My Favourite Places
Winchester, as any self-respecting Wintonian will tell you, is a former capital of England. They will also tell you that we possess the original and authentic Round Table of King Arthur and that there is roughly the same number of coffee shops as there are residents. The latter fact caused me problems when selecting my favourite places to visit, as I could hardly write about the difference in coffee blends and the varying consistency of blueberry muffins.
Thankfully, as of last week, Winchester’s newest cocktail bar came to the rescue. For a long time Wintonians have been crying out for a venue that is unique and Incognito is just that. As someone who maintains that they were born in the wrong era, it was delightful to walk into this bizarre scene reminiscent of Around the World in 80 Days. The walls are adorned with hand drawn images of well-dressed Victorian gentlemen, and many of the guests are wearing a variety of period headwear, namely safari pith helmets and top hats. The cocktails (or libations as they are called in this environment) are quite something to behold. A certain theatre and occasion is created when serving them, and the end product is worthy of the delivery. I myself plumped for a “Davy Jones Locker” which is a blend of rum, ruby port and loose-leaf tea, served in a gold chest decorated with a both an octopus and an authentic, eerie mist. The candy floss martini and a cocktail which is quite literally on fire (its name escapes me) are also ones to try if you get the chance. When looking for somewhere away from the crowds and loud music, this surely has to be the new place to go in Winchester.
Skipping back to the aforementioned coffee shop epidemic, I do feel obliged to pick one out of the bunch. Coffee Lab has a whiff of the hipster, it is split into two separate shops—one which, I am delighted to report, opens early for the benefit of commuters like me. The coffee is excellent; rich and not bitter, the milk not burnt as is often the case in more mainstream coffee shops. The food is always freshly prepared and the cake will satisfy your inner Bruce Bogtrotter (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, re-read Roald Dahl’s Matilda this instant).
The Pig in the Forest
My next destination diverts from Winchester momentarily, but is well worth the trip. You may accuse me of bias as I was a Sommelier here, but The Pig in the Forest will always hold a special place in my heart. From the moment you sweep up the driveway and step through the door, you feel that you have arrived at home. And what a home it is. Relaxed, comfortable lounges and drawing rooms offer somewhere to rest by open fires, with board-games and books at your disposal. The bar offers unique cocktails created in house, and the wine list is innovative and extensive. The restaurant is the crowning jewel, with fresh ingredients being sourced from within 25-miles of the hotel, many, in fact, are grown in the large and immaculate kitchen garden (open for you to wander around). Should you be looking to spend a long weekend, the hotel is located in the heart of the New Forest and all of its wonderful walks and sights are but a stone throw away, so you’ll have plenty to do!
St Catherine’s Hill
Back if I may to Winchester. I have recently discovered photography as a hobby, and the hill offers superb views of the city and its surrounding area so I spend a lot of time here. Cows and sheep often graze freely and the large open areas offer excellent space to walk an energetic and often over excited cocker spaniel (Dylan). A word of warning however: it is quite the climb, so go prepared. The views are well worth the effort when you get there…
On a recent visit to London, I discovered this vegetarian and vegan restaurant that offers meat-free twists on classic dishes. You can find them in various parts of London (we visited the King’s Cross restaurant), and you won’t be disappointed. As a lifelong meat-eater who has recently stumbled across a vegan girlfriend, it is only now that I have opened my mind to the idea of meat-free meals and all that is available. With vegetarianism and veganism showing a rapid increase, I’d urge anyone to go and try it out.
The West End
A final footnote. Another by-product of the above new relationship is visiting the theatre, I recently saw my first proper West End show, Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre, and am looking forward to my next show in the summer when The King and I begins its run at The London Palladium.
Head over to Berry Bros & Rudd’s Wine Warehouse for more of Paul’s Hampshire-based musings on wine, cocktails and er, veganism. If you’re lucky he, or one of his colleagues, might even advise you on which bottle to buy.