A while ago someone sent me a message recommending Casa de Castro. I replied, ‘I’ve been there before and I love it.’ I don’t know why it has taken me this long to review this quaint, French-Brazilian inspired coffee shop, but I’m delighted to make it the next stop of the Southsea Food Tour.
This café is easily missed among the chaos and colour of Albert Road. Quietly tucked away, flower boxes with pink flowers flourish outside and as you peer through the window, you are welcomed by fresh pastries and cakes boasting almonds and berries to tempt any traveller inside.
It’s small inside and on a busy day, it can be a challenge to squeeze past people to order. But on a Tuesday afternoon, the cafe was quiet. I ogled the cakes and ordered with ease.
The server, and owner, Quentin Henrion, was friendly and smiley. Quentin runs the cafe alongside his wife, Silvana Correa de Castro; he makes the food and runs the front of house. You know your food is authentically French when it’s served to you with a real French accent.
A large range of cakes, quiches and pastries filled the display, including a raspberry danish, a gooey chocolate cake and a blackberry frangipane. I ordered myself a slab of the chocolate cake; it seemed to be calling to me as it glistened in the fridge. I ordered a ham and cheese toastie and a mug of tea to go alongside.
There are not many meals on the menu at Casa de Castro. Other than toasties and quiches, there’s little here to fill you up if you’re ravenous. But for a light lunch or a snack, this place is ideal at any time of day.
The prices are average for Southsea, and vary by whether you want to take out or eat in; for example, cakes are £2.80 to take out and £3.20 to eat in. These are not the cheapest cakes in the city, but when you find high quality, authentic food, it’s definitely worth paying for.
Before sitting down, I looked around, taking in the ambience of Casa de Castro. Gentle jazz music played, artwork hung from the walls and flowers in small vases garnished each table. I had a wave of nostalgia to last January and a birthday trip to Paris. I had visited the Notre Dame and found a quaint café on the river bank. I ordered a Croque Monsieur in a terrible French accent and sat inside where the same jazz music had played. Here at Casa de Castro, I was effortlessly transported back there.
Outside the cafe is a secret garden and I made my way there, still lost in my Paris reverie. The secret garden is beautiful: arches loom overhead, and large pots of vibrant flowers are scattered around the ornate metal tables and chairs. A few people sat reading and writing.
This would be perfect if the sun was out, I thought, but at least it’s not raining.
I turned my gaze to my cake. The top was gooey with thick chocolate sauce decorated into a delicate pattern. A satisfying splodge of whipped cream sat next to the sponge, and I was addicted after one mouthful. This cake was moist, gorgeous and worth every penny.
I had just started licking my cake plate when my toastie arrived.
My toasted sandwich was unconventionally cut into a large thin triangle, with salad leaves and an unidentified dollop of something alongside. The ham was thick and the melted cheese oozed out from the sides. You may think a ham and cheese toastie is nothing special but this one was. Either Casa de Castro has perfected the art of sandwich toasting or my wave of nostalgia was more powerful than I thought. Either way, I was enjoying myself. (oh, and spoiler, the mystery dollop next to my toastie turned out to be creamy potato).
I stayed in the garden for a while after finishing my food, regretting not bringing a book with me. This garden is the perfect place to take a break from daily life, have a drink and just relax.
Casa de Castro is something special in the heart of Southsea, offering authentic artisan cakes and pastries in a calming atmosphere and elegant setting. The staff are friendly and the garden is a sanctuary from the stresses of everyday life.
This cafe is a perfect pit stop but I wouldn’t visit if I was after a filling, wholesome meal. I could suggest more food options for the menu, but the truth is I like Casa exactly how it is. There is no set of absolute rules for what makes a good eatery, but the combination of food on offer and the ambiance of the environment somehow combine to make the best.
Casa de Castro has both aspects down: this cafe is set out and run incredibly well and is a prime example of quality over quantity. So even though I knew I loved it when I came in, it bears repeating: recommended.
Photography by Emily Priest