Dorset’s most famous dough-based export is arguably the Dorset Knob – the savoury biscuit that encourages unsavoury jokes.
Now though, the Knob has some serious competition in the form of the sourdough pizza bases on offer at The Stable – a restaurant that began life at the back of a Dorset hotel, but now has branches opening in places as far afield as Cardiff and Birmingham.
The Stable opened its first Hampshire restaurant earlier this year in Winchester. Now, it’s Southampton’s turn – the newest Stable opened on 4 November. Tiff and I went along to check out the restaurant and sample some complementary slices of pizza.
For a city that straddles the waters of the Itchen, Test and Solent, Southampton disappoints when it comes to waterside eating and drinking. However, the council is currently putting the finishing touches to a mostly pedestrianised “Cultural Quarter” using the imposing entrance of Southampton Guildhall as its focal point. It’s nowhere near the water. But it’s shaping up to be a nice place to visit for a drink in the summer sunshine or something to eat.
It’s here that we find The Stable, with it’s neon “pizza, pies, cider” signs shining down onto the newly paved Above Bar Street. We passed the picnic benches – perfect for some summer al fresco pizza – on the spacious pavement in front of the restaurant and made our way inside.
While the menus at The Stable’s 10 restaurants are quite similar (despite some tweaks to prioritise locally sourced ingredients where possible), its dining spaces are remarkably different from location to location.
For instance, its Fistral restaurant is in a beach-front complex with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Atlantic – the total opposite of the Winchester Stable, which is a cosier venue housed in a building on one of the city’s historic streets.
The Southampton restaurant is different again. It’s housed in a purpose-built space, with extra-high ceilings. Seating is informal, at long tables with benches. The bar’s on the left-hand side as you walk in – this is where you order your food along with your drinks.
Upstairs is a more intimate dining area on a mezzanine that overlooks the main dining area. As with its other restaurants, you can watch the chefs preparing the pizzas in their cooking area near the back of the room.
While we made our acquaintance with the new restaurant, the “stablehands” treated us to some slices of pizza. Actually, it was more than “some” slices – the pizza kept coming and coming, which was fine with us.
We started off with the “Hampshire Hog” (£13.00) – cured pork on a tomato sauce base with rocket and Dijon mustard. Next came the “Four Cheese Special” (£10.50) featuring four cheeses from Hampshire’s Lyburn and Two Hoots cheese companies.
We also sampled the beef and bacon “Blazing Saddle” (£13.00); The Stable’s twist on the classic “Hawaiian” (£11.00); “Billy the Kidd” with its goats’ cheese, caramelised onions and roasted hazelnuts (£12.00); the “Pilgrim Pecker” chicken pizza (£11.00); and “King Canute’s Catch” (£12.00) with smoked salmon and mackerel, which didn’t really do it for me.
I also risked a slice of the incredibly hot “Sotonian Scorcher” (£11.00) with its spicy pork and naga chilli topping (one slice was enough for me!).
My favourite pizzas at The Stable are the ones that come with roasted potato.
Luckily, we were able to save these until last – The “Barkham Blues” (£10.50) comes with herb-roasted potato, Two Hoots’ Barkham blue cheese, roasted onions and spinach, while the “Wooly Woolston” (£11.50) is topped with marinated lamb, mint, roasted sweet potato, roasted onions and goats’ cheese.
More than just pizza
Tonight was a chance to showcase the amazing pizzas on offer at The Stable. But there’s also west-country-inspired pies and substantial salads on the menu (all £9.50).
Plus, you can get lighter meals on a lunchtime including wraps (£6.50), ploughman’s boards (£9.00), tarts (£7.00) and pork or beef rolls (£8.00).
The desserts look pretty special too. We tried a slice each of the Nutella Pizza Pudding (£4.40/£7.00) – a pizza with drizzled Nutella and spoonfuls of mascarpone.
If you don’t know already, The Stable is famous in drinking circles as a purveyor of cider, many of which are from local producers. Expect to find 60 or more ciders available – I don’t know anywhere else in Southampton that has anything close to this.
Unlike my last visit to a Stable restaurant , I held back on the fermented apple juice this time, despite the boxes of still cider with names like “Slack Alice” and “Black Dragon” glaring at me provocatively from behind the bar.
I did however sample a few (well, it would have been rude not to).
Then, with a little help and a small taster from the knowledgeable “stablehand” behind the bar, I ordered another Dorset still cider called “Devil’s Leaf” (medium – 6%) – the devil in the detail being that it’s a cider infused with nettles from the Purbeck Cider Company.
And, if you don’t have an afternoon, or you’re not sure if you prefer your cider sweet, medium, or dry, you can opt for a tasting board of five different ciders.
More on the “stablehands”
A quick word about the waiting staff, too.
How refreshing it was to see so many smiling faces among the ranks. They were friendly, happy to help, attentive and extremely knowledgeable about the pizzas. And, with so many of them from the local area, a credit to the city.
I don’t head into Southampton much these days. But it’s definitely starting to feel like a city on the up after the regeneration in old town and now the “Cultural Quarter” progressing well.
When I do make the trip, I can definitely see myself heading back to The Stable, maybe to sample one of those pies next time.
I also need to work my way through those ciders – only 57 more to go…
Info: The Stable, Southampton is at Unit 6, Above Bar Street, Southampton. Email: info [at] stablepizza.com or call 023 8023 6710. You can get a pizza, side salad and a drink for £10 from 5pm on Tuesdays. Watch out for their occasional free pizza nights, too.
Disclaimer: The food and some of the drink at this event was free. Yep – free pizza.