Opened in 2005, Nicholsons was the first tapas bar in Southsea and since then has grown incredibly, now boasting over 25 tapas treats and authentic, homemade paella.
Every time I walked past, whether that was a Monday afternoon or a Saturday night, it was always bustling with people from all walks of life. I would always peer in to try and catch a glimpse of what they were eating, to see if it would be worth a visit. I would be greeted by smiling parties, laughing and chatting over giant, colourful paellas and small bowls, all tempting different and unique tastes.
So I decided, I was going in!
I booked a table online with their easy booking form which only took a few minutes and saved myself a dreaded, awkward phone call. So that already set me off on a good start. Although they have weekday deals, such as half price sangria on Tuesdays or 5 for 4 tapas all day Monday, I booked in for a Saturday night at 7.30pm. I wanted to see the venue at its full potential, filled people, food and smells.
Immediately, as I entered, a waitress approached me asking me if I had booked. She was cheerful and as I replied with my booking details, she quickly sat me down, pulling my chair out for me and placing a menu on the table. I was immediately impressed by not only her efficiency but her care too. That sort of treatment is very rare nowadays, especially from a busy waitress on a Saturday night. I don’t even get that from my boyfriend!
Around, the restaurant was decorated in Spanish style – burnt orange walls, wooden tables, paintings and mosaic tealights on each table, flickering under the dim lighting. The cacti on the bar were a nice touch and it all resonated well with the Spanish theme of the place. It felt like a real tapas bar and as dishes were taken past me, it smelt like one too.
A few minutes later the waitress asked me for my drinks order and I immediately became aware of the one thing that lets Nicholsons down – the acoustics. Having a gentle buzz and energy is one thing but having to shout ‘a bottle of the Portuguese Rose please’ is another. After a few more times of me repeating myself, she soon nodded her head, scribbled it down and hurried off.
Nicholsons, as I soon noticed, was perfect for parties and large groups of people. However, not for couples or solo critics like me. You can’t easily have romantic conversations with your lover (or yourself) and looking around I could only see one other two seater table. Either way, it does create an informal and energetic atmosphere and, after a while, I didn’t care, especially when I was gorging on my food…
My bottle came to me very quickly and once again I was impressed by the service as the woman poured a glass for me. Another an act of gentlemanly care that I don’t even get from my partner. The wine was crisp, refreshing, sweet and even fizzy which was the perfect combination to make me finish the bottle off all by myself.
To whet my appetite I ordered Picos De Pan (bread sticks served with aioli) and Gordal Olives (queen olives stuffed with pickled basque chillies). In minutes they were placed in front of me. I popped an olive into my mouth. Big mistake. They had a bit too much kick for my liking which was another reason why I finished my rose so fast. If you enjoy your spice then by all means order the Gordal Olives, you will love them, but I shall not be ordering them again.
The Picos De Pan helped soothe my tongue, especially the aioli, so I polished them off in minutes. The aioli, which is like garlic dip, was so tasty that I ordered more and, for no extra cost as well. The bread sticks were okay, they were generic out of the packet ones, but you can’t complain for £1.50. So I won’t.
Pouring me another glass of wine, the waitress took my next order of food which was Paella De Carne (chicken and chorizo paella), Empanada De Queso (deep fried parcels of goats cheese in filo served with cranberry sauce), Pinchitos De Morunos (garlic, paprika and oregano marinated pork with mojo rojo sauce) and Garlic Ciabatta. These all came out together around 5 minutes later apart from the Paella which took around 10 minutes longer. However, that is fine by me as all paellas are made to order.
I first attacked the Empanada De Queso. The menu had a lot of vegetarian options, which although didn’t affect me, was nice to see. Around half of the tapas choices were suitable for vegetarians and seemed to all be bursting with flavour such as the Champinones Al Horno (Mushrooms bakes with blue cheese, garlic butter and breadcrumb stuffing). ‘Finally some vegetarian options that aren’t just salads’ – I hear you cry.
Anyway, these little parcels were gorgeous. The filo was cooked to perfection with a golden colour and the right amount of crunch. The goats cheese inside was warm and gooey. Mixed with the cranberry sauce it went down a treat with the right mix of sweet and savoury.
The pork was also cooked with the same amount of care with a soft and springy texture. But that’s not all. The sauce was something else. With hints of citrus and a gentle touch of spice, it complimented the meat well and made me let out a small moan. Luckily no one heard underneath all of the noise.
By this time the paella (on the tapas menu) was given to me and was the perfect size for one person. The rice was creamy and moist and there was lots of meat too. With each bite you could taste the freshness and, as someone who has had authentic paella in Spain, you can trust me when I say they had got it right.
You would think that this would be the end of my tapas trip yet we all know there is a second stomach for dessert. So, I ordered the cheesecake. The presentation was a bit of art with coulis dripped in patterns and strawberries sliced and arranged on the plate. The layers were generous and even and, as I took a bite, I found its texture was spot on – firm and bouncy. It would have been the the king of all cheesecakes if it weren’t for the lemon flavour. It was nice, don’t get me wrong, but I think vanilla would have suited it better.
The prices at Nicholsons are reasonable and even more so if you go for a deal. It’s not too cheap but at the same time its not too expensive either. It’s a great place for a casual night out. Nicholsons is a one of a kind restaurant that brings new and fresh flavours and spices to Southsea. There’s no other place like it. It may be a bit too noisy but it was still an enjoyable evening. So much so that I’m going back Monday…