Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest – so it’s a shame there aren’t more coffee and cake shops that open early, then stay open until 11pm.
If you’re like me and don’t much go for pubs, having somewhere to meet friends where you can sit and chat and eat cake is the most cunning of cunning plans. And finding a café which does something more than cheese omelette or the ubiquitous goats cheese sandwich is sometimes something of a challenge.
The Garage Lounge is very Southsea. No, it doesn’t specialise in cupcakes. Yet. But it’s quirky and full of students and yummy mummies. As its name suggests, it was once a garage – the door on pulleys is still there at the side. But it’s been decorated and kitted out with comfy mismatched sofas and chairs. And the crockery looks like it came from your grandmother’s cupboard – although cake is, for some reason, served on something that looks like a mini cheeseboard.
You eye up the cakes in a cabinet, then order at the counter. Service is cheerful but slightly shambolic – there seem to be a lot of people drifting around but your cake never arrives terribly promptly and rarely at the same time as your drink. And if you’re there with friends, whatever you’ve all ordered will turn up in dribs and drabs. But there’s free wifi and no one seems concerned if you sit there for an hour or so, although I’ve always been at fairly quiet times. And the top guy will often wander over and ask if you enjoyed such-and-such a cake or soup because it’s the first time they’ve tried it.
The cake range is pretty impressive, with gateaux, meringues and cheesecakes galore. There are also panini-style snacks and some rather appetising-looking salads, which I have yet to try. There’s not loads for the vegetarians and nothing that I could see for vegans, but the halloumi and pomegranate seed salad has my name on it at some stage soon. If I was running the place, though, I’d think twice about having samples of the paninis out on display – by 8pm they’re looking like something you used to see in a train buffet in British Rail days.
It’s not screamingly cheap – a slice of cake and a large glass of the very nice raspberry and elderflower cordial will set you back £8. And it’s probably heresy to say so, but the sponge cake at the Royal Marines’ Museum is half the price and much nicer – the Garage Lounge products look wonderful, but tend occasionally towards the bland. And because there’s no menu, it’s a bit hit and miss trying to decide what you fancy.
But if you fancy somewhere to meet friends in the evening where you can hear yourselves think and talk, then the Garage Lounge is a good choice.
PS: There’s no website for the Garage Lounge that I can see, although it has a Facebook page. But you’ll find it on Albert Road in Southsea, Portsmouth, almost opposite the Kings Theatre.