Saturday, 22 July 2017

CLARENCE GARDENS - 118 London rd, Portsmouth

Funnily enough, I had recently been thinking that we should probably look at a few more pubs in Portsmouth, then my Dad turned up and said he thought we hadn't looked at enough pubs in Portsmouth, so you can guess where we went this week.

After some on line research, including a look at the menu, Dad had selected The Clarence Gardens for our lunch appointment. Being in North End, we weren't sure what the parking would be like, but it turns out that there is a very convenient car park round the back. Upon entering we both felt this seemed more of a locals drinking pub than a foodie pub, which seemed at odds with the menu Dad had been looking at. Never the less, we sat down with a drink and got on with our business. The menu did indeed read like that of a gastro pub, a million miles away from your old school boozers offering of sausage and chips or a bacon sandwich. Further examination showed that this is very much in the Wetherspoons ilk of pubs. You can get an astonishing amount of food here for very little money, some meals even coming in around £6 including a drink.

After contemplating the beetroot and camembert pie, I was eventually lured in by the less refined chicken trio burger (£7.99). Luckily, Dad kept things a bit classy with the lamb shank pie, topped with minted mash, (£10.27). We did also order some garlic bread to munch as we came to grips with our surroundings. As we talked and chewed, we worked out that you could have a three course meal for two here, for about £25, if you ordered the right things, that could even include a drink each as well. There is certainly no arguing with that value.

When the food was delivered, it all looked pretty good. My burger contained a buttermilk fried chicken breast, pulled chicken and two chicken strips with Louisiana sauce. There was also lettuce, gherkin and onion. The burger was very good, everything as it should be and nothing to disapoint. The chips were surprisingly good and I even got a tub of coleslaw. Dad's pie was good too. The lamb shank was mixed with lamb mince underneath the minted mash. Dad wasn't quite sure about the mint being in the potato, but the pie as a whole was good, and came with vegetables. When placing the order, Dad was asked if we would like onion rings with the burger, to which he replied yes. This would cost £1.99. That sounded like a pretty good deal, and also fitted with the bargain prices we had already encountered. It turned out that those onion rings were just three in number, and now seemingly at odds with the knock down prices mentioned earlier.

We found this a hard one to judge. As always judging is a very personal thing, depending on what kind of pubs you like and what your budget is. If you like city pubs and are looking for a bargain feed, this is the place for you. We couldn't find anything wrong with our food, in fact it was pretty good. Unusually, we thought that the brewery were worthy of some credit here. The food is clearly not made from scratch on site, but the menu has been designed and produced in a way that works. A good standard of pub food which can easily be recreated at a low cost.

Atmosphere          6
Service                 6
Food                    7
Value                   9
Verdict                 3*

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

HARE AND HOUNDS - Sway, New Forest

After a lovely walk in the New Forest, Rachel and I, along with the small hairy one, made our way to The Hare and Hounds to refuel. Not wanting to miss a reviewing opportunity, I whipped out my gastrohub hat and started paying attention.

There is fierce competition in The New Forest when it comes to foodie pubs. This should, at least in theory, result in a certain standard being met by all, or at least most. The weather was still good, so we decided to take a table outside and see how high they are placing the bar at this particular fooderie. Fooderie is now a real word, I've decided. There seem to be three options when it comes to the outside seating. The main garden, which seemed to be occupied by a children's party, the area out the front, this is where we ended up, and a slice of garden down the right hand side of the pub, which we didn't notice until we were leaving. The pub itself is pretty sizable, although I didn't venture inside. That responsibility was handed to Rachel while I waited outside with dog face. So unless there is some kind of reverse TARDIS thing going on, we can assume there is plenty of space within.

The menu was compelling enough, and managed to spark my interest at times, but it didn't quite give me a five star feeling. After toying with the ideas of cheese and cauliflower soup, then homemade chilli, Rachel made a last minute change, opting for the sweet and sour chicken. I went for something slightly unusual, a combination I have never seen and shall most likely never see again. Samosa with curried rice, naan bread, salad, mango chutney and a sweet chilli dipping sauce. What do you think about that? Dog face wasn't hungry, or if she was, she didn't say anything.

Turns out that it was all rather good. We were warned that there was a bit of a wait due to the volume of custom being experienced. They didn't say it like that though. My Indian banquet was well presented and was headlined by no less than five Samosa's. Each was crispy and filled with a soft blend of delicious vegetables and spices. The rice was really well made and the salad was well dressed. I did also enjoy the naan, but didn't really see how it fitted with the dish. That may sound odd being that everything else was also of Indian persuasion, but I wouldn't generally dip a Nan in mango chutney or sweet chilli, and I wouldn't scoop up rice with it. I personally think that naan's belong with a curry. Rachel's sweet and sour chicken was also very tasty. I asked for a score out of 10, and after a moments deliberation, she awarded it an 8.

This is what I would class as a solid 4 star pub. You can rely on a high standard of food and a professional level of service. It's also in the New Forest, which can't hurt. It's also handy if you happen to be out walking your own hairy friend, as I believe they are a dog friendly establishment. It's always good to know the whereabouts of a quality pub when cruising through the forest, and this is certainly one of those.

Atmosphere          7
Service                 7
Food                    8
Value                   8
Verdict                 4*

Saturday, 15 July 2017

THE PRINCE OF WALES - Woodgate, Chichester

I think I'm right in saying, this was our first review in a PO20 postcode, there's an interesting fact for you. After trekking through villages hither to unheard of, we reached the pub promised land, where reviewing could begin in Ernest.

We have recently enjoyed a spate of good weather and alfresco dining, so we were heartened to see that this pub had two garden options, one just for grownups. That is where we headed, drinks and menus in hand. The menu's here are big, big in actual size, and big in options. We always get a bit nervous when we are given a big menu, it is so often the advert of a cheap and cheerful kitchen. However, after some lengthy exploration, we held judgment. The menu was actually quite interesting, and if you can't find something you like the sound of here, you would be better off staying at home with a bowl of cornflakes.

There are baguettes, jackets, sharing boards, basket meals and a grill section, not to mention your standard starters and mains. We were also struck by the value on offer. The basket meals were around £7, and the standard mains were mostly just over £10. We decided to start off with some garlic bread, making the most of the relaxing bubble we found ourselves in. I followed that with a fish pie whilst Dad went for his favourite, ham, egg and chips. It is as always important to note, that the literature made it clear that everything was homemade, and that ingredients, including the fish for my pie, were locally sourced.

Our bread was delivered by the extremely welcoming and friendly landlady, who couldn't have been a better host. It came on a hot skillet, and was very nice in deed. Crisp on the outside and oozing with garlic goodness. Next came the main event. My pie came with a beautiful selection of beautifully cooked vegetables. Generally an underrated part of so many meals, these were possibly the best vegetables I've ever been served in a pub. My fish pie was delicious. As a twist on the standard mash topping, this pie was finished off with more of a cheesy potato gratin, the slices of potato covering the tasty fish beneath. Dad's eggs, plural, were free range, and sat comfortably amongst the good quality ham and well cooked chips.

Visiting The Prince of Wales was an absolute pleasure. The landlady was everything you wish for, making us feel welcome without being overbearing. She was also kind enough to bring our food and drinks out to us in the garden, so plenty of brownie points there. The food was very good, obviously executed by a fully competent chef. It is sometimes easy to overlook the simple things and to neglect the less glamorous element of a meal, but there is a skill to preparing vegetables properly, raising them to become a main feature of a meal, rather than a necessary accompaniment. On top of that, for the food to come in at a very reasonable price was the cherry on the cake. Although I don't like cherries, let's say the grape on the cake. We wouldn't hesitate to come back here, and if you find yourselves in PO20, give it a try.

Atmosphere 7
Service                 10
Food                    8.5
Value                   8
Verdict                 4.5*

Monday, 10 July 2017

THE SHIP & BELL - London Road, Horndean

In a series of revisits, the latest was The Ship and Bell in Horndean. As I mentioned in my previous review, this pub is very well known to me, but it's been a while since I ate hear. Armed with the knowledge that the menu had recently changed, it seemed like as good a time as any to see what was going down in ship town.

There is a good amount of parking to the side of the pub, with access to the rear garden, or one of two doors at the front. The inside of the pub is split in two, with the right side also containing the restaurant area. We made do with a table by a window in the left side bar.

For some reason I had it in my head that the food here was a touch on the pricy side, but after smashing our way through the menu, Dad and I were pleasantly surprised with the value on offer. Not much here is going to set you back more than £12, which is just how it should be. After deliberating over several of the mains, we decided to go rogue and order the international sharing platter. I bet that's picked up your interest and zipped it up in a freezer bag. It sounds like something the Thunderbirds would have for lunch, so it's good enough for us. It came in at £17, although we did also order some garlic bread just in case. Said platter consisted of Chicken strips, crab cakes, samosa's, sticky chicken, cheese stuffed jalapeno's, a bowl of chips and a few dips. I think I got that right. Sincerest apologies if not.

Before long, the International platter was placed before us. It was quite an impressive sight. Quite simply, it was all good. Everything was as you'd hope. The dips stopped it all getting too dry, the chips were good, and the garlic bread was very good, and there was a good amount of it. Just a reminder that the garlic bread was an extra.

Since it's been spruced up, The Ship and Bell is a much nicer place to be. The food is certainly better. I did just notice that their website could do with an update though. It says there is a pool table, but that was removed long ago. Unless it's just a very small pool table hidden under a stool. We enjoyed a good level of service whilst being treated to a very good selection of music at just the right volume. The food was very good and the prices are bang on. There is then very little to moan about. When the sun is out, there's also plenty of room to sit outside should you wish. We had a wonderful lunch and wouldn't hesitate to return, so it's a happy ending. THE END.

Atmosphere          8
Service                 8
Food                    8
Value                   8
Verdict                 4*


This is a pub which is very well known to us, me in particular, having visited countless times to partake of the pub quiz. There has however been a recent over hall, with new management, a refurbishment, and of course a new menu, that's where we come in.

As the sun is still shining, we fleetingly passed through the pub to collect the essential drinks and menus on our way to the garden. There is plenty of seating, and with the recent addition of outside speakers, you can also listen to the easy listening playlist which was up until now the soul property of the pubs inner sanctum.

There was an early sense of disappointment. After checking we were alright to have lunch, we wandered out with a menu. That particular menu was to prove rather limited. This was the lunch menu, offering jacket potatoes, three options for sandwiches or baguettes, and a few light meals including fish and chips and ham, egg and chips. But glory be, we were saved from limited options at the eleventh hour. On his way to place our order, Dad just happened to come across another menu, a full menu. Now fully armed with the meals on offer, we were able to make a more satisfactory decision. I opted for the jerk chicken burger, while Dad went for the steak pie, both on offer for around £12.

When our chosen food appeared, it looked good, my burger surfing the table on a wooden board. Said burger was accompanied by wonderfully crisp homemade chips and a tomato salsa. The burger itself was very good. Tasty spiced chicken, a good quality toasted bun, and a gherkin, which always makes me happy. Dad's pie was part of a bigger pie, but it was a real pie,, not a pretend pie which just has pastry on the top. Although personally I prefer my own individual pie, Dad was more than happy with his slice of pie, I love saying pie.

After our initial disappointment of mehnu-gate, we enjoyed our trip to The Ship and Bell. We felt the menu situation could have been made clearer when we made it known we were there to eat, but it all worked out in the end. The food here is certainly good, and for a pub which makes everything itself, the prices are quite reasonable. Lunchtime versions of fish and chips or ham, egg and chips are on offer at £7.50, while most mains are nearer the £12 mark. With regards to the refurbishment, the pub seems more up to date, but personally, I do find it a little on the dark side.

We feel The Ship and Bell should be commended for doing food properly. Everything is made in house, including the scotch eggs, which along with pork pies, are available for less than £4 if you just fancy something to munch with your pint. There is certainly a good quality of food on offer at a fair price, so give it a go and let us know what you think.

Atmosphere          7
Service                 7
Food                    8
Value                   8
Verdict                 4*