Portsmouth’s Ship and Castle is strategically positioned just around the corner from The Hard, opposite the Historic Dockyard’s Victory entrance.
To say it is brash is an understatement. Games machines, powerfully loud music and a pool table may put a gentler luncher or diner off their stroke. When I visited, the music was at an ultra-pitch level.
Don’t expect table service, even in the more obvious eating area past the more boisterous bar and pool area. Order food at the bar and choose a table number beforehand in time-honoured Brit way.
As large as the pub is, the menu features a colossal number of dishes which any kitchen worth their salt would struggle with. In common with a Chinese restaurant, there are too many (just short of 100).
There is a whole brigade of chefs waiting in the wings to serve you your choice.
There’s soup; deep fried whitebait; prawn cocktail; homemade mini fishcakes with sweet chilli dip; deep-fried brie wedges and others to start with.
Follow this with maybe sirloin steak; mixed grill; hunters’ chicken with bacon, cheddar (hunter’s traditionally is with mushroom, not these ingredients); beer battered fish and chips, fish pie; all-day breakfast; ham, egg and chips; bangers and mash; beef stew; liver and bacon; pork belly with cabbage and bacon with a red wine and sage sauce; chicken tikka massala; Bombay aloo; chilli con carne; tagliatelle and a whole slew of other dishes including ‘gourmet’ burgers; Sunday roasts; vegetarian dishes; jackets; salads; ploughman’s’ sandwiches; baguettes and paninis.
Dishes start at £4.25, most mains around £9-£10.
How any kitchen can cope with this variety and styles of cooking and do it well is questionable.
My choice – fishcakes with hand cut chips and salad (£7.95) – took its time coming out, to my relief.
Too fast and it means microwaved meals in seconds with no chefs’ skills involved. Either this or the kitchen is quite slow.
But it does it well, three admittedly huge fishcakes packed with flavour.
Coated with crispy breadcrumbs, their interior goes down the rustic route with roughly mashed potatoes.
The fish content of haddock and salmon is acceptable if not overflowing. Bottled chilli sauce was added and the fat chips were excellent.
But the salad was past its best. Salad cream, with its harsh malt-based taste, overwhelmed it.
I wouldn’t return for the chocolate fudge cake, although there is apple crumble, sticky toffee pudding and others, but I would for the fishcakes.
The music’s ripe language and doorstep smoking aren’t magnets either but the Ship and Castle, appealing to visitors and locals alike, has the capacity to surprise.
My bill came to just less then £12 for two courses. Service was pleasant.
Ship and Castle, Queen Street, The Hard, Portsmouth PO1 3HU
(023) 92 83 2009.
Food from 11.30am to 7.30pm.
Disabled access: Steps once inside the pub.
How to get there: Follow the signs for Historic Dockyard and the pub is on the left by the Victory entrance if heading down Queen Street. Otherwise, turn right on The Hard on to Queen Street. There is on-street parking.
FOOD Three stars (out of Five)
SERVICE Three stars (out of Five)
ATMOSPHERE Two stars (out of Five)