Royal Oak, a popular name for British pubs, is named after the English oak tree King Charles II hid in to escape the Roundheads after the Battle of Worcester in 1651.
At Langstone’s Royal Oak, the tree is commemorated by a glass mosaic of a verdant oak topped by a crown wedged in-between two beams. There’s fireplaces, prints of past times and brown-painted tongue and groove. No music plays.
The pub overlooks the harbour, a wildlife sanctuary, and is said to be one of the most photographed pubs in England. Sheltered away from the water behind the pub is a rather unkempt beer garden lacking in atmosphere.
The menu was vast, putting up warning flags that this is not an independent pub but one attached to a large conglomerate – Old English Inns, part of the mega Greene King group, all menus the same. No chef could possibly manage the 80 plus dishes.
Starters included soup; baked mushrooms stuffed with Stilton; king prawn cocktail; crispy chicken wings; black pearl scallops. Or there’s salad, many burgers, sandwiches, jackets and ciabattas.
Mains included open chicken and woodland mushroom pie described as farm-assured chicken breast; slow-cooked lamb shank; rump, sirloin and fillets steaks; mushroom and pappardelle pasta in a creamy sauce. The choice was varied and we’re accustomed to them all. Prices averaged a fiver for a starter, mains ranged from £7.99 to £15.75. There were other dishes on Wednesdays to Fridays too – as if this wasn’t enough choice.
The fish and chips with peas and chips – cod had replaced the haddock that day – took their time coming, which was surprising considering the few people in the seaside pub. And they weren’t in the beer garden either. Why not?
May I suggest that, if the fish and chips are anything to go by, those who have been here before may have been as disappointed as I was by the food – greasy yet crispy batter, the cod was an odd mix of over-wet to over-dry, suggesting that this fish was dragged from its frozen packet, ready-battered, and into the deep fat fryer. The peas were decidedly odd-tasting too and the chips were all over the place in size and cooking consistency.
Desserts were also very familiar and mostly unseasonal apart from a summer pudding of Black Forest Sundae and Movenpick ice cream. The remainder were solid British puds including apple pie (in high summer?), sticky toffee, date pudding and clotted cream rice pudding. None was home-made, suggesting more packages were opened.
Service was fine, polite and knowledgeable though sparse, with only two on duty. A sign on the bar sums up how many were in the kitchen: expect a wait in busy times, it says. It should also add non-busy ones too.
This iconic pub, with a built-in draw – charming old pub right on the water in a quiet area – should be firing on all cylinders, particularly during uncertain times when quality is increasingly sought over quantity.
Apart from culling at least half of the dishes and making quality food in the kitchen, the garden needs a helping hand. My bill came to just under £12 for the food and a good glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The glass was not wiped dry and had messy streaks.
The Royal Oak, 19 Langstone High Street, Havant, PO9 1RY, (023) 92 483125. Open 11am– 11pm everday.
Disabled access: OK.
How to get there: If coming from Portsmouth, exit at Havant and follow the Hayling Island signs.
The pub is on the left before the bridge to the island, down the High Street. The on-street parking is limited.
Ratings (maximum *****)