The Southsea Food Tour: T and Thistle

S&C food critic Emily Priest visits a Scottish-influenced haven of excellent local tea, perfect poached eggs and high-end panini fillings.

I didn’t sleep well last night and woke up this morning in a flat mood. I slumped out of bed, put on my clothes with a sigh and readied myself for the day ahead. In need of a pick-me-up, I walked round the road to T and Thistle, a Scottish inspired coffee lounge which opened in February this year.

Passing through the shop front’s quaint hanging baskets and garden furniture, I couldn’t quite see the Scottish connection beyond the presence of a thistle in the logo. There’s a rustic ambience to the wooden chairs and tables and a grandness about the large Victorian-style sofa and gold-framed mirror hanging on the wall.

Landscape photography occupies one of the walls by the till and the lighting is provided by a series of old fashioned light bulbs, refitted into a sort of steampunk chandelier which certainly caught my attention. Soft acoustic music was playing in the background, suiting the calm and snug vibes of the place. I spent my morning amongst it all.

On the till were a range of cakes – some homemade – from scones and muffins to traditional shortbread and the eye-catching espresso and chocolate brownie. The drinks menu offered a wide range of drinks from local suppliers including All About Tea.

I ordered a regular tea, a honeycomb rocky road and an eggs benedict. I perched on one of the wooden chairs by the window and read the rest of the menu.

There’s a wide range of options from breakfast dishes – like my eggs benedict – to bagels and panini with interesting ingredients such as avocado, salmon and halloumi. Considering these ingredients are a bit higher than your bog standard ham and cheese, the prices are fairly reasonable at £4.50 a panini. I was also impressed by the Caledonian-inspired ‘T and Thistle Platter’, which includes smoked salmon, oatcakes, haggis, chutney, mature cheddar and rocket for only £9. This is cheaper than other places I have reviewed where they charge roughly £12 for similar contents. Once again I was kicking myself because I didn’t order the platter. Maybe, no, definitely next time!

My food and drinks came soon after, delivered by a friendly young waitress. She made sure I was comfortable. ‘Do you need any salt and pepper? If you need more milk let me know straight away. I hope you enjoy it,’ she chirped, before skipping away to serve some other customers.

I poured myself a tea with too many sugars and tucked into my breakfast. Now, before I tell you about the flavours and all that, I must mention another thing about T and Thistle that ticked one of my boxes: its breakfast times. Normally, cafes serve breakfast until 10 or 11 am, but here they go on until 1pm. This is perfect for late risers or hungover party animals.

The presentation of my food was brilliantly precise. ‘This is perfect for Instagram,’ I thought, snapping a picture before I took a bite. The poached egg was spot-on: large, bouncy and runny when I sliced it open. The bacon was crispy and plentiful, the muffin as delectable as a muffin can be.

However, all of this was let down by the sauce. There was lots of it – which is great – but not when it overpowers all the other flavours. There was too much mustard and sadly that’s all I could taste. A shame because everything else was on point. It could have been a masterpiece if it only for that small, incorrect detail. Maybe next time.

I sipped on my tea and cut up my rocky road into smaller chunks. I noticed next to me was a rack of newspapers. Unfortunately, they were all copies of the Portsmouth News. Well, at least it wasn’t the Sun anyway. I didn’t mind as I had The Wasp Factory by Scottish writer Iain Banks. Fitting right?

The rocky road was splendid and gave me an instant lift. They didn’t go shy on the honeycomb and marshmallow – as some establishments do – and in no time I’d demolished it. I sat there content, with a fat belly, reading my book.

I really liked T and Thistle for all its calming vibes and it definitely put me on the right track for the rest of the day – strong Hollandaise sauce or not.

The food is tasty, the decor sweet, the atmosphere warm and the prices reasonable. I’ll definitely be going back and now that I have a loyalty card, they’ll start seeing my face more and more often.

A version of this article was originally posted on Emily’s blog here.

Photography by Emily Priest.