“ Address: 39 Osborne Road / Southsea PO5 3LR / Tel: 02392 820 515 „
Osborne Road in Southsea is chock-a-block with restaurants, and not all of them survive for long. I was quite disappointed to see the demise of Al Forno, an Italian restaurant that was a little different from the chains in Portsmouth's nearby Gunwharf Quays. It wasn't long, however, before the Belle Isle sprang up in its place. When I first suggested going there my son, who lives close by, didn't think it was my kind of place. He said it was often full of young lads on their way back from playing football on Southsea Common, so I didn't insist. A couple of weeks later my younger son was here for the weekend and we decided to give the Belle Isle a go for a late Sunday lunch.
When I arrived my elder son was sitting on a comfortable sofa by a low table with a mug of coffee, so I ordered a mug myself at the bar and joined him. I was a bit surprised that the mug was slightly chipped, but the coffee itself was fine and £2 for a large mug is reasonable. It has to be said that the Belle Isle is not the smartest place around; it describes itself as 'a relaxed atmosphere venue'. The tables and chairs are all in wood, but they don't all match. If you are looking for somewhere stylish, this won't be the place for you.
When my younger son arrived we started to take a serious look at the menu, which is written out on a huge board on the wall by the bar. Mains range from Veggie Pattie, a burger made with polenta, sweetcorn and spices for £5.95 through nachos, fajitas and burritos to Sirloin Steak with hand-cut chips and salad for £12.95. There is a catch of the day for fish lovers, as well as a few specials on a separate board. My elder son chose Warm Chorizo, Potato and Halloumi Salad tossed with mixed leaves and cucumber (£6.95). My younger son decided on Paprika Sausages with black olive mash and red onion gravy from the day's specials (£7.95). I was tempted by his choice too, but in the end I went for Jerk Chicken Curry with rice and peas (£6.95).
The Belle Isle also offers 'nibbles on the side', which include Hummus, Pitta and Olives (£3.50), Onion Rings served with a choice of home-made dips (£2.95) and Twice Cooked Potato Crisps with chive mayo dip (£1.95). If a group of you all share the same tastes, you might enjoy one of the Belle Isle's sharing dishes which are excellent value. You can choose from Jerk Chicken Curry for four people with a jug of Red Stripe (£19.95), Nachos, Onion Rings, Garlic Bread and a Jug of Cocktail (£19.95), and Mussels for four with a bread basket and a bottle of house wine (£19.95). I don't think the Belle Isle insists on there being four of you to order these; they would still be good value for three people, and five people with not-too-huge appetites might find them enough.
When the salad and sausage dishes were served we decided to move to a higher table with upright chairs. The waiter asked if we would like anything else, so we reminded him that I was waiting for my curry. He hadn't actually forgotten and said he was about to bring it. My sons' meals looked impressive; the salad was a very generous portion, and the sausages were tastefully served on top of the mash with lashings of gravy. When I saw the waiter return with my jerk chicken curry, I was amazed. It came on a huge wooden plate in the shape of a leaf - a complete surprise. I was also delighted to see that the curry was served with brown rice, and that the chicken was on the bone. I had definitely made the right choice. The chicken was very tender and there was plenty of sauce that was spicy without being overpowering. It made a change, too, to have brown rice which makes for a much healthier meal. Both my sons were satisfied with what they had ordered, although I think my elder son was a little envious and said he would be back soon to sample the jerk chicken curry.
Since you pay at the bar when you order your food, there is no delay waiting for your bill to be brought and your payment to be taken. On the day we were at the Belle Isle, however, there was a notice at the bar saying that the card machine was out of order. Fortunately we had enough cash so it wasn't a problem.
On Saturdays and Sundays, the Belle Isle is open from 11am for breakfast. As a speciality they serve Eggs Benedict with tea or coffee for £4.50. If you just want a light lunch, bagels, hoagies or deli-style subs and open sandwiches (£3.00) are served every day until 5pm. There is a choice of nine fillings including brie and mango chutney with red onion, tuna with chive mayo, roast chicken salad with mayo, or meatball and red beet salad. The Belle Isle doesn't appear to offer desserts, but our main dishes were so filling that we would not have had room for anything else.
It seems that the Belle Isle has got off to a good start as they have recently added an extra seating area. There are a few tables outside for fine weather; on the afternoon we were there I noticed a dog with the people at one of these tables. The venue is on the whole aimed at young people as they sometimes have DJs or discos in the evening, but there were people of various ages on that particular afternoon. I didn't see any sign of highchairs and wouldn't think it would be the obvious choice of restaurant for families with very young children.
I have since been back to the Belle Isle and tried their catch of the day, which is usually bream or mullet with crushed garlic potatoes or a vegetable fricassee. The food is excellent, prices very reasonable, and the service was good. You can relax on a sofa if you're not having a full meal, or sit outside in summer sunshine. The Belle Isle is just a stone's throw from Southsea Common, and Palmerston Road shopping precinct is only two or three minutes' walk away. I should perhaps emphasise once again that it is not the most stylish place to eat and drink. If you just want to relax and have some good food, then it is definitely worth a visit.
On Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings the Belle Isle is open until midnight.
The Belle Isle
39 Osborne Road
Tel. 023 9282 0515