The Chesil Rectory: review

(by peter)

Two visits in eight days must count as a record for us in any restaurant – so what was it about The Chesil Rectory that made us come back for more?

First, by way of background: when we moved to Winchester, the first question we naturally asked people was, where’s the best place to eat? After the umpteenth Chesil Rectory recommendation, we decided to give it a go.

Chesil RectoryIt’s a lovely old timber-framed building which apparently dates back to 1450 – though it has only been under its current ownership since October 2008. Creaking, worryingly springy floorboards and occasional stooping is the order of the day – but inside it manages that difficult combination of making you feel both uncrowded and cosy.

The a la carte evening menu is not cheap (mains up to £19, starters up to £9) but is fairly priced given the quality of the food. The food is British cuisine, generally very capably put together (by former Fortnum & Mason chef Damian Brown), often subtle, and heartily enjoyable without being top quality. Standout dishes so far have been the salt cod scotch egg, cauliflower soup, new forest venison and rice pudding (though there were vehement disagreements over the inclusion of a good dollop of indifferent jam in the latter – some thought this beyond the pale).

Chesil Rectory 2It’s also an interesting operation from a wine perspective.

The wine list takes a bit of studying, even though it’s not long, and provides a reasonable (if not abundant) number of options at most levels. Talking to Iain Longhorn, one of the partners in the restaurant and head wine man, they are keen to get in new and distinctive wines, and work with quality suppliers like Novum, which is always a good sign. Mark-ups are generally very reasonable at the top end – take the delicious La Spinetta Barbera d’Asti we had, at £37.95.

The house wines are the restaurant’s own labels – sourced from a Minervois estate run by Chapel Down founder David Cowderoy. And partner Mark Dodd was also keen to emphasise that the restaurant offers a take-home service at “retail” prices (ie deducting £10 from list prices) on all wines.

While the by-the-glass selection is not as full or toothsome as I’d like it to be, they do offer a fair number of wines by the carafe – something we’d like to see more of in all restaurants.

The Chesil Rectory also runs wine evenings and has an attractively priced lunch menu. It was recently awarded the highest rating in the Winchester area in the Which? Good Food Guide 2010, as well as two AA Rosettes.

Both times we’ve been, we’ve found it hospitable, decent value and thoroughly enjoyable.

Peter’s rating: 7/10