Southsea’s South Parade Pier, magnificently wrecked by fire during the filming of Tommy, was a regular haunt of Cat’s. Every Monday night in the mid-1980s, the Battle of the Bands would take place; Cat had many friends who performed on the stage at the pier’s Gaiety Show Bar. She moved away, the pier fell into disrepair and was dramatically closed in 2012.
Many other seaside piers have suffered similar fates; decaying until no longer viable. However, South Parade Pier has been reborn, with a grand reopening earlier this summer which suggested that there is hope for such old structures. We were delighted to see the place buzzing with daytrippers and pleasure seekers. The Albert Tavern, another of the pier’s historic venues has been restored and is the home to Deep Blue, a restaurant run by the company of the same name which has a chain of chippies across the south of England. The team behind Deep Blue invited us, and Cat’s dad Michael, to try out this, their first restaurant. So we did. Well, it would be rude not to.
We popped over on the catamaran to the shiny new Hard terminus and strolled through Old Portsmouth and along the sea front to Clarence Pier, Southsea Castle and then finally arrived at the pier just as the sun was starting to set.
From the outside the restaurant looked quite magical, with twinkling chandeliers reflecting back the orangey glow of the gloaming sky. We were welcomed and seated at a table with the best view – a window facing the roundabout at the end of the pier, with the sea forts and the Isle of Wight beyond. Starlings flowed past in their evening’s murmurations.
We were expecting fish and chips and certainly they were available. After all, what is a seaside supper without this traditional English dish? There was also a good selection of other seafood; salmon, various crustaceans and molluscs. Burgers, chicken and steak featured too. There were not many meat-free options, but battered halloumi burger was a good alternative to the traditional battered chippy sausage.
Dean and Sam, our two minders for the night, were excited to be working in the venue. And why wouldn’t they be? It was a vast space, flooded with natural light reflected by enormous mirrors. The bar and open kitchen, with smartly-uniformed chefs, are front and centre. The wooden floor and other hard surfaces amplified the music which was some rather bonkers jazz-fusion; incomprehensible and occasionally intrusive. When the place is full it might get pretty loud. If you don’t fancy a table, there are family-sized booths with a bit of noise-reducing padding.
We started our meals with Deep Blue’s own sourdough bread and olives, with dipping oil and vinegar (£5.49). Nice mild olives; plenty of them. We could’ve done with side plates for the bread, but then we could’ve asked for them. As it was the three of us leant in over the bread board and enjoyed making a mess of crumbs.
Cat’s dad had a starter from the tapas menu: ‘pil pil’ prawns (£6.99). An Andalusian dish of king prawns cooked in garlic, chilli and olive oil and served with artisan bread. It had a really hot, dry heat and, although a veteran of many Spanish holidays, Michael found the spicy dish just too much. Even Matt – who happily finished it off – declared it to be “pokey” and he’s got an asbestos palette.
In comparison, the beautifully-presented crab en croute (£5.99) with smooth avocado was a good, gentle dish, so Matt generously swapped with Michael. It had a fresh flavour, enlivened by some black pepper and lemon and served with more of that baked sourdough.
For his main, Michael beat Cat to the pesto and parmesan crusted grilled salmon (£15.99). He was impressed by the tender and tasty salmon, and particularly taken by the chips, which he judged to be good, old fashioned-tasting traditional chips.
Cat’s second choice was fish and chips but, naturally, Matt had beaten her to that when ordering. His ‘medium’ cod (£9.99) was substantial, and looked as if it had been served by same generous hand as fish from Ozze’s Plaice. The cod was good; very big soft flakes with a decent batter which was not too greasy. As with the salmon dish, the chips were well above average; tasty, and with a good texture. A little pot of mushy peas was a tasty addition, and the thickly-cut onion rings were particularly commendable for their moist, juicy onion inside. Deep Blue certainly know their deep-fried comestibles – as is to be expected from a company which operates dozens of chip shops.
Having been thwarted for her first and second choices, Cat chose the ‘big pan’ special (£15.95) and, like Goldilocks’ selection, she found this one just right! The ‘big pan’ was BIG, bearing a dozen ‘tiger king’ prawns in a thick sauce of white wine and garlic with sweet chilli sauce. It had a striking garlicky aroma as it was brought over which excited Cat. Remember back in the day when all food had garlic as an essential ingredient? It seems to have fallen slightly out of favour, but buttery garlicky dishes quite literally have a place in Cat’s heart.
Unsheathing the meat from its exoskeleton was pretty fiddly, but once the prawns were exposed they amounted to quite a substantial portion. The big pan came with two more pieces of sourdough bread; ideal to mop up all that sweet gravy. Cat had ordered a side salad – after all, a meal can’t all be about the protein and carbs. The ramekin of rocket and Parmesan shavings was enough to add a touch of colour.
Course three beckoned. Michael and Matt had crème brûlée (£5.99). Cat’s dad spontaneously proclaimed: “This is the most wonderful thing I’ve ever eaten!” which led Cat to question whether this was a sign of early onset or if he really meant it! Matt was also impressed – it was certainly a good crème brûlée; subtle, sweet, smooth and fruity.
Cat’s triple chocolate torte (£6.99) was a small turret of ice cream adorned with ‘milk chocolate blossom’ (small crispy curls), and a foundation of an exquisitely chewy brownie. It was an ideal light dessert after that gently-spiced pan of prawns.
As the sun finally set and the starlings disappeared to their roosts, we said goodbye to Dean and Sam. Deep Blue is an interesting hybrid fish and chips served restaurant-style. Certainly not a standard chippy and with some aspirations for more exotic and international dishes, despite its strapline of “Great British Restaurants”.
But Deep Blue is mostly about the location. Yes, you can have a sea view from the nearby Royal Beach Hotel; you might get more sophisticated dishes at the Queens Hotel, but neither of these venues are positioned right over the sea. And of course, the best view one could imagine is that of the Isle of Wight. The team behind the refurbishment of South Parade Pier has done a cracking job of making it a destination once more and Deep Blue is capitalising on that worthy investment.
We were the guests of Deep Blue Restaurants.