FOOD REVIEW: Cockles and muscular burgers alive, alive oh in oldest pub

The Dolphin, Old Portsmouth
The Dolphin, Old Portsmouth
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It is 1716 and Andrew Martell is throwing open the doors of his new public house for the first time. The United Kingdom is only nine years old, America is still a colony  – and would be for another 60 years – and King George I was sitting on the throne. No Englishman had discovered Australia.

Unlike pubs in Portsmouth. They had certainly been discovered, and The Dolphin, on High Street opposite the cathedral, was the 49th such establishment within the city boundaries.

Fish and chips garnered with cockles

Fish and chips garnered with cockles

Three hundred and two years on, and The Dolphin's 48 predecessors have all disappeared. As a result, and despite the Luftwaffe's best attempts (it was the only building in its vicinity not destroyed in the war), Mr Martell's old home now basks in the acclaim of being Portsmouth's oldest pub.

It has also been basking in glorious weather. And it was on a balmy summer's evening that your Dish Detective and companion experienced a metaphorical taste of history and a literal taste of The Dolphin's current gastronomic delights.

It was quickly obvious this was no 'normal' pub grub menu – with the appearance of sticky glazed pig cheeks (with golden beetroot piccalilli), Thai spiced chickpea fritters and (unusually in south Hampshire) deep-fried breaded haggis on the list of starters. All served in a classic 'dimpled' half-pint glass, a nice touch.

There were similar mouthwatering delights on the main: Pieminister Moo Pie (steak and ale pie, given a 21st century hipster-ish name change) and a Thai burger, a 'spiced veggie patty with roquito pepper pearls, golden beetroot piccalilli and curry mayonnaise'.

Despite my love of roquito pearls, I opted for the loaded burger complete with rarebit cheese sauce, sweet cured bacon and a beer glaze. Plus a side order of beer-battered onion rings. Well, why not? You only live once. My companion's eyes lit up at the fish and chips adorned with pickled cockles plus a pot of Chip Shop Curry Sauce (£1 extra for sauce).

Let me here introduce an element of Welshness. DD's companion is from the Valleys, and chips with curry sauce is close to a religion in certain parts of the Principality. Also, during her childhood, she regularly visited the Gower collecting cockles from the shore. Talk about a culinary jaunt down memory lane!

The DD's burger was more than satisfactory. Though the sesame seed topped brioche bun fell to pieces a bit too quickly, the tastes of the burger, cheese and bacon ensured the standard of food was almost as high as the World Cup footie on the TV screens. But it was Belgium v Japan, so even Heston Blumenthal might have struggled to provide grub as good as that game.

The Dolphin's desserts also delivered something new  –  'hard sundaes with speakeasy alcoholic ice creams'. There was a choice of three – Ramos gin, Rumbullion and cherry brandy – drizzled over a variety of toffee puddings, messes and brownies. Sadly, DD cannot tell you anything about them as the kitchen had closed while he was watching Belgium's dramatic come-from-behind victory.

Still, there's always next time. For Japan though, it's a four-year wait for the next World Cup. I'd like to think I'll get my hands on the Dolphin’s haggis and strawberry mess a little quicker.

We live in an era where Gunwharf, just 10 minutes walk away, offers so many food choices. It is the focal point of present-day Portsmouth, and possibly its future too. But don’t forget the city's glorious, historic past, The Dolphin is very much part of that. Still a pub, but offering a menu which deserves to drag the hungry away from the shadows of the Spinnaker Tower…

The Dolphin, Old Portsmouth 

(023) 9282 0762 

Food: 4

Value: 4

Ambience: 4

Child-friendly: 3