Winchester is home to many lovely things. A cathedral with an excellent second hand bookshop round the back, a marvellous independent tea shop and now, although I say now it has been there for some time, the River Cottage Canteen Winchester. It’s in such a lovely setting, next to the river Itchen in a park and they get as many of their ingredients as possible from Hampshire. If they don’t come from Hampshire they come from Devon (i.e. River Cottage HQ) and almost every ingredient has a story behind it.
I started off sampling some delicious local cordials; blackcurrant first, then elderflower and I really liked how they weren’t overly sweet, just right for me. The beers, wines and ciders are all local, the spirits are of the more unusual kind and even the soft drinks have a story like the Karma Cola which is fairtrade and all proceeds go back to the growers in Sierra Leone. It’s a big, open plan restaurant with an open kitchen, local artists adorning the walls and upcycled chairs and tables.
I had been invited down to give the menu a try, and I was really looking forward to it. Local, ethical and simply cooked food to show off great ingredients; right up my street. There were a few of us there for the tasting so to get a flavour of the menu we were treated to a tapas style menu so we could try a bit of everything.
First of all we had wild garlic scones with creamy blue cheese and spiced carrot hummus on flat bread. The scones were freckled with green garlic and coupled with creamy blue cheese this was a great combination. I was a big fan of the carrot hummus, with Moroccan spices and the flatbreads, just warm were great.
With the next course I ventured into territory that I have avoided for many years. Once I ate a mussel and became rather ill, then I ate a scallop and similarly became unwell so I haven’t eaten shellfish or molluscs for years. But then this brown crab mayonnaise, celeriac slaw, crab and pear with hazelnut dressing came over, and I thought, even if I do get ill at least it’ll have been worth it. My first taste of crab and it was delicious, delicate and light and the flavours worked so well together. And I’m pleased to say not even a slight hint of illness so this won’t be my last crab taste either!
Next we tried some local black pudding, home cured bacon, apple and sage and I think this was my favourite dish of the evening. The black pudding had been briefly baked in the oven and it was so delicate to cut into and eat, it just fell apart. The home cured bacon was divine and the sweet apple and earthy sage rounded everything off perfectly.
After this we tried the slow cooked lamb shoulder, wild garlic yoghurt and British quinoa tabbouleh. I really enjoyed this. The lamb was melt in the mouth, the tabbouleh was so fresh and a nice change to be made from British quinoa and the wild garlic yoghurt was faint and delicious mixed in with all the other ingredients.
The last savoury course was roasted quash, spelt, onion, pickled ewes cheese and purple watercress. I’m not too keen on squash but I did eat it! The roasted onions in this combined with the ewes cheese (think feta, but local) was so good. The spelt had a great texture, slightly chewy and made the dish really hearty.
The chef wasn’t quite sure what we would be having for pudding but one of the trainee chefs had cooked up a lemon and rosemary cake so we had that with rosemary sugar and cream. Lemon and rosemary are a match made in heaven and a little slice of cake and cream was just the thing to finish the meal.
Overall I loved it and I can’t wait to go back. On Sundays they offer both vegetarian and vegan roast dinner alongside their other Sunday roasts and there’s lots of gluten free options available too so it seems like the ideal place for modern dining; something for everyone no matter what their dietary requirements. Considering the location, décor and that it’s a ‘celebrity chef’ restaurant I think the prices are very reasonable. The prices and food put a lot of my local ‘gastropubs’ to shame. For dinner starters start at £4.50, mains from £12.50 and puddings at £6.50.
This meal was paid for by The River Cottage Canteen. All opinions expressed and words are my own.