I was born and raised in Hampshire and I can safely say there a very few truly decent restaurants in the area. Winchester is a town that has attracted some cheffy names with the likes of Brasserie Blanc, Rick Stein’s and now Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall with River Cottage Canteen.
It’s a charming space; we sat on the ground floor dining room which had a converted barn feel with wooden beams overhead draped in thick rope. Mismatched chairs made for a modern look.
Things started well with some decent focaccia and a really delightful rapeseed oil. From the ‘smaller plates’ section, or starters as I like to call them, the Portland crab with samphire and new potato salad (£8.75) featured generous amounts of white crab meat. The sauce, made using the brown meat, was a touch grainy for me and the whole thing lacked a good turn of the pepper mill.
Seared Hampshire beef carpaccio (£8.25) was of exquisite quality and the beef was brought alive by the addition of blackcurrants. It was all overly salty though which was a shame. “Hand dived Lime Bay scallops” (£9.95) was an @WeWantPlates tweet waiting to happen, due to them being served in their shells and on a plank of wood. Even still, the flavour was beautiful.
For mains, there was a lack of consistency with the Branston Farm pork belly (£16), as two plates on the same table looked completely different. The pork was ruddy delicious though, with a nice slab of crackling too. My pan fried South Coast hake (£16.95) was a glorious piece of fish and the accompanying crab crushed potatoes were a great match for it. No seasoning though.
A side of canteen chips (£3.25) were crispy and crunchy but there was way too much rosemary salt on them. Too much and too little seasoning seemed to be a recurring feature of our meal.
For pud, a simple bowl of vanilla custard with a blackcurrant sauce topped with chewy meringues (£6.50) was a sweet and sharp delight.
Service was friendly but a little forgetful; empty glasses were left on our table for long periods of time. The menu features carefully sourced ingredients and if the kitchen can be a little more precise on seasoning and presentation then River Cottage Canteen would certainly be the best place to eat in the area.