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The Agora Restaurant in Southsea is officially one that offers Greek and Turkish cuisine, but much of this is similar to Egyptian cuisine as well. My sons and I don't have particularly pleasant memories of the years we spent living in Egypt, but one thing that we do miss quite a bit is Egyptian food, so one Saturday evening we decided that we would see if the Agora would satisfy our cravings.
We arrived at about six in the evening and found the place to be almost empty, although we could see from the decorations that there was to be a birthday party later that night. At that time it was the owner/manager who was taking the orders, although a waitress arrived about an hour later as things were getting busier. Two of us order apricot juice to drink, and it was delicious; my younger son ordered a Turkish beer.
Stuffed vine leaves were a huge favourite of ours in Egypt and we had been hoping they would figure on the menu. Unfortunately they were only offered as a cold starter, so we decided to order some between us just to have a taste, as we had not intended to go for a three-course meal. They were surprisingly similar to the ones my mother-in-law used to make on special occasions alongside a main meat dish. This boded well.
There were several main courses on the menu that interested us, so we eventually decided that we would each order something different and swap with each other so that we could sample as many different types of food as we could. Falafel was a must; in Egypt this is called taamiya and was a popular breakfast dish along with fool beans in Egypt on Fridays (everyone's day off). At Agora falafel is served with humous, tahini and salad as an obvious choice for vegetarians. In Egypt we never had tahini (or tahina, as we called it in Arabic) with felafel, but always with fish and rice. If there was any left over, we kept it carefully and finished it later as a dip with flat bread.
We are not vegetarians, so alongside the felafel we chose a lamb kofta and a lamb kebab main course. Each main course was served with salad and bread. We did not have to wait long to be served, probably because the restaurant was still quiet, but I don't know whether there would be a longer wait later in the evening. Nobody seemed to mind that we were swapping our main courses with each other; very bad etiquette really, but we each wanted a taste of felafel, kofta and kebab! I am not a huge fan of any kind of red meat and have always preferred kofta to kebab, but both were very good as it happened. It was definitely the best felafel I have tasted outside of Egypt, and I loved having it dipped in the humous and tahini. The accompanying salad was varied and interesting.
If I have had a large main course I'm not usually one to hanker after much of a dessert, but we noticed that there was an option of a selection of small Turkish pastries and decided that this was another opportunity for sharing. In this particular case, I think the intention might in fact have been for two people to share, so we didn't feel guilty ordering just one dessert. There was baclava (made with millefeuille pastry) and conafa, a popular dessert during the time of Ramadan. It was probably quite unhealthy and fattening, but not the kind of thing I often indulge in.
The main courses at Agora are in the range of £8.50 to £10, with starters at around £3 to £3.50. Since we had shared the stuffed vine leaves and the dessert, our bill was very reasonable in the end. Service was very prompt and polite, and as I said, no-one seemed to mind us sharing and swapping main courses from one plate to another.
The Agora is situated on Clarendon Road, just round the corner from Knight and Lee's department store in the Palmerston Road shopping precinct. It is an area where there are plenty and varied restaurants to choose from; I have sampled a few of them recently and there are still a good few that I intend to try out, but with so much competition I would still be happy to return to the Agora one day. It was a nostalgic experience for the three of us in terms of the cuisine, but also a very pleasant one. Very good value for money too, so I would recommend it to anyone shopping in Southsea or visiting the nearby seafront.
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