review by Louise van Wingerden
The Fisherman’s Haunt is a pub and hotel in Winkton, just outside Christchurch.
It’s a beautiful setting, on the edge of the New Forest and right by the River Avon. Although built as a private house in 1673, the building has been a pub for many years. Once teeming with fishermen in their wellies and waterproofs, nowadays the Fisherman’s Haunt is a little more upmarket – although the restaurant meals are still very reasonably priced.
Paul and I visited on a Saturday evening, and found that there was ample space in the car park. The initial impression was welcoming – outside the pub is a large courtyard with decking and room for plenty of tables, with a combination of fairy lights and old-style lampposts. A large apple tree laden with fruit completes the look.
When we arrived, just before 7pm, a few of the outside tables were occupied but the bar was reasonably quiet. The restaurant was quite busy, however – which was a good sign, we thought. The décor was eye-catching but not garish, the facilities were clean and there were fresh flowers at our table.
We were seated by the window, where we had a view of the terrace and several lushly cultivated hanging baskets. The service was excellent – as soon as we were seated we were asked whether we’d like a drink. We both opted for soft drinks, and a carafe of tap water was brought to the table along with these. We were also asked whether we had any allergens – clearly the Fuller’s staff training is exemplary.
Our order was taken promptly. I asked for a prawn cocktail starter, which when it arrived had more prawns than I’ve ever seen on one plate. I used to love prawn cocktails in the eighties, before they went out of fashion for restaurant dining, and I’m very happy that they’ve come back in again. I can report that not only were my prawns plentiful, they were also tasty and succulent.
Paul chose a starter of hummus with Kalamata olives and a liberal sprinkling of pine nuts, which was served with flat bread. Again, the portion size was generous. I can also confirm that the hummus was delicious. Paul might not have been impressed that, as I informed him, it was now my job to taste his food, but the arrangement worked for me.
Leaving the restaurant for a quick rest break, I was surprised to see that the bar was full, with lots of people clearly enjoying their night out. No noise had filtered through to the restaurant area, which was also filling up, mostly with couples but also with one or two families. This brought back memories of our last visit to the Fishermans’s Haunt, with friends, when our eldest daughter was a baby. That must have been 18 years ago…
Anyway, after a wait of just the right length, our main courses arrived. I had selected blackened salmon – not burned obviously, but adorned with a tasty mix of Cajun spices. Paul agreed with me that the salmon packed quite a punch (I did let him share my food too). The buttered new potatoes that came with my meal were delicious and the plate was also loaded with avocado, tomato and tarragon salad. It was almost too much food.
Paul had selected Owton’s dry-aged 8oz ribeye steak. This came with triple cooked chips and since it was now my job, I sampled one of these. According to a quick search on the internet before our visit to the Fisherman’s Haunt, Heston Blumenthal invented the triple cooked fries. They are first simmered to blanch them, then dried off and fried twice – this makes the perfect combination of crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside. Paul told me his steak was also very good and he particularly enjoyed the watercress and shallot salad that accompanied the dish, which was also garnished with mushrooms and a large beef tomato.
By the time the dessert menu arrived, I was so full that I didn’t think I could manage another bite. But then my curiosity was piqued by the option of buffalo milk ice cream. We were informed by the restaurant manager that this comes from Laverstoke Park, a local bio-dynamic and organic farm. He said it was excellent – having a higher nutrient content and also more calcium and fat than cow’s milk. We both had the salted caramel flavour, and it was indeed very good – smooth, thick, and rich. Paul had a chocolate and orange crème brulee to go with his ice-cream, so I struggled through a couple of spoonfuls too, which actually wasn’t a hardship.
As our meal drew to a close and the evening darkened, our seat by the window paid dividends, as we were treated to a beautiful sunset. It was the perfect end to a lovely evening out.