In March, my occasional contributor Connor Mackay and I undertook to go for dinner every Thursday – at the time to create content for a project Connor was working on, wherein we would review the food, drink and entertainment of Southampton-based bars, restaurants and other venues for a student audience.
The project never materialised but we still went for the meals, and it just so happened that a couple of the places at which we ate were not chain restaurants, such as Ebb & Flow Café Bar on Southampton’s High Street.
This interesting little place replaced a Tapas Joint called Que Pasa only last year and I had always wanted to visit for a review. Connor and I were both impressed by its palatial-style furniture, made up of leather-cushioned benches and grand glass chandeliers. I remarked to Connor that the tabletops looked as though they had been wrapped with Christmas giftwrapping paper. In a phrase, I would sum it up as the Brighton Pavilion of restaurants in Southampton – simply oozing eccentricity and unconventionality, especially when you observe that their cutlery comes served in odd-coloured watering cans (see pictured).
While I, in my eternal pretension that goes with being a restaurant critic, did not appreciate this juxtaposition with eminent grandeur and shabby chic, Connor said it added to the charm of the venue. I loved the glassware – the rounded pint glasses we had our coke in, for example (see pictured).
My order of a lamb dish did not go ahead as they had run out of stock, so my second choice was the Moules Frites (see pictured below) – both of these dishes are new additions to the main course section of the menu. Ebb & Flow attempt to cater for all times of day – having selections for brunch; grilled sandwiches, tapas and flatbreads for lunchtime, and larger meals for later on.
Our waiting staff were very attentive to detail and practice, such as providing me immediately with an additional bowl for my mussel shells – things like that earn extra points with me in regard to the service.
As mussels go, I enjoyed them immensely, though I did have a couple of bits of cracked shell that I had to pick out of my teeth, having unknowingly continued eating the shellfish until feeling the unwelcome crunch. They were absolutely swimming in the Marinière Sauce, the quantity of which was a little too much for me to stomach. It was a wasteful amount, in truth – the chefs could offer half the amount and save themselves a bit of money and time.
Once again, the venue’s quirkiness came out in the way they served their French Fries – in teacups. I’m quite old-fashioned when it comes to “vessels” (for want of a better word) and I don’t entirely approve of the modern habit of serving chips separately. In a dish like the Moules Frites, I suppose an exception can be made, but I find that when all the elements of the meal are interspersed across the table, as opposed to being all on one plate, it isolates them to the point where one can easily forget about them, as was the case with these chips. I didn’t fully get around to eating them until my mussels were all finished.
Connor had selected the Slow-cooked Belly of Pork, topped with Crackling Crumb, and served with Apple Mash, Sautéed Green Beans and a Stilton and Mushroom Jus (see pictured) for his dish. He decided this after several minutes grappling with the idea of having the Louisiana Chicken instead. That dish consists of a spicy-crumbed chicken breast with Southern rice, tomatoes and a pea shoot salad. But I think Connor made the right decision – I love Pork regardless of the cut or joint – a small part of me wishes even now that I had had the same thing (though I would have to do without the Stilton and Mushroom sauce for hate of the latter vegetable). He was silent throughout the meal too – so it can’t have been bad. The meat appeared gorgeously succulent, and the crackling on top looked stupendous to perfection.
The downfall here – the price. My mussels weren’t too bad at just under £9, but the pork belly cost nearly £12, which I thought, given the portion size (regardless of how good it was), was a little on the expensive side. I can imagine that the atmosphere would have been electric if we had visited while their live music was on – I am partial to a little entertainment while I eat (not to the point of distraction, however). I would definitely recommend Ebb & Flow, but be advised to come with a full wallet.