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*