A local’s guide to Southsea
PUBLISHED: 00:00 03 April 2020
Is anywhere in Hampshire edgier or cooler than Southsea? Emma Caulton meets the locals.
There is a vibrancy about Southsea.
Named after Southsea Castle, which was built in 1544 as part of Henry VIII’s network of coastal fortifications, this suburb of Portsmouth developed in the Victorian era as a fashionable seaside resort. Despite – or maybe because of – the traditional promenade and piers and old-fashioned beachside entertainments, Southsea has a contemporary, quirky charm.
It has long been an enclave for creatives. Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lived here. Comedian and actor Peter Sellers (of Goons and Pink Panther fame) was born here.
Today it continues to attract the idiosyncratic and independent-spirited. There are art studios in converted chapels, bespoke tailors alongside vintage boutiques, antiques and artisan bakers, cycle stores and characterful pubs. So much is unexpected, from Cumberland Natural History museum with magical butterfly house to the fabulous Kings Theatre and Southsea Common, 480 acres of open grassland beside the seafront. The common hosts an array of events including, this year, a view of the America’s Cup World Series from 4-7 June. This is one of only two locations outside New Zealand to see Sir Ben Ainslie and INEOS TEAM UK delivering a sailing spectacle in pursuit of the 36th America’s Cup.
But what do the locals get excited about?
Helen Steenhuis, White Dog Gallery
Family-run White Dog Gallery celebrates 50 years in business this year. It’s now the only store in Southsea, indeed the city, to stock a full range of art supplies for the creative community. Services include picture framing to the standards of the Fine Art Trade Guild and fine art printing. The gallery supports local artists by working with many to showcase their work as well as stocking design-led gifts that are produced by small companies or individual artisans.
“Southsea is boho with a creative, quirky, artistic vibe. It has a village feel in a big city – and a fab beach too!”
A secret: “Southsea Rose Garden: beautiful when the roses are out, but interesting any time as it’s where Lumps Fort [disused 19th century fortification] used to be.”
Something special: “South Parade Pier for the mix of old and new, the history, and the sunsets!”
Favourite pub: “So many to choose, but we all love the Wave Maiden for its home-cooked food, craft beers and fabulous artwork!”
Café: “The Courtyard in Southsea Castle. Who wouldn’t love coffee surrounded by the grandeur of a castle built for Henry VIII?”
Restaurant: “Agora. Busy, buzzy vibe, great Turkish/Greek cuisine, and welcoming, friendly staff.”
Shop: “Wild Thyme Wholefoods, a worker co-operative selling a range of vegan and veggie products, plus takeaway food and refill section.”
Evening out: “The Wedgewood Rooms. A great venue to see local or touring bands and comedy.”
Overnight stay: “The Queens Hotel [built in Edwardian baroque style], now beautifully and lovingly restored to its former glory. We also love The Florence House Hotel; a dog-friendly boutique hotel.”
Gym: “First Fitness because Arnold Schwarzenegger trained there! Also Everybody Pilates for its small classes with teachers who are passionate.”
Barbers: “South by South West. Great haircuts and free gummy sweets!”
Best event: “Victorious. Fab, family-friendly festival with great bands in a great setting.”
Local attraction: “Canoe Lake. The pedal boats are shaped like swans, there’s a large population of mute swans plus plenty of grassy areas to have a picnic, children’s play area and two cafés.”
Anthony Duke, Head Case Curios
Buyers and sellers of the functional and the decorative, unusual and the unique, as well as the only Cuban and fine quality cigar stockist in Southsea. Owner Anthony Duke considers himself an artisan who sees treasures when others can’t see the full potential. He says: “Why follow someone’s tastes, likes and dislikes when we are all individuals? We help you escape the grey world that’s defined as ‘normal’. We also work with other like-minded creators who supply us with unique handcrafted curios. We travel the highways and byways, sail the seven seas and fly to faraway lands on magic carpets to discover new ideas for items to enhance your bare spaces.”
“Southsea is like a village within a busy, highly populated coastal city. It has many original buildings. We lost so many old buildings during the war years – the result is the odd modern structure sandwiched between original buildings.”
A secret: “The old Dock Mill Windmill (sadly now gone) on the road behind the Kings Theatre.”
Something special: “The Victorian promenade, not ruined by modern developments or modern life.”
Favourite pub: “The Phoenix, a very old theatre pub located near the stage door of the Kings Theatre. It still has its original layout, local history on every wall, and the locals can tell you so many things about the area and the people who lived here.”
Restaurant: “Sakura Japanese Restaurant is my favourite, however Southsea offers high quality food from all over the world – Chinese, Indian, Korean, Thai, Turkish…”
Shop: “Head Case Curios. Because it’s my shop. I stock the sort of things you would normally find in Camden or The Lanes in Brighton.”
Evening out: “Kings Theatre – the building is stunning and there are ever-changing productions from comedy nights to West End shows.”
Local walk: “The beach on an early morning.”
Barber: “For men, it must be Head, a traditional English barber on Albert Road. For ladies, Gatsby’s, also Albert Road, one of the longest running hairdressers in Southsea.”
Local event: “The Portsmouth Comic Con, 2-3 May, Portsmouth Guildhall”
Day out: “Portsmouth City Museum – the history of our great city and it’s free.”
Local attraction: “Southsea Model Village – Southsea in miniature.”
Norman Mooney, Grate Catering & Events
After working for Raymond Blanc and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Norman started Grate Catering & Events a year ago to share his and Iris’s passion for great food and responsibly sourced seasonal produce, catering for events, festivals and holding monthly supper clubs in their kitchen. He only uses high welfare meat and seasonal vegetables sourced from local farms, and cooks over live fire or bespoke fire pits using wood and charcoal from locally managed, sustainable woodlands.
“There is always somewhere nice and different to eat and drink in Southsea, and most are independent brands with their own little quirks.”
A secret: “There are a couple of little supper clubs starting to pop up around Southsea: people who love cooking, opening their kitchens to people who love food.”
Favourite pub: “The King Street Tavern hands down has got it all. Quirky little pub with a true barbecue-based menu, great drinks and, to top it off, they also do a fantastic Sunday roast.”
Café: “It has got to be Hunter Gatherer, great coffee in a really nice atmosphere.”
Restaurant: “Santyagos is our go-to restaurant, amazing cocktails and a scrummy selection of tapas plates.”
Evening out: “Bar-hopping down Albert Road.”
Walk: “Down the seafront all the way to Clarence Pier with great views across the Solent watching the ferries and hovercraft coming in and out.”
Gym: “Roko in Hilsea, loads of great classes and lots of equipment so no queuing. And to finish off, a quick dip in the pool.”
Barber: “Hounds: great bunch of guys who also do great haircuts; funky artwork on the walls and always belting out some amazing tunes.”
Local event: “It’s hard to pick when you have Victorious, Beach Dubbin’ and Beats and Eats all happening on our doorstep.”
Day out: “Barbecue on Southsea Common. We’re lucky as we have lots of areas close to the seafront where we can light up the grill. We pack our cool box with drinks and food, get down there and chill out in the sun while cooking lunch.”