Aptly called The Vestry, in a previous life the building served as a church. In it’s current form, it’s a bar and restaurant serving high quality food in a lively atmosphere.
Examining the menu, I was pleased to see there was a great deal of choice and a balance between local Hampshire produce and more exotic delicacies. Red Snapper leapt out (not literally) as something of a rarity in these parts and there were the ever favourite British staples like ham hock, steak, and a gourmet (sounding) fish and chips.
For starters, it was the warm chorizo and sweet potato salad, with a poached egg, basil oil and parsnip crisps that caught my eye – a combination of some of my favourite flavours. Having only recently visited Barcelona and tasted many varieties of chorizo, I was curious to see how well the dish would fare on English soil. To look at, the dish certainly delivered, although what it lacked in elegance of construction, it made up for tenfold with vibrant colours and a generous serving. In the eating, the dish balanced the saltiness of the chorizo beautifully with a slight peppery flavour and the meat was moist, but didn’t lose it’s shape. The poached egg added texture and heartiness and gave the ensemble a homely British feel. The parsnip crisps however suffered a lack of crispiness due to the overall moisture of the dish. But the big disappointment for me was the sweet potato which was rather underdone and cut into too tiny chunks to be as significant a contributor to the overall starter as I had hoped.
For my main course I chose the oven roasted corn-fed chicken with sauteed new potatoes and pancetta gravy. Those who may have read my blog before may know that I adore all forms of chicken and cook with it often. So when it comes to reviewing chicken dishes I am very picky and sadly I have to say this one left me a tad frustrated. Although the chicken was succulent and just the right side of moist, it was the gravy that ruined the party. Simply, there was too much of it. I do enjoy a splash of gravy, but when it consumes your plate, it confuses every other flavour. The pancetta made the gravy too salty and with the sheer amount of liquid, the potato became soggy, rendering its taste and texture impossible to assess.
I feel bad dismissing the dish for an elementary mistake but it really did cost the meal dearly and had the dish been less swamped, I think I would have a shared a different view.
But all was not lost. For dessert I chose the chocolate and hazelnut tart with pecan ice cream. I have recently formed a new love for pecan nuts, and like the aforementioned Red Snapper, this leapt out to me immediately. The nutty fragrance was present in both the crushed pecans themselves and in the ice cream. It was delicious. The pastry was crisp and the hazelnut and chocolate complimented each other well, as they always do. Overall it was a pleasing dish and although from a glance the portion looked merely adequate, it was a filling finale to the evening.
As a setting The Vestry is as remarkable and interesting a place to dine as you will find in Southampton, combining a strong sense of it’s spiritual past with a contemporary, homely atmosphere. The building thoughtfully reminds diners of it’s old identity through an original layout and religious artwork but makes them feel at home with romantic lighting, comfortable furniture and excellent service. The overall experience is very reasonable – a couple can dine for under £60 for a three course meal.