The Wellington, by the splendid Anglican cathedral and the sea walls in Old Portsmouth, outwardly gives the appearance of a pub.
Inside, however, banks of tables reign. Is it a pub or a restaurant? Like many pubs, it has seen the writing on the wall and the pub has now morphed into an eating establishment, with an extensive menu and offers – Wetherspoon’s and other chains spring to mind.
Its owners obviously like Christmas and on my visit the exterior and interior were groaning with goodwill towards men. Windows were decorated with faux snow and lights and the walls and central bar were dressed with a plethora of flashing lights. Waitresses were dressed in red and white ermine-trimmed short dresses.
Would the menu also offer Christmas treats? No turkey and all the trimmings was visible on the main menu. Offerings were pretty predictable with sausage and mash; fish and chips; cottage pie; ham, egg and chips; chilli con carne; vegetable curry; steak and kidney pudding; chicken Cordon Bleu, lamb shank and steaks, the latter at £14.50 to £19, sauces a cheeky extra.
Or I could have gone the fishy route with poached sole with prawns and mussels (£12.95) or grilled sea bass (£14.95). Other mains are around the £8-£9 mark. Starters include a brie and bacon salad, crab cocktail and those tasteless New Zealand green lip mussels. Why these when UK mussels are in plentiful supply from Camber Docks, a two-minute stroll away – where, hopefully, the other fish comes from?
Saturday night, traditionally the busiest night of the week, was a Silent Night. Just one other table was taken and only a few people were at the bar.
Beef Bourguignon with mash, a fraction under £9, was my choice on this crisp pre-Christmas night. The plate, a massive one, was a bit of a dog’s dinner.
It certainly didn’t live up to the French-inspired dish of red wine, lardons, shallots, mushrooms and beef. Thick, floury un-winelike sauce had copious amounts of very soft mushrooms and limp meat, but no lardons or shallots.
It hid a mound of mash, while no care had been taken with the vegetables, cauliflower and carrots, either. A good glass of Chilean Shiraz Cabernet helped, but it took three goes to get a glass of water.
Desserts – fruit crumble, chocolate tart, ice creams, treacle pudding – are around the £4 mark. I tried the treacle pudding and found it horrible, outrageously over-priced and swimming in poor-quality custard.
The area, full of tourists and well-heeled residents, is crying out for a pub-restaurant which delivers. What a great pity. My bill came to nearly £20 and took time to be prepared despite lack of custom.
The Wellington, 62 High Street, Portsmouth PO1 2LY
(023) 9281 8965.
Open: Open from noon-3pm and 6.30pm-9pm for food (Mon-Thurs) and noon–9pm (Fri—Sun).
Food: Two (out of five)
Disabled access: Steps up to entrance.
How to get there: The High Street is a continuation of Cambridge Road going towards the sea. The Wellington is on the left opposite the cathedral. Parking is on-street.