FOOD REVIEW: Bravo, bravo to the best cafe you've never heard of
The Dish Detective is not all about price. We enjoy a Â£1 cone of chips on the seafront just as much as a Michelin-starred meal - provided each plays to their strengths.
And we’re definitely of the school of thought that says it’s worth eating lentils and drinking tap water in the week in order to luxuriate in fillet steak and Chateauneuf du Pape on a Saturday (sometimes for breakfast).
But sometimes something comes along that confounds your dining expectations, and when it gives you the sense of being on the winning side and not being ripped off, it’s all the sweeter.
Just look at the picture of the burger that accompanies this piece. Is that a £6.90 burger? The Dish Detective has tried almost as many burgers as we’ve had hot dinners and this one was even better than it looked. More later.
The Dish Detective had been summoned, nay dragged, along to Fareham to look after the baby while the other half went to the gym. Fortunately, it was the first warm-ish Saturday of the year and as the mist burned off, the sky turned blue and put us in mind of the better things in life - lunch out, with not a lentil or glass of tap water in sight,
After the gym session, the other half suggested going to the Dovecote at Cams Hall, and the Dish Detective, believing themself to be well-informed with a finger on the pulse, was embarrassed to confess a total ignorance of the establishment.
So, to enlighten others in the same situation, the Dovecote is in the one of the old brick buildings to the side of the old manor house at Cams Hall, in what you could call the business park if it wasn’t so picturesque you could imagine Jane Austen characters promenading through. Essentially, go into the estate past the Cams Mill pub on the main road and it’s on your left. The buildings all carry the names of their former use, so you pass the Granary, the Malthouse and the Orangery as you go in.
We arrived for an early lunch, just before half twelve. It looked as if it had been busy - and the appetising brunch menu suggested why. With the day getting warmer, we fetched a high chair and settled down outside to feed the baby while choosing from the menu, and we both, while looking through some were drawn to the burger menu like wasps to a picnic.
It’s an intriguing list, too - there is the classic, which is what you might expect, but also the Italian (buffalo mozzarella, salami and sundried tomato), the Alps (blue stilton, portobello mushrooms and garlic mayonnaise) and the Brexit (buffalo mozzarella, French brie, mature Cheddar and tomato chutney) - which looks like a rather touching pan-European tribute to the power of cheese working together. There are also vegetarian and vegan options, based on halloumi and falafel respectively, which also sound fascinating (and also made the Dish Detective rue the social convention which frowns upon eating two burgers at one sitting. It’s for our own good though, I suppose, and that of our waistband).
We opted for the Alps and the Italian. Both were £6.90, and came as standard with chunky chips and salad, but we upgraded and added coleslaw (50p) and sweet potato fries (75p) because we could. Yes, it was a warm day, and yes you could believe it was the beginning of summer, and so yes we were in a good mood, but the burgers were frankly brilliant. Washed down with a San Pellegrino sparkling water, all felt right with the world - thick patties, decent fillings, solid but not too chewy buns... it was spot on.
The kitchen was clearly hard pushed, as there was a steady stream of people coming in, but there was warning and frankly, when the food is that good, who would begrudge the fact that it’s being cooked properly? The staff were polite to a tee, even offering a free can of pop because of the delay.
And there you have it; tucked away and peaceful yet near the A27; artisan and home-cooked yet with prices the like of which you’d expect in a Wetherspoons; and a hidden gem yet one that is clearly known about by a number of people. The Dovecote is full of paradoxes, but you won’t hear any complaints here. Bravo.
The Dovecote, Home Farm, Cams Hall, Fareham, 01329 829611
Child Friendly *****