Cuisine: Italian – American
The Italian Bar and Grill is housed in an elegant listed building on Great Southsea Street and is an independent Italian-American restaurant. The building is steeped in local history and I couldn’t resist including a few notes on this at the end of this post for anyone interested. We have visited The Italian Bar regularly and it is one of our favourite places. The menu is big and features typical Italian-American classic such as creamy pastas and various takes on pepperoni pizza, as well as burgers, salads and grills. They also do Sunday roasts. The food is cooked to order which has meant that understandably, we have had to wait for our food during busy times.
The ambience is relaxed and the decor is modern, featuring white and dark blue table cloths and large modern wall paintings. The music is usually swing and Rat Pack classics. There’s also a nice courtyard garden area. The other half of the building is the bar area – the building was originally a pub – and as expected, the restaurant serves a good range of drinks including draft Peroni and Guinness and a range of wine.
We have tried and enjoyed many of the dishes on offer. Vegetarian choices are, however, more limited due to the use of parmesan cheese but I haven’t checked whether the parmesan used is vegetarian friendly. Our favourite starters include the nachos which are served with a wonderful homemade Italian tomato sauce rather than a traditional salsa. There is enough for two to share and I believe it’s suitable for vegetarians 😉 I also love the garlic mushroom crostini – this is quite possibly one of my favourite ever starters. Deliciously garlicky portobello mushrooms cooked in cream and truffle oil on toasted ciabatta. There is nothing more to say!
For main course, we usually have pizza or pasta. The pasta dishes (penne or spaghetti) come in generous portions – bigger than those at an Italian chain restaurant – and cost between £10.95 and £14.95 at time of writing. Cream features in many of the sauces and the flavours are bold and hearty rather than elegant. My favourite pasta dish is the seafood carbonara which includes a good amount of seafood (mussels, crayfish tails and prawns) in a creamy sauce with tomato and chilli. I’m not sure how authentic a recipe this is (some will describe it as closer to creamy seafood marinara rather than carbonara) but who cares when it tastes this good? 🙂 I’m also partial to the creamy broccoli, asparagus and mushroom pasta with blue cheese. This dish is rich with cream with a hint of blue cheese.
I’ve also been told that the meat pastas are also great – a firm favourite is the pork Santa Fe which features pulled pork belly and pepperoni in a creamy tomato sauce with chilli. The pork Santa Fe pasta is apparently the perfect dish to have if you have just played 90 minutes of football – I’m guessing that the rich mixture of protein, cream and carb is both calorific and deeply restorative!
Not all the pasta dishes feature cream – the Sicilian seafood is excellent with a tomato sauce that is piquant with capers, olives and anchovies (the taste is a little stronger than puttanesca). The only true vegetarian pasta dish, which I’m guessing is also suitable for vegans, is the vegetable arrabbiata. This is not an inferior choice by any means (and less fattening because of the omission of cream) as the base tomato sauce is full of flavour and the dish includes fresh asparagus, mushrooms and broccoli.
The pizzas and calzones are great too with a thinly rolled homemade dough base, tomato sauce and mozzarella – these cost up to £10.95 at time of writing. The I Bar pizza is popular, topped generously with chicken, pepperoni, blue cheese, mushroom, pepper and onion. I love the L.A calzone, the calzone version of the L.A vegetarian pizza – this includes feta cheese, home made pesto, tomato and pepper and is delicious!
The grill items are more expensive as they feature cuts of meat and the portions are HUGE, typically including corn on the cob, home made coleslaw and choice of potato as sides. I’ve been told that the rack of ribs is amazing – tender pork in a smoky BBQ sauce – and I have tried the only non meat option, the grilled salmon which I had with cajun spice. I have to say that although it was good, I prefer the pizza and pasta – I love salmon but this is something that I could cook at home.
We usually have room for only two courses – sometimes if we have already had a starter, we can squeeze in a dessert if we share The desserts are homemade and include a rather delectable and dirty Baileys tiramisu and one of the best cheesecakes I have had – light and lemony and served with a berry sauce. We usually go for a sundae – my favourite is the berry and meringue sundae which includes lots of ice cream, freshly whipped cream, meringue pieces and a berry sauce to cut through the richness. The chocolate chip cookie sundae is good too and includes pieces of home made cookies. The most photogenic dessert has to be banana split – The Italian Bar’s version includes white chocolate buttons and amaretti biscuits.
So you may have gathered that we love going to The Italian Bar. For any Tripadvisor users, the responses from Steve N the manager to negative reviews are inspired and I have to agree with his comments 😉 Steve N, we salute you and we will be back for some more great food!
The Italian Bar and Grill
30 – 32 Great Southsea Street
Hampshire. PO5 3BY
Tel: +44 (0)23 9275 3058
Opening hours: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday 16.30 – 22.00. Closed Tuesday
Friday 16.30 – 23.00
Saturday 12.00 – 23.00
Sunday 12.00 – 22.00
Typical cost per person for 2 courses excluding drinks: Up to £18 (more for some grills)
UPDATE 1st September 2016: The menu has changed slightly and the broccoli, asparagus, mushroom and blue cheese pasta is not available. Truffle oil no longer features on the mushroom crostini.
Building history: The building was originally The India Arms, a pub that was built at the turn of the last century and was later extended into the building next door, Hooper and Sons, a fishmongers from the late 19th to early 20th century. You can still see the Hooper and Sons sign engraved at the top of the building. I recall the India Arms as being a run down student pub before being renovated and re-opening as a pub and a restaurant called The Tiffin Room that served delicious and authentic South Indian food. The renovation uncovered some beautiful period features, including the original tiling from 1902 and large tiled wall murals by Carters of Poole. The Tiffin Room harked back to the days of the Raj and the tiled murals added to the ambience.
Sadly, the India Arms and Tiffin Room closed a few years ago (I don’t think Southsea was quite ready for the type of Indian food on offer) but happily, The Italian Bar and Grill opened in its place. It is a shame that the original tiles have been covered – I actually think it could work having the tiled murals on display next to the modern paintings of the New York skyline but I am one for period features!