Disappearing pubs are often mourned by those who dislike change at all costs. But the fact is that many of these male-dominated domains are threatened with extinction.
The thinking goes that, in the end, the likes of Wetherspoons will be the only ones to survive. Large chains will take over from the corner pub with their bland, anywheresville décor, food and beer.
But that hasn’t happened. Yes, large chains proliferate and many corner street locals are gone forever. However, smart pub owners and managers have spotted new markets emerging with better home-cooked food, more orientated towards women and children.
Wadworth Brewery’s has embraced this remarkably intelligently, smaller outfits like the 19th century King Street Tavern going down the food and music route rather than spending money on furniture and fittings.
Perched on a cobblestoned corner in Portsmouth’s conservation area, its exterior, with its glazed lettering and etched windows, gives the feel of stumbling across a Cheers-like pub where everybody knows you.
The tiny interior has panelled walls with carvings, a few mismatched tables and chairs, a fireplace, low lighting and jazz or Irish bands on weekends. At its centre is a bar offering gratis tapas on Fridays, the pub so congenial you feel as if you’ve landed, Life on Mars-like, in a different era.
The pub has increased the menu since I last reviewed it four years ago, the sparse offerings now morphing into a small but perfectly-formed menu.
The kitchen uses a small lift masquerading as a blackboard behind the bar to hoist the food down from upstairs. Try Buckwells venison and watercress sausages with creamy mash and a red wine gravy; ratatouille with herb dumplings or sweet potato; butternut squash and goat’s cheese lasagne with a basil and cashew nut pesto preceded by spinach, ricotta and nutmeg terrine; seasonal soup; liver and bacon with a sage potato cake and red wine gravy.
The menu is a hearty one, bar a fish choice. Prices are friendly, mains mostly £8.25. I started with a leek and potato soup with bread (£3.95), a rib-sticking bowlful meriting more leeks and good stock over too much potato and sage.
Honey and mustard-glazed home-baked ham with a spring onion potato cake and either a fried egg or Gladys May duck egg showed the kitchen at its best. The 3-hour cooked ham was quite splendid, as was the perfectly-judged potato cake, the egg drizzling its yolk on top.
This excellent pub food shows up far too many pubs’ use of the microwave and packet cooking. It’s simple, good and just like granny used to make, according to Sam and Nicky Foot, the chef/owners. They also make thier own puds, pavlovas and brownies.
Staff, of course, make the pub as well as the food and feel of the place – and they do that here in spades. They couldn’t be nicer, none versed in corporate-speak, just friendliness and a willingness for you to have a good time. Times change and, in this case, for the better. The King Street Tavern is just what a neighbourhood pub should be like in 2012. My bill came to just over £15.
King Street Tavern, 70 King Street, Southsea PO5 4EH
(023) 9287 3307
Open: Mon–Wed from 6pm for food, Thurs-Sat 12–2pm and from 6pm, Sun 12–4pm and from 6pm
Food: Four (out of five)
Disabled access: Yes
How to get there: Go west along Winston Churchill Avenue, turn left down Middle Street which becomes Eldon Street, and the pub is on the corner of King Street and Eldon Street. There is on-street parking.