FOOD REVIEW: Sometimes simplicity is the way to go amid gastro-mania

The Navigator, Swanwick
The Navigator, Swanwick

The Dish Detective always commends the pubs and restaurants that dare to be different, serving up refreshing twists on the dishes we all know and love.

That said, I feel equally as passionate about the establishments that offer you simple, homely comforts at the times you need it most.

Roast topside of Hampshire beef

Roast topside of Hampshire beef

Last week I was battling a rotten cold, so by the time Sunday rolled around, I craved a roast like they were going out of fashion.

The Navigator had come highly recommended following an overhaul from Hampshire brewery giants The Upham Group a few years ago.

The gastropub-hotel's location – immediately across the road from Swanwick Marina and the River Hamble – and the history of the area is indelible in the interior, which combines pastel shades of blue and grey with nautical knick-knacks and worn wood surfaces.

Knowing full well that we were walking in without a reservation on 2pm on a Sunday, my companion and I figured we might be chancing it for a table.

Slow-cooked pork belly and spiced apple rillette

Slow-cooked pork belly and spiced apple rillette

However, the landlord was more than obliging in his offer to open up the sleek, modern conservatory just for us, and once he whacked on the heating it was just about as cosy as the rest of the restaurant.

The absence of a menu on the table meant we had to think on our feet when asked right off the bat if we'd like something to drink.

Obviously the landlord is compelled to promote Upham's ales but he does so with enthusiasm and evident know-how, so I follow his advice on a pint of Punter, a four per cent ABV amber ale (£3.70 per pint).

What a good call it was as I'm big fan of trying the local brews. Punter is full of floral flavour, but not overpowering in the slightest – a perfectly easy-going pint for a lazy Sunday afternoon

Wild mushroom arancini with truffle mayo

Wild mushroom arancini with truffle mayo

My companion's choice of tipple, Upham's relatively new UB5 premium lager (considerably more for this one at £5.20 per pint), is also very pleasant and a hit even with someone who is not the biggest fan of the often sickly-sweet nature of craft lager. Don't let the C-word put you off trying this one.

The Sunday set menu will set you back £21 per person for three courses, or £18 for two courses. That might seem a bit pricey for a set menu, but trust the Dish Detective when I say that you get your money's worth and then some.

The slow-cooked pork belly and spiced apple rillette – for the yet-to-be initiated, that's a dish not worlds away from pâté – is a wonderful way to enjoy pork belly without getting fussy over the fat.

When spread on top of artisan toast and topped with a few modestly dressed salad leaves, the rillette is surprisingly light and fragrant.

Upham ale-battered haddocks and hand cut chips

Upham ale-battered haddocks and hand cut chips

Meanwhile, serving wild mushroom arancini with a side of truffle mayo does sound like a fungal overload on paper, but they complement one another superbly.

That's one thing that became clear throughout the meal – it's all about the balance of flavours, especially when it comes to the main course.

I would wholeheartedly recommend the roast topside of Hampshire beef, cooked to pink perfection and carved elegantly. With a thin layer of horseradish sauce, the beef had a delightful sweetness alongside a creamy swede mash and fluffy roasties.

If you're in a slightly more indulgent mood, go for a massive piece of haddock – battered with Upham ale, of course – with pea purée, chunky tartare sauce and some of the fattest, crispiest triple-cooked chips I think I've ever seen.

That's a good point – are chips ever single-cooked by anyone any more? Either way, it's a far better solution to my cold than Lemsip...

After such generous portions I can't bear to partake in a dessert, but I'll be sure to return to try the warm chocolate brownie with honeycomb, or the pistachio panna cotta with shortbread and lemon curd – perhaps when the weather is warmer and they open up the roof of the conservatory.

I imagine this pub would be the ideal location for lunch and a pint after a long walk along the River Hamble, or a meander through nearby Old Bursledon.

It may not offer the picturesque views or envelope-pushing cuisine that some of the other gastropubs in the area do, but if you're looking for a friendly, no-fuss approach to hearty food, then all signs point to The Navigator.

The Navigator, Lower Swanwick

01489 572123

Ratings out of 5:

Food: 4

Value: 4

Ambience: 5

Child-friendly: 4