The Green Man, Winchester
There’s no mistaking this snug drinkery’s spit-and-sawdust origins; you can easily imagine cheeky, peaked-cap chappies winking at you from the bar. This is, after all, Winchester where past and present are often confused: as I write in the city library, a Norman Knight passes on his way to the Gents. There’s a very 21st century re-enactment outside my window so forgive me if I’m distracted by burly men in chainmail…
Have no fear though, you won’t be greeted by suspicious locals, or warriors, at The Green Man. In fact one waiter was French, the other Czech and on the table next to us a group of modern language students spoke a colourful Franglais.
Local restaurateur, Jayne Gillin’s interior is a glorious, and knowing, mash-up: part Rovers Return gorblimey boozer; part eccentric Country House, all wooden beer-pulls, heavy brocade, gramophones and an antelope’s head. This is Winchester writ small, an easy mix of the deep-past and the ultra-now with hipster beards behind the bar and The Hot 8 Brass Band’s cover of Sexual Healing on the speakers (find it on Youtube, THE best party tune).
Being a city pub downstairs space is at a premium.
Booking the day before, we were given a tiny corner table which was uncomfortably close to our neighbours.
The proper dining area is upstairs, so if you’re after a sit-down meal then ask to go there. Unfortunately, there was a meeting on the day I visited so I couldn’t see the space for myself, but from web pictures it looks like a spacious, Edwardian dining room.
If, however, you fancy a bottle of wine and nibbles then the downstairs area feels like a cosy pub-of-old with enough people to create a buzz but no shouting, loud music, or bar queues (nor space for my zimmer-frame, it seems!). There are a few banquettes on the other side of the bar, I’d ask for one when booking if you’re on Her Majesty’s business or simply sharing a bottle of wine with your sister — by far the most dangerous option.
The drinks list feels fresh with a strong emphasis on the quirky and local from Twisted Nose Gin distilled with Alresford watercress and lavender to Danebury’s English Sparkling Wine grown and produced only minutes down the road.
On to the food. British charcuterie is a watchword amongst any foodie who knows their salt (sorry) and Hampshire is the epicentre of this revival, so I was keen to sample a platter of deliciousness from New Forest producers A Pinch of Salt. The chorizo was first-in-class, its sweet paprika tang balancing nicely with the flavour depth of quality meat. Only the toasted sourdough was a slight letdown, lacking the malty umami of a truly great loaf.
Next up the Piri Piri Chicken Skewers with Chive Crème Fraîche. A big thumbs-up from my poultry loving sister, the tender chicken and cream spiked nicely by chives and chilli.
The — far too — easy-to-drink Merlot washed all this down at a very reasonable £13, all you can ask from a house wine.
Finally, the Lemon Posset with Ginger Biscuits left my palate sparkling; rich, smooth dairy sliced with citrus and grounded by a crunchy ginger crumb. Perfect.
Elsewhere, there’s a small covered space for drinks before eating in The Outhouse — a private area boasting chrome signage, brick walls and a long trestle-table for proper, dig-in-and-eat communal dining.
As you might have guessed, The Green Man is not the place for young children: a toddler could do some serious damage to the glass chandeliers and squeezing a buggy in would bring much finger-wagging from Mr Health and Safety.
So switch off the office email, wipe Peppa Pig from living memory and use the pub as a base to gorge on some seriously grown-up culture: food, wine, film, literature, history, architecture… lap it all up while you can.
Across the road, The Everyman Cinema curates an off-kilter rota of foreign and independent films, did I mention that it’s fully-licensed? Très civilisé.
For those visiting during the day, a short amble towards St Cross takes you into the tangle of Georgian and Tudor architecture that surrounds Hogwarts, sorry Winchester College. Spot the Wykehamists channeling Harry Potter in their coats and tails; onwards to the house where Jane Austen died, now a private residence with a decidedly unfriendly sign outside. Then across the close to the city’s soaring 11th-century Cathedral. I love this building — for Christians, Cling-Ons and everyone in-between, it’s a place where souls soar.
If you opt for The Green Man’s 28 Day Hung 8oz Rib Eye Steak, phew, then you’ll need a longer leg-stretch beyond the Cathedral to the water meadows that inspired Keats’ riff on “mists and mellow fruitfulness,” in Ode to Autumn. Onwards to the medieval Almshouse and then a serious climb up St Catherine’s Hill, see that’s why you needed the Chocolate Brownie Bits with cream and chocolate sauce!
St Catherine’s summit opens onto the sweeping South Downs which stretch all the way to Brighton. I’m always spellbound by this place, by its views across Winchester and its spooky association with Druids and medieval mystery: Oh no, there go those Norman Knights again…
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Foodies, date-nights and cosy tête-à-têtes. Adults in need of proper local food served with lashings of culture and country air.
Not for: Young children, but older teenagers will love its fresh, vibey atmosphere.
Like many ancient, market-towns Winchester’s parking is difficult. In the evening you might find spaces on the surrounding roads or in the cinema’s tiny carpark. If you plan to make a day of it, try the Park-and-Ride scheme. The bus will drop you on Jewry Street only a few minutes walk away. Alternatively, the train station is an easy, ten-minute downhill walk.
Remember to book ahead and ask for either the upstairs dining area or one of the banquettes.
££: A sharing platter, starter, pudding and a bottle of house red came to £25 per head. Great value for Winchester where you do pay London prices. Starters average at £6, mains at £12.
The Green Man, 53 Southgate St, Winchester, Hants. SO23 9EH. Tel: 01962 866809