The Southsea Food Tour: Umami Street Food

Continuing her quest to eat out at every Southsea eatery worth eating in, Emily Priest drops in to a delightful global fusion restaurant to sample ‘the fifth taste’. 

What is the fifth taste you may wonder? It’s meaty or brothy and in Umami Street Food’s case, it’s also spicy and moreish.

Its Elm Grove address blends world cultures to create a colourful and rustic décor. As well as their broad menu, featuring wraps, burgers and platters, you can go for traditional Lebanese meals including meat majboos and chicken kabsa.

The walls are lined with corrugated iron and decorated with painted spoons and plastic cacti; it’s like a makeshift Moroccan bazaar in the centre of Southsea. The tables are wooden and lanterns hang from the ceiling.

I took a seat in one of the front booths and read the menu. I was welcomed by flavours from all over the world. It isn’t the best menu if you’re on a diet or have a delicate belly – don’t forget your Gaviscon.

One of my friends, who works there, approached me and we had a good natter. I ordered a Coke.

‘You order at the till over there,’ she corrected me.

‘So what do you do then?’ I laughed. She jokingly shrugged, gave me a wink and left. I settled back down to decide what I was going to gorge on this lunchtime.

I settled on three jumbo wings to start then the Pittsburger meal deal with a side of rice and a bottomless soft drink. I paid the bill that was reasonably priced at just over a tenner and took my empty glass to the drinks station. Hearing the ice clunk at the bottom and the cola splash the sides, I was taken back to my childhood, exploiting the drink fountains at Pizza Hut. If only they had the same bottomless ice cream stations here at Umami.

The (not so) jumbo wings came minutes after I sat down, presented neatly on a plate with a side salad. They come in five different flavours and I decided on garlic and herb which, in Umami’s technical terms, is ‘a bit hot’. They were delicious! Succulent wings of chicken with the right level of flavour and spice. Much better than Nando’s.

The burger, which arrived soon after I had finished licking my fingers, was just as tasty. It was a 6oz patty with the house secret sauce, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, cheese and turkey bacon. Once I took the pickles out, it was one of the best burgers I have eaten in a long time. I was really experiencing that ‘fifth taste.’ It was refreshing to have a burger with so many fillings but that wasn’t overpriced. The sauce was just as delectable but there was far too much of it and, eventually, rather than staying in the burger, it was dripping down my forearm and making a great big stain on my t-shirt.

The rice as a side was a stab in the dark but it paid off. It was something different but complimented the burger well. The onions and peppers mixed in with the rice swept my palate off to some exotic market where people yell at one another and sell fresh fruit and vibrant cloth.

You would think that there would be no room for dessert but think again. Taking advantage of my 10% student discount for the second time, I ordered the cheesecake and an Oreo cookie shake.

As I waited for them to arrive, I grabbed myself a delivery menu after spying free delivery to residents in the PO1, PO4 or PO5 areas. For PO2 and PO3, don’t worry, their delivery cost is only £1.50 rather than your soul or first born son, which is closer to the price charged by other outfits.

The second thing to catch my eye was a free gourmet burger or half a chicken with every phone order over £17.99. Look at me, sounding like a salesman. I’ll stop. I shoved the menu into my bag as I spotted my cheesecake and shake approaching.

The cheesecake was presented on a slate tray with ice cream and sprinkle-covered whipped cream. I would have preferred a plate. What is this modern trend of serving food on pieces of wood or stone? Anyway, I was not impressed. The cheesecake was hard and tough. One bite was all it took to know that it was out of a packet.

I pushed it to one side and pulled my milkshake closer. It was topped with loads of cream, chocolate sauce and chocolate shavings yet once again served in an unconventional way – in a mason jar. I took one sip and all I could say was ‘Yes, yes, oh God yes!’

I left very content that day. When I say I will be back, I speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Umami Street Food is a great blend of flavour, culture and spice and all for a reasonable price. They cater to families and students and deliver for almost nothing. But I’m not a PR for them so I don’t have only good things to say.

The dessert was disappointing, to say the least, and the menu only offers two vegetarian options. The meat is also halal which I personally don’t mind. I respect Umami’s inclusion of the Muslim community in Portsmouth. But I know that some would object.

At the end of the day, I left a happy customer with a belly full of food and a bag holding their menu which now sits by my telephone.

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

Photography by Emily Priest.