Lunch at the Chesil Rectory, Winchester [review]

Find out what I thought about our Saturday lunchtime visit to the historic Chesil Rectory restaurant in Winchester to sample to lunchtime set menu.

Many couples have a few debts to pay off when they get married. Few end up paying back their wedding bills with a home.

This happened to Henry VIII’s daughter Mary after she married King Philip of Spain in 1554. Dad clearly broke with tradition on that day, because it was the people of the city of Winchester, rather than the King of England, who put the proverbial credit card behind the bar.

As a result, Mary gave several buildings to the city to help pay off the debt. Originally a private home and then a rector’s house, one of these buildings was the Chesil Rectory.

Historic

This restaurant, which on the east bank of the River Itchen on Chesil Street, claims to be the oldest commercial building in Winchester. It’s timber framed with a cute porch and twin gables that jut over the pavement.

To enter, we followed in the trottersteps of the livestock that would use this entrance to gain access to the back of the house back in the day. The staff then showed us to our table by one of the front windows.

Inside, the cosiness created by the low, beamed ceilings, stripped floors and narrow doorways is complemented by the restaurant’s traditional and modestly plush decor. There’s a few antique game and fish prints hanging on the walls, but nothing that’s out of place in this 16th century building. I particularly liked the pictures of Itchen trout staring back at me.

Good value

After Tiff had ordered a glass of white wine from the varied wine list (I was nursing a gin-inflicted hangover so I stuck with water), I continued on a fish tip by ordering a two-course fish meal from the good-value set menu – a starter of trout rillette followed by the selection of market fish. Tiff plumped for pea soup followed by the confit of chicken leg.

The restaurant specialises in “modern British classics” sourced from mostly local suppliers. Other options on the set menu (two courses £17.95, three courses £21.95) included a pork, apricot and pistachio terrine and a tomato tarte. Main courses on the main menu included sea trout, duck breast, monkfish tails and stuffed courgette flowers, all in the £14-22.50 price range.

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Impressive

While we waited for our starters, I used a trip to the loo as an excuse to wander around the impressive premises on my way to the loo.

Downstairs, there are two main rooms, the one we were in being slightly more snug than the reception room. Up the narrow staircase is a small bar area, another eating area and a private dining room. It was a scorcher of a day today. But I can imagine the Chesil Rectory a lovely place to spend a chilly winter’s eve.

Not long after I returned from my jaunt, our starters arrived. Tiff was very pleased with her refreshing and naturally sweet pea soup.

I was equally happy with my rillette, which came with pickled cucumber to give it an east-Asian feel. The delicately thin toast perched on it made sure it wasn’t too filling, leaving room for the main course.

As you’d expect, the market fish selection depends on what’s available at the market on a particular day. Today’s selection was battered squid, smoked haddock, king prawn and monkfish, served with a lime salad, shaved fennel and sauce vierge (olive oil, lemon juice and coriander seeds).

It was lovely and light and perfect for the time of day and weather conditions (although probably not textbook hangover food!). The haddock and monkfish melted in my mouth and the floury batter made the fried squid taste very British. My only qualm was that the coriander leaves tied with the seeds in the sauce were a little overpowering.

Tiff’s confit chicken leg arrived on a bed of spiced sweetcorn with onion ketchup and rissole potatoes. I snatched a bite or two and it was delicious, especially the potatoes (I may have stolen one…)

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Tempting

Tiff, keen to hit the shops and me, keen to have a nap in the park, decided against a dessert even though the gooseberry and elderflower fool was tempting me.

Instead, we settled the bill and headed into into the sunshine, made brighter by my fuzzy head. Luckily, I was able hide behind my shades as we bode farewell to the friendly staff who were efficient, polite and not over-formal throughout our visit – perfect for the setting, they were.

We had an ace time at the Chesil Rectory this afternoon. The food and service was great. But it was the historic ambience that stole the show.

I wonder if Mary and Philip did manage to pay off that wedding in the end?

Info: The Chesil Rectory is at 1 Chesil St, Winchester, SO23 0HU. Phone 01962 851555. Parking is at the Chesil multi-story car park.

Tom's rating: