The eating scene in Winchester is pretty darn good, and the sweet cobbled city is easy to get to from London (57 minutes from Waterloo, to be exact), offering a more tranquil but no-less-delicious alternative to eating out in the Big Smoke. I’m a big fan of The Black Rat (read my review of The Black Rat in Winchester) and The Wykeham Arms, and now I can add No.5 Bridge Street to my list of my favourite Winchester restaurants.
Recently, I was lucky enough to be invited to No.5 Bridge Street, which is aptly positioned near the bridge, opposite The Black Bottle, and is part of the Ideal Collection family, who also look after a couple of other places I really like the look of. Like many of Winchester’s better eating establishments, the building is very fitting, boasting a cottage-like exterior, rustic beams and big windows. You can’t help but imagine how great it’ll look at Christmas! Inside it’s a little maze of rooms that shoot off of the central bar, which swoops around and is framed by a bounty of bottles. There are lots of dining tables, evenly spaced so you feel like you’re eating with your choice of companions rather than Kevin and Sally at the next table, plus there are seats at the bar and an area outside that’s heated. In the main part of the restaurant towards the back, the small kitchen is open, so you can watch the chefs hard at work. In the evening, which is when my Dad and I visited, the lights are low (hence the moody foodie pics below – sorry!), and it feels open and modern but quite cosy too. In short, it’s a really nice set-up.
The main reason for my visit was the fact that No.5 Bridge Street has recently changed its menu from big ol’ starters, mains and puds, to small plates – I’m told that the kitchen has always been designed to work this way but it’s only now that everything has fallen into place to make that original vision a reality. Yes, it’s quite a change, but I think it’s a smart one. Also, when I say ‘small plates’, you might imagine tapas that doesn’t fill you up, dishes that come all at once with certain things being devoured before you can try them, and a little less attention paid to presentation. This is nowhere near to what you get at No.5 Bridge Street. The menu isn’t huge, but it’s ample, and it’s divided into Tidbits, The Botanists, The Graziers and Desserts. There’s a specials board too. Each plate is made up of what I’d deem the ‘star of the show’, which is displayed with gorgeous, seasonal and locally-sourced accompaniments and just the right amount of smudges and garnishes. The plates are pretty but not poncy, and the portions are plentiful. Oh, and the plates are brought out one at a time, giving you a chance to really enjoy each one, and just the right amount of time to sip wine, chat and digest is left between each one’s arrival. No.5 Bridge Street has leisurely eating down.
After being welcomed by pretty much every member of staff from the bar to the restaurant, we were seated at a table for two with a great view of the kitchen and the patio outside. The atmosphere is bustling and friendly – a great place to get a group of friends together or for a family celebration. Our waitress took us through the menu, told us about the specials and made some recommendations – never have I spoken to staff so enamoured with their food, it was really lovely. Some things were new and I loved that they didn’t pretend they’d had it but encouraged us to try and report back.
So, what did we eat? We kicked off with one of my absolute favourites: Creamed Burrata (with Balsamic and Roasted Figs). I had assumed it would be a big gooey ball we would break into but it was completely different. The cheese was kind of shredded and then doused in the most moreish balsamic and topped with jammy figs. The combination of salty and sweet, creamy and a little crunch from the figs’ innards was divine. I only hope this makes its way onto the permanent menu!
Next came the Sweetcorn and Jalapeno Fritters with BACON JAM. Yes, you read right – jam made with bacon. Again, the fusion of salty and sweet with a little spicy kick at the end was on the money. The batter was really light and each fritter was jam-packed. We followed this with Pea & Mint Gnocchi with Goats Cheese, Peas and Basil. Imagine thumb-sized pillows of fluffy potato-y goodness, lightly toasted and flanked by the freshest most pea-like peas (you know what I mean, when they really taste like what they are, so fresh and pea-y, like the garden..!) and tart yet creamy goats cheese. My dad is not a big veg fan, but he basically licked this plate clean, green puree and all.
Riding high on the meat-free wave, we plumped for Roasted Aubergine with Tahini and Cumin Yoghurt, Pomegranates and Peanuts. The aubergine was soft in the middle and charred around the edges, a taste that was balanced with the tahini and softened by the yoghurt. The crunch from the pomegranates and whole peanuts brought brilliant texture. Again – clean plate.
By this stage, we were FULL. But with a little convincing from dad that I wasn’t doing my restaurant review duty if I didn’t sample just a few more dishes, we ploughed on. The staff unanimously agreed we should try the next two: Grilled King Oyster Mushrooms, Gremolata and Shaved Pecorino, and Salt Marsh Lamb with White Bean Puree, Samphire and Crispy Cockles. To be honest, I would have picked them both anyway – how good do they sound!? The mushrooms were firm and woody and paired well with the crumbly cheese. And the lamb, well, let me tell you about THE LAMB. This was my favourite dish – salty, meaty, soft, crunchy, yummy. The roundel of lamb was fat and tall and beautifully cooked. The outside appeared firm but one prod of the fork and the shredded, crumbly middle of meaty goodness fell apart. It was succulent and totally addictive. The samphire was a great choice to go with it as it was fresh and green-tasting but crunchy against the tender meat, and the bean puree was genius. A bit salty but creamy in texture, it was also pretty addictive. As you know, I steer clear of anything from the sea, but I have it on good authority that the crispy battered baby cockles were a fine finisher.
All washed down with a bottle of the house red (which is about £20 and pretty darn tasty), we were full. But then the dessert menu came. Again, it’s not huge, which you’d think would make the decision easier, but since each pud is so different from the last, it’s quite the task. We were going to share one between toe – honest! – but we went our separate ways once I saw the Carrot Sponge. A deconstructed carrot cake of sorts, my dessert was the biggest dessert I have ever had the pleasure of devouring. Moist carrot-y sponge was piled high and topped with ice cream that tasted like the festive season and several blobs of vanilla frosting. A sprinkling of sugary candied walnuts sealed the deal. Dad went for the richest choice of all, Dark Chocolate Brulee with Caramelised White Chocolate Mousse and Raspberries. I’d give you his one-word review but it’s hard to spell. It went something like this: MMMMMggghhhnnmmmmmmmmmmm.
If you’ve been to No.5 Bridge Street before and not tried their new small plates scenario yet, I implore you to go. Yes, it’s different, especially in a city so synonymous with hearty and conventional pub lunches, but you will not be disappointed by this plentiful and well-presented take. Change, in this case, is a good thing. And, if you haven’t been at all, go. I didn’t eat anything I didn’t love, the setting is superb – casual yet refined – and the staff were some of the nicest I’ve ever been looked after by. 10/10.
Dinner plates range from £4.50 to £13 at No.5 Bridge Street. Breakfast, brunch, lunch and drinks are also served.
Reservations: 01962 863838 / Reservations@no5bridgestreet.co.uk
P.S! If you sign up for a FREE loyalty card, you’ll get 10% off every time you visit No.5 Bridge Street. No-brainer! Get yours here.