Despite being a small city, Winchester is bursting at the seams with outstanding coffee shops, restaurants and pubs. Here are my highlights from the foodie heart of Hampshire:
The Black Rat, 88 Chesil Street (also The Black Boy, 1 Wharf Hill and The Black Bottle, 4 Bridge Street)
Awarded a Michelin Star in 2008, just a year after opening, The Black Rat is the best location for fine dining in Winchester. It’s run by the owners of The Black Boy, a famously eccentric pub filled with taxidermy and antique curiosities, and The Black Bottle, a wine bar in which punters load up cards with credit which can then be used to sample a selection from the extensive wine list. Housed in an 18th century building, formerly a pub, The Black Rat is full of character. The menu changes with the seasons and ingredients are mainly sourced from local suppliers, a vegetable garden at the back of the restaurant and their own forager. The dishes are inventive and unique, with flavour combinations that evoke fabulous taste sensations – my boyfriend’s parfait dessert came with a pine granita (among other things) which tasted to him, he said, ‘like a Scandinavian forest’. The current menu includes a selection of six starters, main courses and desserts. My current favourites are the day boat Cornish brill dish, served with chopped rock oyster, seaweed oil, florets, black quinoa, broccoli and soy relish, and the Iberico pork presa with smoked apple and beetroot puree, kohlrabi, apple and parsley salad, hazelnut praline and acorn salt.
El Sabio, 60 Eastgate Street
Residing behind an understated exterior, this tapas restaurant goes above and beyond the usual patatas bravas and calamari fare to bring the taste of sunny Spain to hungry diners. Live musicians and flamenco dancers perform on a regular basis, contributing to the already cosy atmosphere and Mediterranean feel. The pan catalán (traditional Catalan bread rubbed with garlic and topped with tomatoes), datiles cabrales (dates and soft cheese wrapped in serrano ham), venado con jerez y cabrales (venison stew) and queso de cabra frito con higos (deep fried goats cheese with fig dip) are highlights of the wide-ranging menu.
The Wykeham Arms, 75 Kingsgate Street
Founded in 1755, The Wykeham Arms is situated close to the cathedral and college; it’s a typical Hampshire pub with a roaring fire, walls adorned with bric-a-brac and pictures aplenty of Winchester’s rich history, and a faithful clientele. The restaurant at the back is small and popular and offers the best food you’ll find in a pub here. The meals served are well thought out and feature high-quality ingredients; the meat in particular is always of a superior quality to other local venues. The dishes are complimented by quirky elements such as hot onion panna cotta, cocoa gnocchi and harissa mayonnaise and the presentation is superb.
Buddy’s Diner, 5 Jewry Street
Let Buddy’s colourful décor, traditional diner booths and rock ‘n’ roll blaring jukebox transport you to 1950s America. This diner is an absolute gem and the best you’ll find this side of the Atlantic (trust me – I’ve spent a long time looking). The menu offers everything you’d expect to find here: burgers named after classic American cars, chilli cheese fries, hot dogs and buffalo chicken wings. The burgers are fat and juicy – the best kind of messy meal. Buddy’s also serve a range of milkshakes to which a double-shot of Bailey’s can be added if desired.
No. 5 Bridge Street, 5 Bridge Street
A restaurant, bar and hotel, No. 5 Bridge Street offers a menu inspired by local, seasonal produce, from grilled fish to gourmet pasta dishes (wild garlic gnocchi!) to posh burgers in brioche baps. Diners can enjoy their meals in the stylish surroundings – the restaurant was recently shortlisted for a Restaurant and Bar Design Award.
Black, White and Red, 28 Jewry Street
This restaurant/coffee and wine bar combination has an impressive evening menu and holds regular wine tastings, but I recommend stopping in during the daytime for an all-day brunch; the ever-changing menu ranges from traditional to slightly more unusual dishes, such as my favourite – crumbed beetroot and potato cakes with poached eggs, spinach and mustard crème fraiche.
The Cornerhouse, 71 North Walls
Head here for a leisurely weekend brunch, but be prepared to book ahead. I recommend the eggs Alresford – muffins topped with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce and served with a generous helping of locally grown watercress. The Cornerhouse also serves lunch and dinner and the shabby chic interior creates a relaxed, homely feel.
Ginger Two, 28&29 St. Thomas Street
Styling itself as a ‘boutique café’, this charming tea shop delivers on its promise to serve the best tea and cake in Winchester. For lunch you can choose from sandwiches, mezze platters, soups and salads or stop in for a reasonably priced afternoon tea.
Chococo, 152 High Street
Run by the award-winning Dorset-based chocolatiers of the same name, this shop and café sells artisan chocolate products, cakes and hot drinks – all of which are delicious. The teas are from the nearby Char tea specialist and the cakes are from Little Bee Bakery in Romsey.