Portchester’s Castle Street, home to The Cormorant pub, is described in the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Volume of Buildings of England as ‘astonishing in its preservation’.
Leading to Portchester Castle, built on the site of a Roman fort dating back to the third century, the street is now a conservation area. The pub itself was built around 1650 and is in the heart of the village.
When entering The Cormorant – you can’t miss it thanks to the cornucopia of flowers – the interior is more akin to the 1970s. Most vestiges of past character have been removed, bar some Victorian fireplaces.
There are three distinct dining areas decorated with Toby jugs, beer artefacts and commemorative plates. The large bar is the focal point and although the look is far removed from the Wetherspoons type of pub, the way in which food is ordered is similar. Bag a table, find the number, report to the bar and order.
The Cormorant’s menu is of the tried and tested variety: thick-cut sandwiches; jacket potatoes; starters of garlic mushrooms, pate or prawn cocktail.
Mains are extensive. Choose from vegetable lasagne; home-cooked ham, egg and chips; homemade chilli; cod fillet with the pub’s own beer batter; grilled chicken breast with choice of sauce; sausages with giant Yorkshire pudding, mash and onion gravy; cottage pie; mixed grill and steaks.
Prices are of the sort which will not having you running for the hills. Starters around the £5 mark, mains from £8 to just under £12. A vast specials board with many of the items rubbed out is another possible option to consider. Or there’s the credit crunch-buster lunch at £5 for one course, £10 for three courses.
Many of the dishes are not summer-friendly, with very few light ones to choose from. I suspect the menu changes little throughout the year.
On a hot day, I chose plaice. ‘Chips, mash or new potatoes? Vegetables or salad?’ asked the extremely friendly, engaging staff member at the bar. The plaice, the grand-daddy of the seas, spilled over the edge of the oval plate.
Plainly grilled without frills and served with high calibre potatoes, this no-nonsense main course satisfied.
But why offer a rather unpleasant spread instead of butter? And why were the vegetables (carrots, peas, cauliflower) overcooked?
Desserts are unsurprisingly non-seasonal too. Choose from roly poly; treacle sponge pudding; chocolate fudge cake; banoffee pie. A solid roly poly didn’t hit the mark.
The Cormorant is a friendly, trusty community pub with undoubted appeal.
My bill came to just under £19 including a passable glass of Pinot Grigio.
The Cormorant, 181 Castle Street, Portchester, Hampshire PO16 9QX
(023) 9237 9374
Open: Monday-Saturday 11.30am–11pm, Sunday noon–9.30pm
Food: Three (out of five)
Disabled access: Good
How to get there: Follow the A27 past Port Solent to Portchester’s large roundabout, exiting on Castle Street. The pub is on the right hand side before reaching the castle. Car park.