Food critic and reviewer Emily Priest continues her Southsea Food Tour at the Parade Tea Rooms, a seafront eaterie transformed by a local entrepreneur and housed in an old sub-station.
It’s hard to believe that, 18 months ago, a sub-station stood where the charming Parade Tea Rooms now serve rich coffee and moreish doorstop cake. The owner, Mark Hogan, transformed the run-down building into a welcoming café with wooden floors, creamy walls and large windows overlooking the vibrant green of the common. It may be a tad cramped, but it’s a great example of upcycling.
At the door, a member of staff is there with a beaming smile and a menu in hand. They take you in, past a giddying array of cakes, and over to your table; on this occasion, I was seated by the sun-washed windows at the rear.
Sitting there, I was struck by a sense of familiarity. The layout of the café, the cakes, the font on the menus; it was something I had experienced before. Seasoned cake-lovers can easily see the parallels between Parade Tea Rooms and The Tenth Hole, another beach-front café situated beside the oldest pitch and putt in the world. I asked a member of staff whether they were run by the same company.
‘Nope,’ they replied. ‘We’re independently run. Mark used to work for the Tenth Hole but he left after a disagreement. He saved up and eventually opened this place.’
I like that. It’s inspiring to see someone work so hard for their aspirations, although I did find the similarities amusing. The Tenth Hole is located on Eastern Parade, while The Parade Tea Rooms can be found on Western Parade. Coincidence?
The lunch menu offers plenty to choose from sandwiches, salads and jacket potatoes. They even do an afternoon tea at £25 for two people, although that is only available for an hour a day. The cakes are reasonably priced, but sandwiches are a little rich at around £7. In spite of the cost, I ordered a tea and a Parade Club sandwich from a cheery member of staff.
I sat back down and took a good look around. It’s a homely, cosy place. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, laughing and chatting between mouthfuls. I spied some of their meals and was gobsmacked. They were huge, to say the least. Giant bowls and plates were being carried to customers who stared with open mouths.
The salads were the most impressive: heaps of lettuce leaves, tomatoes, cucumbers, sweetcorn, beetroot, blackberries and grapes. Some even had potatoes and bacon on. Who said salads were boring?
When my sandwich arrived I felt my jaw drop. It had a plentiful helping of chicken and bacon between slices of thick cut bread. There was a welcome hint of mustard, and the ‘side’ salad was practically a second meal. Rather than a handful of leaves, I was given a bowl of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, beetroot AND coleslaw. The lack of dressing was a little disappointing, but I’m aware I sound like a child who is given a bike for Christmas and complains because it’s not the right colour.
I managed to eat half before my belly reached its limit. My wariness of the price was unfounded: the flavours, and generous portions, are certainly worth the extra.
But the mains aren’t the most important part. With a full stomach, in an act of sheer masochism, I returned to the till to stare at the pile of cakes. They were all so colourful, with different fillings and flavours, from waffle brownie to bread pudding. My mouth watered imagining how each one would taste, deciding which to try.
I bought two: a millionaire’s shortbread and a cookie dough cheesecake. They were big, fat slices that slapped against the plate as the waitress served them. The cheesecake, oozing chocolate and caramel, was gooey sweetness to start and crunch to finish. The millionaire’s shortbread was thick with a soft, crumbly bottom and a white and milk chocolate top. At the first bite, my eyes rolled to the back of my head. Parade Tea Rooms had done it. Best millionaire’s shortbread.
There was plenty left over and, luckily, they had doggy bags at the ready. I took a few for my sandwich and cakes and took the party home with me. As I left, a long queue had formed by the door. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like in the summer. ‘Make sure to come early,’ I advised myself.
Parade Tea Rooms is a wonderful place to enjoy great food. The prices are slightly higher than average but the large portions make it worth your while. You can gorge on gooey, syrupy cake, gaze across the common, on a sunny day, and realise why people celebrate Southsea.
Images by Emily Priest.