“ Address: 12 Clarendon Road, PO5 2EE Southsea, United Kingdom „
Spanish restaurants are hard to come by in Portsmouth and Southsea, so when Clarendon Road's Oddballs Restaurant died a death and reopened as Sant-Yago Tapas Bar, we were hardly disappointed. The big red sofas visible through the glass front made it look as though the place had undergone a complete transformation, but on entering we found that further back the wooden tables and chairs and the bar area were reminiscent of the premises' former self. It was about 1.30pm on a Saturday, and only one table was occupied. A Spanish waiter welcomed us straight away and showed us to a table near the back of the restaurant, although there is another area further back at a slightly higher level.
Menus were handed to us and we were asked if we would like to order drinks straight away. My son ordered cranberry juice and I asked for pineapple juice. We did have a look through the menu, but we really wanted to try the paella which is for a minimum of two people. There are three versions: vegetarian, seafood or meat. We decided on the seafood one at £15.50. The meat version is the same price and the vegetarian one a pound cheaper. The waiter brought our drinks, and when we ordered paella he said there would be a wait of about forty minutes. We weren't in a hurry so we didn't mind, but we decided to order some olives and a Spanish starter salad to nibble on in the meantime.
We didn't have to wait long for our starters. The pitted olives, mostly green but with a few black, were presented in a shallow dish with quite a lot of liquid. There were tiny slices of lime, chunks of garlic and tomato, and a sprig of thyme. The salad was on a bed of lettuce and consisted of tiny cubes of vegetables in mayonnaise. It was topped with some long, thin stalks that I couldn't identify; they had a pleasant, slightly burnt taste. The salad looked fascinating, and I was impressed by the presentation of all the food at Sant-Yago; the taste lived up to the look as well.
While we were waiting for the paella, one more couple came in and sat at a table in the raised area at the back. We asked the waiter if the restaurant was busy in the evenings, and he said that the night before they had had a party of thirty-five people, so I would imagine booking might sometimes be essential. As it was, we had a very peaceful lunch.
We had used small plates for our starters and were offered clean ones for the paella but didn't think it was necessary. The paella was brought in a shallow oven dish that we were warned was very hot; it was placed on a slightly hollow wooden stand. The paper napkins are all either red or yellow, and the paella came with a red napkin wrapped around one handle and a yellow one round the other - very patriotic! It looked so appetising, with slices of lime, a chunk of lemon, a sprinkling of fresh parsley and a couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary. We served ourselves a little at a time. It really was excellent, having plenty of squid, mussels, one or two prawns and chopped vegetables such as peppers and onions. It was a perfect consistency and very well cooked; when you have waited forty minutes and see all the fresh ingredients, you know it hasn't come out of a microwave. We weren't quite able to finish the paella; I don't have a huge appetite, but I think it would be enough for two people with good appetites as it was very filling.
Neither of us had room for a dessert but I asked the waiter what was available, just out of interest. He explained that desserts vary from day to day, but that there are usually several flavours of ice cream and a cheesecake. He also said there was a flan, but I remember from my schoolgirl Spanish that flan is a caramel custard, so I don't know whether he meant the English flan or the Spanish one! We decided we would have coffee; my son ordered an Americano and I asked for an espresso with a glass of water. I'm not easy to please where coffee is concerned, but the espresso was very good. My son said his filter coffee was excellent too.
Sant-Yago has several special offers, beginning with paella at £5 per person on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays, although there must be at least two people ordering. Tapas deals are available all day Monday and Tuesday, and until 7pm the rest of the week. The first of these is two tapas chosen from mordiscos, clasicos and ensaladas plus a drink for £5. Alternatively, there are two premium tapas, excluding pulpo, langostinos and chuleta, plus a drink for £7.50. The drinks on offer are half a pint of a soft drink, a small glass of house wine or Sagres. All day Sunday and Monday Sant-Yago offers two cocktails, aside from specials, for £7.50, and bottles of wine for £9.95.
The ladies' toilets were exactly as I had remembered them from the time of Oddballs Restaurant: not the most luxurious, but there was plenty of soap and toilet tissue and the hand-drier worked better than most. The toilets are right at the back of the restaurant with one or two steps to negotiate so the disabled might not find things easy.
Our bill came to around £30; my son had ordered another drink along the way, and we had had starters and coffee, so that seemed very reasonable. We had no complaints at all about service, which was very polite and friendly, so we left a good tip.
I'm sure we will be going back to Sant-Yago to try the other versions of the paella and probably some tapas dishes too at some point. My son said he would definitely like to take his partner there; he had been working on that Saturday, otherwise he would have been with us. Sant-Yago is just round the corner from Palmerston Road shopping precinct and is within walking distance of Southsea common and the seafront. This would seem ideal, except that there is a huge choice of restaurants on Osborne Road, the other side of Palmerston Road, so a lot of people might go in that direction to have more choice. There are also branches of Wetherspoons and the Slug and Lettuce as well as several independent restaurants at the southern end of Palmerston Road, nearer the seafront. I somehow suspect, however, that word will get round that Sant-Yago is well worth a visit, and the only other Spanish restaurant I know of locally is La Tasca in Gunwharf Quays. I certainly hope that Sant-Yago will flourish, and I think we will be doing our bit by returning every so often.
Opening hours: Sunday-Tuesday noon - 10.30pm; Wednesday-Saturday noon - 11.30pm.
12 Clarendon Road
Tel. 023 9217 9636
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Sant.Yago.Southsea