Wednesday, 13 December 2017

THE HAMPSHIRE HOG - London road, Clanfield

We had visited this pub several times in the past, and I think it's fair to say, we left feeling disappointed. The pub itself was always nice, certainly on the larger side of the pub family, and the service had been good. It was literally just the food that had let us down in the past. This was to be our 100th gastrohub review, and it just so happened that The Hampshire Hog would be getting another chance to impress on this most auspicious of occasions.

There is certainly no lack of parking here, a giant's stone throw from Butser Hill. Although it has the ora of a big corporation pub, it still manages to pull off friendly and welcoming. This point was made particularly well as we approached. There are speakers outside, allowing you to listen to music whilst taking in the fresh air. Being that we are rapidly approaching Christmas, it happened to be Christmas music pumping from said speakers. As we took the steps to the entrance, we were treated to an uplifting blast of "All I want for Christmas", instantly lifting the spirits.

We followed standard procedure, collecting drinks and strategically choosing a table. The menu sounded good, but it did on our previous trips too. Much like a TV salesman, it had promised so much but not delivered. The prices were also pushing in to the upper reaches of gastropubdom, averaging between £13 and £14. At first, nothing was jumping out at me, so I defaulted to fish and chips, while Dad picked a rather more exotic faggots with bubble and squeak. Dad had promised to check out the specials board on his way to the bar, and low and behold, there was a Christmas turkey dinner on offer. Not one to ever turn down the chance of a roast dinner, my lunch suddenly became a bit more exciting.

As already mentioned, there was Christmas music, the pub was warm, which in itself was no mean feat, being that it was a cold day and the building is of substantial size. The service was also of a good standard. So far, things were looking good. The pub certainly wasn't running at maximum capacity, so it was a little surprising that it took a while for the food to arrive. Not quite too long, but it wasn't far off. The food looked good, and as we tucked in, it also proved to taste pretty good. As I was in the middle of a roast frenzy, Dad asked me what I thought about my portion size. I hadn't really noticed until he said, but then I had a good hard think about it. All the components were there, but it did seem that a few of them were a little light. I did acknowledge that it would probably be fine for most people, and that I am somewhat greedy when it comes to roasts, but I could have done with just a few more vegetables. It was all cooked well, especially the sprouts funnily enough. The potatoes were nice, but I'm not quite convinced they were genuinely roasted. Dad's faggots with bubble and squeak was good, but I got the impression he was far from blown away. He felt that a bit of vegetable action on the side wouldn't have gone a miss.

We have concluded, and can report, that this was a great improvement. As I've already said, the pub is lovely, the service is good, and the food is of a good standard. Whether it quite warrants the prices is another debate. And that in truth is our only point to raise. We believe that if you are going for the top end of foodie town, you have to deliver on all counts. There is no room for negotiation. If we pay £14 for a pub meal, we expect to come away impressed and content. We weren't too far off that, but a few pounds off the bill would have restored a food based equilibrium.

Atmosphere          7
Service                 7
Food                    8
Value                   7
Verdict                 4*

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

THE BOLD FORESTER - 177 Albert Rd, Southsea

Eager to track down some more foodie action in Portsmouth, we headed back, this time to examine the claims of The Bold Forester. The pub has had a recent refurbishment, and a quick nose at the menu was enough to convince Dad that it was worth exploring.

Parking can sometimes be an issue around Albert road, but we struck lucky, finding a space just 30 seconds walk from the pub door. First impressions were good. A sound track of trendy dinner party music was sliding out the speakers and the pub was warm. Our greeting was friendly enough, and luckily for us, we learned that we were in deed able to order some lunch. We picked a table by a window and got stuck in to the menu.

We did, probably me more so, get rather excited with the contents of said menu. There was plenty to choose from, much of it sounding very tempting, but the biggest source of incredulity was the prices. Everything was under £10, much of it far less. Most standard meals were in fact closer to £5. After a few ums, but no ah's, I selected the camembert and beetroot pie. Dad was seduced by one of his favourites, ham, egg and chips. Both of these were less than £6, so to celebrate, we decided to get some garlic bread to start.

Just as I was getting carried away with a pub that sells decent food at ridiculous prices, the garlic bread arrived. At first glance, all seemed well. It wasn't until I attempted to lift the bread, that my heart sank just a little. Garlic bread should be crisp and easy to pick up with your hands, this branch of the bread family was a touch more floppy. The top had clearly been grilled, but the underside was soft and bendy. It tasted alright, but was far from the garlic bread hall of fame. Brought back down to earth, we awaited our mains.

When our plates were placed before us, again all looked well, but this time there was to be no massive disappointment. My pie, which we learned were bought in, was very nice. An open puff pastry case, filled with oozing cheese and sweet beetroot. The accompanying chips were good, and the small side salad was coated with a beautiful dressing. Dad's ham, egg and chips were also decent. It may not have been mind blowing, but for the price, you could argue that it was outstanding. This is where relativity comes in. If you pay £15 for a plate of average food, you will of course leave disappointed, never to return. If you pay £5.95 for a plate of decent food, you will be content, feeling that you got a good deal.

This is what I call a transformer pub. Trying to be two things at once, and I can't blame them. In the daytime you try and attract the lunch crowd, creating a pleasant atmosphere for casual dining. In the evening, it's more about the drinking side of pubington. It is impossible to argue with the value on offer here, and if we hadn't had the garlic bread, our meal would have been without issue. The mains were good, regardless of the price. So if you are ever looking for a great value lunch in Southsea, you could do a lot worse.

Atmosphere          7
Service                 7
Food                    7
Value                   10
Verdict                 4*

Friday, 24 November 2017

THE BUCKS HEAD - Bucks Head Hill, Meonstoke

In search of a new pub this week, I bowed to Dad's memory. He had heard tell, maybe even seen a pub near Exton, but wasn't sure what it was called. So with our target selected, we saddled up and headed off on another adventure.

It turned out that the pub in question was called The Bucks Head, and is located in Meonstoke. It looked like a nice country pub from outside, and so it proved on the inside too. A warm greeting and lots of wood were in evidence, along with the spitting of an open fire. Unfortunately, the fire was on its way out, not to flourish again during our visit. A particular shame, as it was a rather cold day, and the pub could have done with an extra heat blast. There were plenty of tables for us to choose from, although the pub would fill up over lunchtime.  This is incidentally a dog friendly pub, popular with walkers, AKA, ramblers.

The menu read pretty well, with average prices between £12 and £15, pretty standard for your modern gastro pub. All the usual pub classics were in situ, with the addition of a few more imaginative offerings. There was also a specials board for extra spice, and this is where my lunch was advertised. Jerk chicken with sweet potato wedges, served with homemade coleslaw and corn on the cob. Dad picked out one of his favourites, ham, egg and chips, with the added flourish of a pineapple fritter. This is one of those little touches that we really appreciate, to lift a meal in to a more interesting dimension.

Two of the basic pub fundamentals were not in practice here. Firstly, there was no music, although there was enough custom generating sufficient noise to avoid the painful silence syndrome. Secondly, it was a bit cold. When the food was delivered, it looked pretty good, and more significantly, tasted pretty good too. My chicken, although not the biggest, was perfectly cooked, and was ably assisted by a small pot of spicy sauce. The sweet potato wedges were again perfect, not too soft, and not over crisped, as can easily be done when trying to produce the perfect sweet potatoes. My coleslaw was clearly homemade, and the corn was sweet and coated in butter. Dad's ham was maybe, just possibly a tiny touch overdone. The chips however were truly epic. I'm not meant to go on too much about chips, but if you want to see how a chip should be made, this is the place to go. His two eggs were poached, one more runny than the other, I suppose variety is a good thing. We were very impressed that the pineapple fritter was made from fresh pineapple rather than a tinned ring.

All in all this was a thoroughly good lunch adventure. The pub is nice, light and friendly. The food is very good, and the prices are bang on average for a good foodie pub. They are just a spiders pencil away from getting it all 100% right. A bit of music and some love shown to the fire would have gone along way. Perhaps examine the idea of a set lunch menu? It's only a small thing, but we did think the dying fire was a real shame. It's not just the warmth it gives off, but the pleasing aesthetic quality. Everyone loves a roaring pub fire in the Winter. That said, this is a very good pub, and we would happily return, and maybe we will.

Atmosphere          7
Service                 7.5
Food                    8.5
Value                   8
Verdict                 4.5*

Monday, 20 November 2017

THE WHITE HART - The Street, South Harting

Every now and again, we don't have a plan. Sometimes we just pick a direction and drive, hoping that we eventually find a pub that sells food. Placing your fate in the hands of the pub Gods can be a risky business, but it can also prove ultimately rewarding. Both cases were summoned in to reality this week as we headed in to the unknown, so settle down and jump on board our latest adventure in to Pubington.

We turned right, then went forward, then turned right again, I can't remember the rest of our directions. But at some point we ended up heading for Midhurst. The first pub we found that we hadn't already visited, was The White Horse, A stunning bit of poetry, considering we reviewed a different White Horse last week. We parked up, strolled in and stood at the bar, where we were ignored for ten minutes. Eventually we were acknowledged and offered drinks. After ordering, we asked about food, and were told uncertainly that there was no food today, something about a wedding. We promptly cancelled the drinks and leged it.

A memory string was twanged in Dad's mind as we passed a sign for Harting. We promptly followed the sign and found ourselves at The White Hart in South Harting. Upon entering, we could instantly feel that mysterious pub magic in the air. A friendly welcome, oak beams, a slightly worn parquet floor and that smell which is particular to the finest of English pubs. We took a table by the fireplace, which unfortunately wasn't lit, although we did have a candle on the table which was. We, especially me, got very excited as we ploughed through the menu. Great variety, fair prices and a clear eye for imaginative details set this menu a class above the norm. I even made the bold statement, that this may be the best menu we've ever seen. The cherry on the top was the lunchtime set menu, offering two courses for £15 or three for £18. This is the direction that we decided to take. Dad chose, smoked ham hock and black pudding terrine with piccalilli, pork crackling and bread. For his main, beef and horseradish sausages, mustard mash, onion gravy and crispy leeks. You can see already how we were excited about this menu. It shows effort and care, making you want to eat the food. For my part I picked the roasted, curried parsnip soup with lime crème fraiche, parsnip crisps and bread. This would be followed by tempura fried red mullet with noodles in a lime and soy dressing. That is not the sort of food you would usually find on a set lunch menu in a pub.

It quickly became clear that our instincts were correct. The food was beautifully presented. The soup was perfect and the parsnip crisps light and delicious. The terrine was wonderful, taken to another level by the piccalilli and crackling. The bread was fresh and the service continued to be just right. By the time the mains arrived, we were already convinced that we had found something special, but the food set before us only served to cement what we already believed. There is a serious chef at work here, who wouldn't be out of place in a fine dining restaurant. My tempura mullet was absolutely perfect and the dressing on the noodles was immense. Dad's was equally as impressive, with the crispy leeks acting as a perfect balance to the creamy mash.

Not only were we amazed to find such food on a set menu at such reasonable prices, but we were also pleased to see good portion sizes. Set menu can so often mean less food for less money, but not here. There was quite literally nothing wrong with our food, it was of an incredibly high standard. Thankfully, it was a rare case of finding amazing food in a wonderful pub, thus creating the perfect pub storm. This may even be our new best pub ever, or at least in the top three. If you haven't been here, we urge you to give it a try, you won't be disappointed.

Atmosphere          9
Service                 9
Food                    9.5
Value                   9.5
 Verdict                 5*

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

THE WHITE HORSE - 51 Southsea Terrace

In a bid to cover more of the foodie options available to the gastrohub readership in Portsmouth, we thought it time to take a look at The White Horse. This is a pub which has been on our radar for some time, a source of much frustration I am sure to the foodie public, AKA, THE FUBLIC. So with the minimum of silliness, let us get on with the real business.

Ideally situated, near the common, a stone's throw from Castle road, and a slingshot from the sea, The White Horse has an expansive area out front, which greets you like a pair of open pub garden arms. There is plentiful seating, and I can vouch from personal experience that this is a wonderful place to be in the Summer months. However, this certainly wasn't Summer, so it was through the front door and inside for us.

There was a nice, light feel to the pub, with music in plain earshot, and a general warmth which was most welcome after the chill outside. As is our habit when visiting a pub, we took our drinks to a table and sat down to explore the menu's. There was a good range of food on offer, including a selection of Asian choices, but what really caught our eye, were the prices. There are many meals to be had here for under £10, a rare treat indeed these days. Being near the seaside had its usual effect, drawing me to the fish and chips. My greedy side was also nudged by the, "Moby Dick", naming of said fish. Dad went for the Winter classic, steak and kidney pudding with mash, which came in at a bargaintastic £9.

The pub absorbed more punters as we waited for our food, helping to create a pleasant atmosphere. We were starting to think that we may have happened across a most rare beast, in a good pub that not only sells good food, but sells it at a very good price. We didn't have to wait long to find out. My fish was indeed of a good size, the chips were delicious and the mushy peas were perfect. Even more impressive was Dad's order. The mash was wonderful, but the steak and kidney pudding was, "Amazing". Dad even added that it may very well be the best steak and kidney pudding he's ever had, and all for under a tenner.

There was simply nothing to dislike about our trip to The White Horse. The fundamentals were all present and correct. The food and service were all good, but the biggest and most unexpected of bonuses, was the price you pay for that good food. We were always going to rate this pub highly after our visit, but we were put in an unusual position. Most of our top rated pubs are there because there food is outstanding, and often you have to pay a bit more for that. Here however, the food might not be quite so refined, but it is very good, and we are left mightily impressed with the value. A pub is not just marked on its food, but the whole experience, including the bill. Would we come back here? Without a doubt. Although it would certainly be much harder to get a table when the sun is out.

Atmosphere          8
Service                 9
Food                    9
Value                   10
Verdict                 5*