One of the strengths and charms of the Fuller’s Brewery group of pubs is that they vary greatly, with no Wetherspoons cloning going on.
From smart gastropub to simple local one, Fullers mostly gets it right, with a few glaring exceptions.
One pub which prides itself on a great sense of community is Purbrook’s The Woodman. Newish landlord Paul Carter took over two years ago and has established the pub as the hub of the neighbourhood thanks to charitable events, live music and increasing real ale turnover.
The first impression when entering the pub is that this is a bloke’s paradise. A pool table dominates one area and games are dotted about the other spaces including the dining space.
A proper bar is also a huge attraction. No need to feel you have to order a meal here, just a pint of real ale.
Paul and partner Becky offer magazines and newspapers, but the flickering of no fewer than three huge TV screens might detract from the page. Sport, of course, is the chosen channel. Elvis and Cliff dominate musically.
The menu doesn’t tax the chef too much, with fish and chips; ham with chips and eggs; beef and Guinness stew; beef chilli; smoked haddock fishcakes; sausages and bubble & squeak; burgers; sandwiches; jacket potatoes. Nary a vegetable is offered with the main courses, bar peas with the fish and chips, although a side salad is possible. Smartly, sensibly, the mains come in two sizes: from £4.50 for the smaller ones to £7.50 for the larger portions.
The ordered beef and Guinness stew arrives and is served with some deep-fried roast potatoes and a dumpling. The beef is tender but the Guinness isn’t apparent. The small, virtually unrecognisable dumpling is good for only a doll’s house doorstop and is impenetrable with a knife and fork.
A passable glass of Merlot helped the stew along, some water needed to hose down the pepper content.
Desserts are similar to the rest of the menu – predictable. Apple crumble or a rhubarb one; sticky toffee pudding; spotted dick; fudge cake, all at £3.95. My ordered apple crumble could have come with ice cream or custard, but neither appealed.
What? No cream? The very sweet crumble topping needed more tart apples to balance the pud.
The Woodman really shines when it comes to a well-run, spick and span premises – the service by two charming women was excellent – and its caring community spirit is a lovely part of its DNA.
But it might want to revisit the kitchen and make the simple food on offer more palatable. No, this is not one of the brand’s gastro-type pubs and nor does it have such pretensions, but the food almost feels like an afterthought, a concession, a gesture. But as a neighbourhood drinking pub, it’s a winner. My bill came to just under £13.
The Woodman, London Road, Purbrook, Waterlooville PO7 5LJ
(023) 9226 3135.
Open: 11am (noon Sun) – 11pm (midnight Sat) each day
Food: Three (out of five)
Fine, plenty of space for wheelchairs.
How to get there: Head towards Cosham, then follow signs for the A3 and London Road. The pub is on the right in Purbrook. Large car park.