Advantages Very good coffee and cakes; long opening hours
Disadvantages Some food on display not covered; not a huge choice of savoury food
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|Standard of Menu|
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Not long ago, there actually was a garage at number 1, Albert Road, Southsea, but it closed during 2011. Albert Road is about ten minutes' walk from Southsea's main shopping centre, and it's a street filled with small restaurants, pubs and cafes, as well as a motley selection of shops, some of which are pretty quirky. It's a residential area where many of the sizeable old houses in the side streets have been turned into student housing. If you just wanted to go for a coffee, it would be hard to find anywhere in the evening, and during the day you would be more likely to head to the Palmerston Road area. The Garage Lounge, however, has made it possible to have breakfast, a light lunch, afternoon tea or a non-alcoholic evening drink away from the shopping precinct.My first visit to the Garage Lounge was on a Sunday morning at around 11am. It was fairly busy, but my son and I managed to find a table in a corner at the back. The lounge is furnished in an unusually retro style unlike anywhere else locally. There are old-fashioned sofas and chairs, even a chaise longue. Lamps and flower vases are similarly from another era. Cream cakes and fruit salad are displayed in a large, dark wooden cabinet with panes of glass. Soft drinks are kept in old-style cooling boxes, and there's a row of glass jars containing a variety of fruit and herb teas. The coffee machine may be an ultra modern one, but the till on the counter is delightfully old-fashioned.
Customers have to order and pay at the counter, and food and drinks are then brought to the table by a waitress. We both decided to have an Americano along with a granola bar, and my son ordered an orange juice as well. The bill came to about £12. The coffee was served in mis-matched china and tasted wonderful, but we did have to request milk to go with it. The granola bars were served on what appeared to be place mats, but these were covered with a thin sheet of paper which seemed very hygienic and presumably saves on washing up. A small garnish of yoghurt and fruit salad came with the bars, which were so chunky that we had to eat them with our fingers rather than the large forks we were given. They were crammed with seeds and dried fruit and were very filling. We noticed that most of the breakfast items were removed from display soon after we arrived, and a little while later the cakes began to appear. A mental note was made to make a second visit at a later time. The waitresses are very quick to come and clear away empty cups and plates or mats, but we were nevertheless able to linger for a while and talk. My son noticed that there were covered sockets on the floor; the Garage Lounge offers free wifi. As it is open until 11pm, he thought it would be the ideal place to come in the evenings occasionally. Even though he lives near to central Southsea, he was quite envious that I live closer to the Garage Lounge than he does!My second visit came the following Saturday at 1pm, when I was meeting a friend. I went in a few days beforehand to ask about booking a table. At first I was told that wouldn't be necessary, but my request was eventually written in the book and we were given a table by the front window that could actually seat four people. I decided to try the cake this time. There was a fair amount of choice, including butternut squash and coconut, chocolate and beetroot, apple and rhubarb crumble and one or two more creamy affairs. Not wishing to be too naughty, I chose parsnip, walnut and apricot cake (£3.50) along with a large Americano (£2.50). My friend looked at the quiches, where the choice was between goats' cheese and caramelised onion or ham and leek. Sandwiches included Toulouse sausage as well as roasted cherry tomato, aubergine and halloumi with rocket pesto. In the end she decided against those and went for a granola bar and an Americano, just as I had on my first visit.
My cake was served once again on thin paper on top of a mat, with the yoghurt and fruit salad garnish. It was a thick slice with tiny chunks of dried fruit on top. The consistency was just right, neither too soggy or too dry, so I was happy with my choice. The coffee was just as good as it had been the previous Sunday. My friend somehow managed to eat her granola bar with a fork, so she had more success than me. She had said she was very hungry, but the granola is so filling that she didn't quite finish it. We weren't in a hurry to leave, so she ordered an apple and lemon tea and I had a decaffeinated coffee. I was surprised that the coffee tasted almost as good as the Americano, but my friend was a bit disappointed with her tea, as she couldn't taste the apple at all. Our table was reserved for another group at 3pm, so we left about a quarter of an hour before this.My friend wasn't quite as impressed with the Garage Lounge as I had been. She used to run a tearoom herself and was quick to notice that there was a crack in the sugar bowl on our table, and that the spout of her teapot was chipped. I do like the idea of the mismatched china, but it should be in good condition. We also found on the Saturday afternoon that the music was a little loud, although it hadn't been on the previous Sunday.
There is just one unisex toilet at the Garage Lounge but I can't comment on it. I was waiting outside for several minutes and was eventually invited to use the staff toilet instead. The suggestion was appreciated!The Garage Lounge doesn't have a website, but I have had a look at their Facebook page. Most of the comments are very favourable, and it seems to be a very popular place. One commentator thought it was pretentious, which to me seems a little unfair. Its décor is very different from anywhere else in either Southsea or Portsmouth; the retro style won't please everyone, but I'm glad that it stands out and makes a statement. Another issue raised, however, is that some of the food on display is left uncovered, and this may have to be addressed. It's true that supermarkets have fresh bakery products on their shelves uncovered, but in a coffee house it should be easy to display cakes in containers with transparent lids.
On the Saturday evening I was in the area again and the Garage Lounge was still crowded just after 6pm. At around 8.15pm it was about half full. It stays open until 11pm, and I think it's a great idea to have somewhere other than a pub serving drinks in the evening. It's very close to the King's Theatre and would be the ideal place for coffee or tea before or after a show. The Garage Lounge may not be perfect, but it's stylish, serves wonderful coffee, and for me, it's local. I'm sure I shall be going there again.The Garage Lounge
Tel. 023 9282 8432
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