“ Address: Ground Floor, North Promenade Building, Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth, PO1 3TA „
Whenever we go shopping at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth we like to treat ourselves to lunch out as a respite and reward for a hard morning's shopping. We tend to eat at a different venue everytime we shop at Gunwharf as there's always somewhere different to try and there's literally so much choice. You can get just about every imaginable different type of cuisine there...apart, perhaps, from a Middle Eastern venue. Most of the well-known high street chains have a unit there, and there are a few independents as well.
As there's so much competition catering-wise at Gunwharf finding a good meal deal is really easy as they all seem to try and outdo each other in an attempt to put bottoms on seats. We were tempted into Giraffe by their special lunch menu - a main course and a drink for £6.95. Giraffe is situated near to the entrance to the Spinnaker Tower at Gunwharf Quays, so it has wonderful views over the harbour. It was rather cold and breezy on the day we dined there, but it's worth bearing in mind that it has outdoor seating and would make a lovely spot to dine on a sunny day.
~*~ ALL AROUND THE WORLD ~*~
So what is Giraffe? And why is it called Giraffe when giraffe meat is most definitely not on the menu? The idea behind Giraffe is that each venue is a really friendly welcoming place with food from all around the world, and music to match. Naff, but true - evidently the chain is called Giraffe because giraffes have the largest heart of any land mammal...and Giraffe want you to think their venues are all heart. Now that sounds like a load of old giraffe poo to me, but it has to be said that the welcome we received was super-friendly and so was the service. Happy, smiley people is very obviously the order of the day at Giraffe.
As for the cuisine - it's all over the place...which I guess it's supposed to be. Their theme is world cooking and world music, so they've taken a quick trip around the globe and brought you the best of dishes (and background sounds) from everywhere and anywhere. The menu is therefore a melange of Latin, European, American and Far Eastern delights...and you'd be hard pressed to find something that didn't appeal to everyone. With a mantra of "Love Eat Live", I'd say that you'll find your local Giraffe is a laid back, friendly venue and well worth a visit if you get a chance. Giraffe is all about relaxing and enjoying the moment....whether it be for a cup of coffee, a leisurely lunch or a quick snack.
Each venue is painted in bright primary colours - orange seems a very popular colour choice at Giraffe - with plenty of logos and murals on the walls backed up by staff wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the "Love, Eat, Live" message. It's also written on the box containing all the sauces on each table...just in case you haven't quite received and understood the message yet. If you're looking for a peaceful place for a quiet meal, then you've possibly picked the wrong venue. Giraffe is loud and proud. The music is turned up high and almost, but not quite, drowns out the sound of children shrieking. Giraffe is unashamedly family friendly and caters for all ages. Normally I'd run a mile from this sort of place as I prefer children to be seen and not heard when dining out. However, in this case, you kind of don't mind the shrieking as everyone is having such a good time. The staff work really hard, and I mean really hard, at creating a friendly and welcoming vibe and it works a treat here. You really don't mind fighting your way through legions of pushchairs, awkwardly positioned high chairs and balloons punching you in the face just to visit the toilets as its part of the atmosphere at Giraffe.
And I must say that Giraffe are rather obviously doing something right as they'd certainly managed to pull in the punters. When we dined there it just after 2pm and the place was at least 80% full. Added to which it was mid-week and during term-time as well, so you certainly wouldn't expect it to be as busy as it was. As we left we had to walk past several forlorn and half-empty looking venues nearby (Pizza Express, La Tasca, Slug & Lettuce and Zizzi) - they'd do well to take a leaf out of Giraffe's books.
Despite the place being so busy, we were immediately greeted and offered a choice of table. We opted to sit on some raised banquette seating towards the back of the venue. The reasoning being it may be slightly quieter and it also gave use a good view over the entire restaurant as well as the water front views over Portsmouth Harbour. It was a good choice and we felt we'd chosen well as it was slightly quieter than the main floor yet you were still able to see all that was going on. However, the place was certainly very lively, with plenty of families and couples eating and drinking. There was a bar to one side of the room, but that was rather empty as I guess most people were there for lunch.
~*~ THE MENU ~*~
So does all this "big giraffe heart" and "Love, Eat, Live" work? Or is it just an ad man's gimmick? It has to be said that the menu does indeed offer something from all four corners of the globe, but it's not all that imaginative and it definitely sticks to the safer dishes you'd find in most high street eateries. There are no deep fried locusts or sheep's brains on this menu - more burgers, stir-fries and sandwiches. However, I suspect there is not much call for crispy insects and strange offal on the average UK high street, and they're just giving the punters what they want, know and love.
Starters and sharing platters are off the Spanish Tapas, Italian Bruschetta and Greek Meze variety so a nice little European selection to choose from there. Far Eastern dishes include things like Yakitori Chicken Skewers and Crunchy Coconut Shrimp. Prices range from £2.95 up to £12.95 for the sharing platters.
The global influence is extended in the main course selections with nods towards counties and cuisines from all over the world, although the European influence seems to be rather lacking here. We have a Russian influenced Parmesan Chicken Schnitzel Kiev (though that does seem to be of rather mixed parentage as I always thought a Schnitzel was German?!), but that's about it. Moving away from Europe we have Mexican Quesadillas, Enchiladas and Burritos or Central American Jambalaya and Caribbean inspired Jerk Chicken. If you prefer something more oriental, Far Eastern dishes abound at Giraffe with Thai Duck Stir Fry, Bahmi Goreng (Indonesian Noodles) or Vietnamese Chicken Salad. If you don't like "foreign muck", there's a full range of burgers and posh sandwiches to be had too. Main course prices range from £7.65 up to £15.95.
However, it has to be said that the desserts at Giraffe are unadventurous and lack any truly continental entente. They're the same sort of sundaes and cakes you'd find in any other restaurant to be honest. They offer things like Banana Waffle Split, Toffee Apple Crumble, Bakewell Tart and Rocky Road Sundae with prices ranging from the £4 to £6 mark.
In case you don't fancy a full lunch or dinner at Giraffe they also offer an extensive Breakfast menu as well as Brunch dishes (up until 4pm). You can also pop in for just a drink or a coffee. Obviously I am not going to list every single meal or drink option they offer, as the full menu can be viewed at http://giraffe.net and believe me it's extensive.
~*~ OUR LUNCH ~*~
We'd been tempted to try Giraffe as they were offering lunch and a drink for £6.95 (this menu is served in Giraffe from 12pm to 5pm Monday to Friday, but excludes Bank Holidays). We had a good look at the entire menu just in case we fancied anything else, but decided to stick with the special lunch menu as it was great value and offered a good selection of dishes to choose from.
The choice of main course dishes on the menu were Vietnamese Chicken Salad, Deli Lunch Burger with Fries, Red Bean and Pumpkin Moussaka, Gammon Fried Egg and Chips or Hot Dog with Chilli and Melted Cheese. You can also add a starter or dessert for an extra £2.95 and choices include House Salad or Soup of the Day in a Mug or for those with sweet tooth, Brioche Bread and Butter Pudding or Chocolate Éclair Cake. A drink is included in the choice and you can choose from Tea, Coffee, Water (still or sparkling) or a range of fizzy drinks such as Coca Cola or Fanta.
As I am currently attempting to stick to the Atkins Diet (no carbohydrates), I decided to go for the Gammon, Egg and Chips. Obviously I shouldn't eat potatoes so I loaded my chips onto my partner's plate and pinched the salad garnish and coleslaw that came with his meal in compensation. Job done - carbs avoided! The Gammon wasn't the biggest steak I'd ever seen, but for £6.95 I certainly didn't expect it to be. However, it was a nice thick steak with very little fat to the edge. It had been beautifully char-grilled and you could really taste the smoky flavours of the charcoal complimenting the honey toned flavours of the gammon. The fried egg atop the gammon was freshly fried with the yolk still runny to the centre as I prefer. The dish was also accompanied by a Pineapple and Ranchera salsa, which was a bit too sweet for my palate (and it also took me ages to pick out all the pineapple chunks too as no fruit allowed on the Atkins Diet). The coleslaw I'd nicked off himself was a nice dollop of freshly made coleslaw - none of that limp, vinegary tasting mush that you so often find many places try and pass off as coleslaw. Here the carrots, cabbage and onion were still in their youth - fresh and crispy and bound in a nice thick mayonnaise. All in all I was delighted with my choice and thought it was excellent value for money. I ordered a bottle of sparkling water to go alongside my meal and also a coffee (as himself was having a pint of lager and not needing the drink option included in the menu price). The coffee tasted slightly bitter and rather stewed, but it was the only item not freshly made for our lunch so I can forgive them that small transgression.
Himself fell off the No-Carbs Bandwagon with a resounding thud some weeks ago, so he had no hesitation in plunging straight into their Deli Lunch Burger. This consisted of 100% beef burger topped with dill pickles, melted cheddar cheese, bacon, caramelised onions, mustard mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, coleslaw and served with skin on fries. His burger looked very tasty indeed, and came served with a good portion of chunky fries still with skins intact. As per usual, the bun surrounding the burger was nothing to write home about, being the usually pappy white roll. However the burger inside the bun was juicy and succulent and topped with a nice wedge of melted cheese and bacon. The beef crumbled as he cut into it, and was nicely moist with plenty of meat juices left intact. He pronounced his burger as most tasty.
We both really enjoyed our meals, and thought they were excellent value for money. They were obviously freshly cooked and the portions nicely sized. There was a short wait of ten minutes or so between placing our order and the food arriving, so very good, efficient service, especially considering how busy they were. Himself was tempted by the Chocolate Éclair Cake for dessert, but decided he was full and anymore would be superfluous. The bill came to £17.90 for two lunches, two drinks and a coffee which was rather good value. However, do be aware that Giraffe add an automatic 10% service charge to your bill and this rounded the total cost up to £19.69.
~*~ ALL THE OTHER STUFF ~*~
Like the food menu at Giraffe, they try and incorporate a good range of beverages from all around the globe. The drinks at Giraffe aren't particularly cheap, but they never are at any chain restaurant in my opinion. They all seem to sell over-priced beer, soft drinks and wine, probably as they can make excellent gross profits on them. The beer at Giraffe retails at a whopping £4 a pint and it's not even good stuff - a rather fizzy and gas-inducing Red Stripe lager is on offer. They also offer Swedish Rekorderlig Cider as well as Coors Light, Corona and White Shield IPA (£4.60 for 500ml!). If alcohol is not your thing, Giraffe offer a full range of smoothies (how about a Giddy Giraffe - papaya, fresh mint, banana, orange, lime juice?). There are also a full range of coffees and teas - with an excellent selection of fruit, mint and herbal teas from Teapigs.
Special mention must be made of the service at Giraffe as it was very good. The staff were all very friendly and super-efficient, and they really do work hard at making sure everyone has a good time. However, not so good is the fact that Giraffe automatically add a 10% service charge to each and every bill. There is an option to have this removed if you don't feel the staff deserve it, but this is Britain and 9 out 10 people aren't going to ask to have a service charge removed in case it's construed as "making a fuss". In this instance, we would have left a 10% tip anyway as the service was great, but it's always nice to have the option isn't it? Added to which, if you don't notice the small line at the bottom of your bill "Optional 10% Service Charge has been added to your bill" you are quite likely to add a tip on top if you're not paying attention.
One other slight bone of contention at Giraffe were the rather grim toilets. These are labelled up with a small "M" or "F", which was slightly confusing for a couple of seconds. I'm not sure why they feel the need to differentiate as all the M and F cubicles were exactly the same - one WC and one small hand wash basin. There was no shelf to pop your bag on and re-do your hair or make-up - just one very small basin and a very basic utilitarian WC without a seat on it. The toilet area is tiled and painted in a rather unattractive greige colour and it certainly wasn't a place to linger. Clean and functional just about sums them up.
~*~ SUMMING UP ~*~
We thoroughly enjoyed our lunch at Giraffe. Despite being very busy and rather full, the food and service at Giraffe were second to none. Whilst not normally a fan of family orientated diners due to noise levels and a sometimes slap-dash approach from the staff, there were no such complaints at Giraffe. Yes it was noisy, but in a happy, friendly way and not a grizzly, whiny one. The staff worked really hard to make sure everyone was happy and it really came across in the whole ambience of the restaurant.
Would I eat there again? In a heartbeat! Recommended with four stars from me, but I'm afraid they do loose half a star for the cheekily assumptive service charge and the rather grim toilets.
~*~ FURTHER DETAILS ~*~
Giraffe first opened in Hampstead in 1998 and has now grown to 46 units in the UK. Giraffe is owned by the original founders Andrew Jacobs and Juliette and Russel Joffe who evidently all still maintain an active role in the day to day running of the business.
North Promenade Building
Telephone: 02392 833 787
* This outlet has both indoor and outdoor seating
* Disabled access is very good (and there is a specially designated disable toilet too)
* Opening hours are Monday to Sunday 10am to 10pm (with an extended closing time of 11pm on Friday and Saturday nights and an earlier weekend opening time of 9am)
* All major credit cards accepted