add some flavour would be in order.

Only crumbs were left after my onslaught. As I laid there waiting for it all to go down, I took in some details. On the menu at the bottom was a little note explaining that all the ingredients used were locally sourced from places such as Bread Addiction or Southsea Fruit and Veg. Also, Aurora puts on many events such as the fortnightly Sunday quiz and the monthly poetry gig hosted by Front Room Words. By the door was a small sign which listed some of the poets who have performed there including well known locals Lord Biro and Rick Haynes.

I’ll make sure to go to that next time, I said to myself.

When my bill arrived I realised it’s not the cheapest place to go on Albert Road, but the atmosphere and the local, homemade food is well worth it.

I will say as well that it can be a little off-putting for some people, especially poor students such as myself. The somewhat regal atmosphere of the place can seem daunting especially with signs that boast the offer of champagne to any customer willing or able to pay. Some events too such as the wine tasting sessions give off the impression that Aurora is only for a particular kind of customer in Southsea – one a bit older and wealthier than myself.

But, once you get over that, talk to the cheery waitresses and bite into their cakes, you start to realise everyone is welcome.

A version of this article first appeared on Emily’s blog here.

All photography by Emily Priest.