As we discussed this visit, BQ reminded me of the tag line often used in episodes of Monty Python in the early 70’s, “And now for something completely different”. St. Philips Church is certainly different in every way from any of the previous churches we have visited. For a start it is starkly modern, completed in the year that both BQ and I were born. From the outside it looks like a rather plain brick box and in fact when it was being constructed the local residents believed it was to be their new telephone exchange. But the interior is a revelation, quite awe inspiring.
We arrived late morning with the aid of the satnav to find St Philips Church at the end of a long crescent shaped suburban street in a development on the outskirts of Portsmouth, typical of the many commuter communities that had sprang up in the pre-war years. On arrival we found the church to be locked and I regretted not having made prior arrangements for our visit, but a quick phone call to the number shown on the adjacent notice board connected me with a most helpful lady who arrived within five minutes to let us in.
We entered via the church hall, to find an astonishing interior, brilliantly lit by the autumn sunshine streaming in through the large widows and, despite having done our normal research and seen photographs of the interior, neither of us were prepared for the sheer originality and quirkiness of the design. Our knowledgeable lady friend who had let us in gave an expert guided tour but, not wishing to outstay our welcome; we left after 30 minutes or so and retreated back through the church hall.
On leaving, my impression was of having been in a quite remarkable building but, as a church, I have to say that it seemed to lack that aura of reverence and sanctity that we had experienced in our other visits. However, it was clear that St. Philip’s is an important centre of community activity. October’s programme of events includes meetings of the Ladies Harmony Choir, the Amateur Drama Group, Slimming World, the Monday Lunch Club, a Quiz Night, a Table Top Sale and the Family Film Club. A choice many larger communities would envy. MW
Barchetta Mediterranean Restaurant, Port Solent
As the crow flies it is little more than a mile from Cosham to our lunch venue at Port Solent, but by road it was a rather tedious journey that took somewhat longer than expected, but finally we found a convenient parking spot close to our destination. Port Solent is primarily a marina and luxury housing development built in the 1980s partly on reclaimed marshland and partly on a former landfill site. But for us the attraction was The Boardwalk that runs alongside the marina. Here there are more than a dozen restaurants to choose from, but today was a Friday and BQ was bound by the strictures of his faith to avoid eating meat. I should explain that BQ and I are at opposite ends of the spiritual spectrum and, although we have had many a robust discussion on the relative merits of our positions during the early days of our friendship, we are now resigned to accepting, although not understanding, each other’s views. But for today we needed to find a restaurant that could offer an attractive fish option and BQ soon noticed that the Dish of the Day at the Barchetta Mediterranean Restaurant was Clam Alle Vongole, a dish, we were told, that is very popular in the Catalonia region of Italy at this time of year.
For my part, the choice was for white rabbit in wine. In the years of austerity following the end of the war when meat was severely rationed, my father kept a colony of white rabbits that bred at a rate sufficient to provide one for the pot every couple of weeks. In the early days it was my job to keep them fed and clean, but later on I was taught how to dispatch and skin them ready to give to my mother who managed to convert them into memorably delicious casseroles. And now, 70 years on, I had the opportunity to taste one more white rabbit. It was quite delicious, all the more so because I knew that on any other day of the week it would have been BQ’s choice. He invariably opts for rabbit (the common brown variety) whenever it appears on the menu! MW
Back to Civilisation.
After weeks of countryside, pretty villages and inns the trip to the St Philip at Cosham came as a great relief to a townie like myself. At long last we had a multiple choice of eateries along the Board Walk of Port Solent covering an assortment of nations. All of which came as a welcome relief from the disappointment I had experienced after our visit to Compers last church. For although the fixtures and fittings were outstanding the building seemed at odds with itself having too much empty space. This was exemplified by a small tent erected in the corner which was set aside for prayer, inside was a crucifix on a table and a few chairs but at last I found somewhere to pray. Comper would have had a fit but it served him right!
As it was Friday, I was looking for fish, and the Italian restaurant Barchetta had a special offer on a dish with clams. In the past, a friend who lived in Paris and was a foodie, was instructed by his local restaurant to return from his frequent visits to Southampton with a box of Solent clams as these were the best. I am pleased to say that I can now agree with his judgement as these were delicious.
MW however completely out-staged me by noticing that rabbit was on the menu. As both of us are pre-second world war babies, we were weaned during the dark days of food rationing on a regular diet of rabbit and as such cannot resist it when on the menu. Although my clams were delicious I could not resist envying MW as he constantly extolled the excellence of his meal, although I hope that in future he could spare me the wartime story of his pet rabbits and the essential cricket stump.
As regular diners will know, the atmosphere of Italian eating is usually accompanied by a raucous pantomime performed by the waiting staff and Barchetta did not disappoint in this aspect. Giuseppe and Maria were warm and welcoming in the great tradition of hospitality. After some conversation it became clear that I had met Giuseppe over forty years ago when he was part of the best fish restaurant in Southampton and it was good to see him again in such good form.
My only criticism is reserved for my usual moan about the inadequacy of the napkins, but all was saved when I managed to borrow a tea towel from the kitchen. This was a happy dining experience and both of us felt it well deserved its four stars BQ
- Mushrooms in a creamy garlic sauce on a bed of stone baked ciabatta BQ
- Asparagus baked in a buttery sauce topped with parmesan cheese MW
- Clam alle Vongole; Spaghetti with clams, cherry tomatoes, white wine, garlic and parsley BQ
- White rabbit in a wine, capers, peppers, onion and herb sauce served with garlic infused new potatoes and fine green beans MW
- Cheese Board BQ
- Trio di gelato MW
- Pinot Grigio Bianca BQ
- Pinot Grigio Rosa, Australian Shiraz MW