Winchester, 2016’s ‘best place to live in Britain’*, is indeed a beautiful city. In the space of a 10-minute walk you can enjoy Winchester High Street peppered with talented buskers, imposing views of Winchester Cathedral and the River Kitchen, which passes through the National Trust’s city watermill. But it’s Winchester’s restaurants and foodie scene that attracts us the most – take a look at our top 10 suggestions for where to eat and drink in Winchester.
Hannah’s b&b – best place to stay in Winchester
Hannah’s B&B is a cleverly converted dancehall designed and run by Hannah McIntyre, who lives on the premises. It offers complimentary afternoon tea on the patio, a genius idea and one that encourages guests to treat their B&B like home. If the weather doesn’t suit, take tea in the library instead, complete with cosy log fire and arched bookcase.
Hannah makes everything herself, including aromatic honey, lavender and Earl Grey loaf (her own recipe); and raw chocolate brownies. Take as much as you want, but leave room for the Winchester Cocoa Company chocolate bar on your pillow upstairs.
Breakfast is taken in what used to be a garage – hard to believe, given the platform-raised oak piano in the corner and exposed wooden beams. It begins with homemade granola (“I always serve a ‘starter’ at breakfast,” says Hannah), fresh berries, yogurt and sticky marmalade loaf. Next, buttery mushrooms, creamy scrambled egg, bacon, sausages and oregano-roasted cherry tomatoes with toast, and a glass of freshly squeezed pear and pineapple juice.
Hannah has an eye for tasteful, contemporary design and has decorated the B&B herself. There are trendy industrial elements to the rooms, including towel racks made from copper pipes and matching copper washbasins. We loved the little basket of easy-to-forget items (like a toothbrush) in the bathroom, too.
King-size beds fitted with Egyptian cotton sheets, free (yes, free!) Netflix, chunky wooden floors, Hannah’s own fig and vanilla bath products and the slipper bath upstairs make this one of the most luxurious B&Bs we’ve stayed in.
A top spot for lunch (although they do serve dinner on Fridays and Saturdays), Forte Kitchen on Parchment Street is easy to miss – the entrance may be tiny, but inside it’s a large, airy space with charcoal grey walls and clusters of industrial lights that look like giant spiders.
There’s plenty to choose from for lunch, but we like the sound of honey and orange roast ham with fried, free-range eggs and hand-cut chips; or the pastrami sandwich with gherkins and mustard.
Just a short walk from the house Jane Austen once lived in is The Wykeham Arms, an apparent favourite of Colin Firth and Robert Plant. It’s an 18th century coaching inn with beautiful curved, Georgian bow doors, a cosy but bright bar that’s managed to escape modernisation (we loved those tankards hanging from the ceiling) and a separate dining room decorated with wonky framed photos, Persian rugs, gnarled oak chairs and more tankards. It’s easy to imagine Austen in here, scribbling away by one of the original fireplaces.
There are rooms upstairs (including superior doubles with four-poster beds) and it’s a popular place for dinner – book in advance for prettily presented plates of ambitious seasonal food, including tempura oysters with wasabi ice cream; Hampshire ribeye steak; and chicken and pig’s trotter pie with mash and liquor.
The Black Rat – best Michelin starred dining in Winchester
The Black Rat is perhaps Winchester’s best spot for modern British dining. Once a pub, this 18th century Chesil Street restaurant achieved a Michelin star just one year after opening thanks to an innovative menu centred around local produce (the restaurant has its own professional forager) and ingredients from the kitchen garden.
It’s a refined, mature menu (only children over the age of 12 are allowed for dinner) that includes at least six mainly meaty options for each course. Try pigeon breast with blue cheese, grated cauliflower and red grapes to start, pressed pig’s head with beetroot choucroute (sauerkraut), pineapple puree and crispy ears for your main and matcha ice cream with sea buckthorn posset for dessert.
The Corner House – best brunch in Winchester
Our first recommendation that shirks wooden beams in favour of modern, fashionable interiors. Furniture is shabby chic, the atmosphere is informal and food is served all day, including homemade cakes and an imaginative cocktail menu – try a Danebury Wallop, made with Danebury Cossack sparkling wine (from a Hampshire vineyard), elderflower cordial and fresh mint, served with an After Eight mint.
Food ranges from sharing platters to butter bean and lime salsa salad for lunch, Hampshire lamb rump for dinner and sporadic vegan and vegetarian nights – we like the sound of courgette noodles with marinated local mushrooms and crushed cashews.
River Cottage Canteen – best vegetarian lunch in Winchester
Right in the heart of Winchester is the River Cottage Canteen, set inside the beautiful grade II-listed Abbey Mill. It’s a bustling atmosphere, with regular live music, meet-the-producer events and a clean, open-plan seating area with lights hanging from chunky fishing ropes, bright white walls and splashes of colour throughout.
Food is, as expected, local and seasonal. Lunch is served from 12-3 and is a good option for vegetarian diners – try slow-cooked cauliflower with flat bread, Laverstoke buffalo mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes, or a vegetarian meze board including split pea hummus, asparagus crumble and squash croquettes.
The Chesil Rectory – best gastro pub in Winchester
Both inside and out, The Chesil Rectory looks like it belongs in Godric’s Hollow. The building dates back to 1425 and is charmingly wonky, with an original black-beamed frontage and tiny entrance door that livestock once trampled through.
There’s a romantic, candlelit atmosphere (see how many vintage chandeliers you can count) and a delicate style of cooking. To start, a vibrant risotto made from local Secrett’s Farm beetroot was ever so slightly sweet, with a subtle tang from Hampshire goats’ cheese and fresh, herby rocket pesto.
Rosemary gnocchi, another starter, was crispy but buttery soft inside; it came with charred onions for a pleasant, barbecued taste. Peppered Hampshire venison was a minute-or-so undercooked, but still impressed with the intensity of flavour, matched by a syrupy blackcurrant jus and rich confit root vegetables.
Caramelised poached pears were balanced on a sable biscuit, with billowy Chantilly cream for company, and a precise slice of chocolate tart was decorated with candied almonds, coffee cream and a scoop of malty ice cream.
Relatively new to Winchester’s foodie scene is Palm Pan Asia on the High Street. What used to be a Blockbuster video store is now a modern, unfussy Thai and South East Asian restaurant that’s already gained a loyal local following. The Koong Chu Chi (prawn red curry) is one of their signature dishes.
Rick Stein – best high street restaurant in Winchester
Rick Stein’s High Street restaurant was the first of his chain to open outside Cornwall. There’s a set lunch menu, separate children’s menu and an evening à la carte that includes crab linguine, gremolata prawns, langoustines on ice and an Indonesian curry with sea bass, cod, prawns and crispy shallots.
Perhaps the best place for Japanese food in Winchester. It’s ultra-modern inside (bright pink walls and shiny wooden floors) but the food is time-honoured and authentic – choose from sushi, sashimi or teppanyaki dishes, the latter of which involves chefs cooking on hot iron plates in front of diners. Highlights include lobster teppanyaki and wagyu beef teppanyaki.