The Southsea Food Tour – Aurora Cafe and Lounge

Named after the statue above the Kings Theatre, Aurora café and lounge has been in business since 2015 when it replaced Magick Bean café. Since then they have made a big impression on Albert Road.

On a sunny day I entered its door and was welcome by gold décor and reggae music. Soft in the background it much suited the café and the burgeoning summer of barbecues on the common and ice cream on the pier. Wooden rustic tables and large cushioned sofas were lined up in rows and around were Egyptian statues, hanging lamps, a large gold-framed mirror and chalkboards boasting the specials of the day.

Today was homemade vegetarian chilli.

The girl behind the counter greeted me with a beaming smile as she asked me how my day was and what I would like. ‘I would love some cake, what flavours are they,’ I replied, gesturing at the countless treats lined up and stacked upon the till. Enthusiastically she listed them for me – chocolate and ginger brownie, apple and cinnamon cake, pineapple and banana loaf and fruit scones…

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I chose a slice of the raspberry and yogurt loaf, a millionaire’s shortbread and a bog-standard tea. I was asked to sit and so I took my place on one of the sofas lined in dark blue velvet, right next to the towering mirror. Waiting for my drink and cakes, I read the menu. There was both a breakfast and lunch menu on one side and a drinks menu on the back. There wasn’t a great deal of choice, a few salads, paninis and sandwiches, but there were enough flavours and tastes to cater to anyone. There were a lot of vegetarian options too and a mouth-watering selection of platters which I knew I would buy next time. This time however, I ordered a ham and cheese panini because I knew, after all my cakes, I wouldn’t be able to manage whole one by myself.

My tea came in one of those glass, hipster mugs and the sugar was found in a dainty pot on the table in cubes. Very quaint. But at this point I wasn’t too bothered with what shape or size the sugar came in but rather the thick slices of cake that were placed before me. I quickly thanked the waitress before shoving a fat forkful of the raspberry and yogurt loaf into my gob.

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Moist, soft and bouncy were a few words that came to mind. Both the yogurt and the raspberry complimented each other well to create creamy pockets of flavour- just the right thing to get you ready for the summer. I left the crust like a kid’s sandwich as sadly they didn’t have the same softness and taste as the gooey inside.

The millionaire’s shortbread was my favourite which I’ve eaten several times previously. It is the best I have had and doesn’t fall apart with each bite like most. I felt like a real winner as, for once, I wasn’t smothered in crumbs.

Just as my stomach was going to give in, I received my panini and started to tuck into that. It came with a side salad with cucumber and tomato chunks and a balsamic dressing. It certainly beats most cafés where they lazily throw a handful of packaged leaves onto a plate. The only downside to this was the trigger happiness of the sauce, which had spewed onto the rest of the plate and onto my panini, making it soggy in parts.

The panini was nice with melted cheese and thick ham. However, that’s all it was, a ham and cheese panini. It was nothing spectacular unlike some of the other menu options but it wasn’t terrible either. Perhaps a dash of Dijon mustard to add some flavour would be in order.

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Only crumbs were left after my onslaught and as I laid there waiting for it to all go down, I took in some details I had overlooked before. On the menu at the bottom was a little note explaining that all the ingredients used were local from places such as Bread Addiction or Southsea Fruit and Veg. Also, Aurora hold many events such as the fortnightly Sunday quiz or the monthly poetry event hosted by Front Room Words. By the door was a small sign which listed some of the poets who have performed there. These included well known locals Lord Biro and Rick Haynes.

I will make sure to go to that next time, I said to myself.

Paying for my bill I realised it’s not the cheapest place to go on Albert Road, but the atmosphere and the local, homemade food is worth it.

I will say as well that it can be a little off-putting for some people, especially poor students such as myself. The regal and upper-class style of the place can seem daunting especially with signs that boast the offer of champagne to any customer willing or able to pay. Some events too such as the wine tasting sessions give off the impression that Aurora is only for a particular kind of customer in Southsea – one a bit older and wealthier than myself.

But, once you get over that, talk to the cheery waitresses and bite into their cakes, it’s not so bad and you start to realise everyone is welcome.

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