Tapas in Southsea: six of the best!
What can be better than getting together with family and friends to share good food, conversation and laughs?
There’s surely no better way of doing that than gathering around a table laden with tapas. An iconic part of Spanish culture, it’s is all about sharing lots of smaller plates of food – and trying a bit of everything.
As a sell-confessed tapas aficionado and someone who’s lived in Spain, I love cooking tapas at home – and I think my standards for eating out are pretty high. Luckily, we’ve got some great options in Southsea so – in no particular order – here are six of my favourites…
Best for: relaxed classic Spanish tapas
I often take visitors to Nicholson’s because I know they won’t be disappointed.
Located up towards Highland Road, this longstanding restaurant has the feel of a relaxed neighbourhood restaurant. It’s unfussy but stylish and modern inside – and on warmer days it’s lovely to sit by the bifold doors opening onto the street.
The tapas menu here features all the standard classics that you’d expect from a traditional Spanish restaurant. The cooking is consistent and dishes that we often come back to include the deliciously sticky pork ribs, rich chorizo in red wine, tasty patatas bravas, and light and crispy calamares fritos – you’ll find all your favourites here along with some daily specials.
Vegetarians are well catered for here and there’s a choice of good-quality paella dishes and platters which are perfect for sharing too.
Most tapas dishes are fairly priced in the £6-8 range. There’s also a lunchtime deal of four tapas and a house salad to share for £25.
Best for: atmosphere and authentic Portuguese cooking
This place is a family favourite – my Dad says going here makes him feel like he’s on holiday in Portugal! It always seems busy, with plenty of buzz. The atmosphere is definitely helped along by the lovely staff – we’ve always found them genuine, friendly and keen that you have a good time.
Here you’ll find authentic Portuguese tapas, a little different from the Spanish norm. For example, the chorizo of Viseu is deliciously juicy – and I think better than the versions we’re more used to – while Algarve’s shrimp is a local take on prawns with garlic and wine.
There are some distinctly Portuguese options too, such as pica pau – a mix of pork and chorizo with red wine and pickles – and rissois de carne – tasty meat and pastry parcels. Be sure to look at the main menu as well – sharing an excellent fish or meat cataplana (a delicious saucy casserole) is a must whenever I go here – or perhaps one of the spectacular fish or meat skewers.
I find the prices here to be good value, with most tapas dishes priced around £5-7 while mains are generously-portioned. There are also off-peak deals – such as five sharing tapas for £28 before 6pm, and two-for-one on mains on Tuesdays until 6pm.
Best for: upscale dining and Latin flavours
One of Southsea’s newer restaurants, Maya embraces the concept of sharing plates with a distinctly Latin American take on things.
This restaurant has an upscale vibe but isn’t snobby. The décor is classily dark and sumptuous and the service is warm and friendly, making for an intimate and cosy feel.
There’s an extensive list of different veggie, fish and meat sharing plates on the menu, from ceviche to ribs. Bursting with Latin influence, there are lots of creative food pairings and lots of zingy fruit and smokey BBQ flavours. Dishes we enjoyed include barbecued mackerel with a romesco sauce, and delicious tacos including both Mojito prawn and pork versions.
Prices are a little higher here, with meat and fish plates coming in at around £7.50 to £10. For me, this means Maya may be better suited to special occasions. That said, the quality is high and the flavours outstanding, so it’s well worth the money!
Best for: cocktails and a modern Med vibe
Sant Yago recently had a makeover, and Lou and I popped in on the opening night to check it out. We weren’t disappointed – there’s a fresh new Mediterranean garden vibe upstairs, a plush refurbed cocktail bar downstairs, and an updated menu.
You’ll find a modern, international take on tapas here with influences from all around the Med and beyond. The menu is neatly divided into veggie, fish and meat options and dishes we enjoyed include the crispy fishcake bites served with parsley sauce, and meaty pig’s cheeks (similar to pork belly bites) served with a pear compote. The crostini topped with juicy peach and creamy goat’s cheese were also very tasty. There are meat and veggie sharing boards too.
Sant Yago has also put a lot of thought into its cocktail menu, and the new intimate basement bar is perfect for enjoying these.
Most tapas cost between £6.50 and £9. There are happy hour deals on cocktails during weekend afternoons and early weekday evenings, with selected drinks available at £12 for two.
Best for: tapas with an Asian kick
Koh Thai is part of a small chain of restaurants that we’re fortunate to have on the south coast and the Southsea branch is located in a fine former bank building on Kings Road. I’ve found the cooking and service to be consistent over the years, and we recently celebrated a 90th family birthday there!
While not strictly a tapas restaurant, Koh Thai’s concept is very much about sharing food and it’s easy to do so from a decent list of starters, along with a great selection of meat and vegetarian Thai curries, stir fries and noodle dishes.
Favourites of mine from the starter menu include the deliciously crispy pepper squid, and spicy firecracker chicken wings. The curry menu has a good selection of rich and saucy dishes with both milder and hotter choices from Penang to jungle curries. The stir fries are flavoursome and aromatic.
Many of the main dishes include rice or noodles and at £12 upwards feel very fairly priced to me. Starter-size dishes are all priced under £9.
Best for: lovers of wine and British produce
A relative newcomer to the Southsea food and drink scene, Crushed & Cured is a shop, wine bar and deli. An informal venue where you can drop in to enjoy a relaxed glass or bottle of wine, it deserves a mention in this list because of its excellent menu of small plates!
These include a fantastic selection of cheeses (many of them English) and charcuterie (with several from Wales). In particular, I loved the creamy, gooey Rollright cheese from the Cotswolds and the tasty Welsh wild boar and wine salami. There are also a range of other small plates, including artichokes and Dorset ‘nduja.
You can buy small plates individually from around £3 upwards, or create your own sharing platters of three or five cheese and charcuterie items at £9 to £14 including bread. If you want to learn more, check out my recent blog about one of their wine tasting evenings here.