‘I truly have the best chef in the region.’ Those were the proud words spoken by Delme Arms landlord Neil Matthews on receiving his The News’ Pub of the Year award last week.
Neil is obviously doing something right, for he’s won the trophy for the second year running.
Adrian Leslie is also doing something right. For he’s the ‘best chef’ Neil is championing.
With that in mind, the Dish Detective just HAD to pay the Delme Arms a visit to see if the food lived up to the hype, and whether the pub deserved its accolades.
First signs are certainly encouraging, as even though it is a Monday night in January the place is fairly busy. The pub is split in two – turn left as you enter the front door for the main bar area, complete with Sky Sports on the telly, and turn right for the ‘restaurant’ area. I’ve used speech marks because there’s more of a cafe-type feel to it.
Neil is aware, telling The News last week he is planning to ‘revamp’ the room (which features its own bar) with ‘new lighting and furniture.’ In fairness, it is crying out to be brought into the 21st century. But I’m a Dish Detective, I’m not Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, so it’s the food we’re concentrating on here.
On the basis that the DD and partner have already spied the dessert menu and like what we see, we share a starter of thai crab cakes and tempura prawns (£4.95) – three of each, complete with a salad and chilli sauce. Very nice indeed, and they whet the appetite for the main courses.
Baby, it was cold outside so we order two great winter warmers – your DD orders the steak & ale pie and my partner the homemade lasagne. Both retail at £7.95 and for that price are value for money. However, EVERY weekday – at lunchtimes and in the evening until 8.30pm – certain meals are two for £10. Ours are among them. This makes for spectacular value.
We can see why Neil is keen to sing his chef’s praises. This is seriously good food: impressive sizes, obviously fresh, big chunky vegetables, made on the premises – you can’t say that about the big chain pubs these days – and oozing flavour.
There is more to a pub than its food, though, and your (west country born) DD is hugely taken by the fact he can choose from a selection of boxed ciders. Only the best pubs have those. We have two pints of Lilley’s Crazy Goat, a sweet cider and perry mix, and gain another insight into this pub’s all-round appeal.
Now, I mentioned earlier the weather. Brass monkeys, etc. But despite that, I make my mind up to have a sundae (£3.95) for dessert. There is a mouth-watering choice – including Minstrels, M&Ms, Milky Bar and After Eight – but I choose Snickers. Well, it is delicious – no holding back on the chocolate chunks, and good-sized dollops of cream and ice cream. My partner’s apple and blackberry crumble (£3.50) is also rated a winner and has the added benefit of keeping her insulated when stepping back out to meet Jack Frost.
Inside, though, the welcome is as warm as our main courses. Looking around, there are posters previewing forthcoming music nights and quizzes; you can easily see the secrets of the Delme Arms’ success.
Neil told The News: ‘Having a diverse group of customers is really important to keep a pub going.’ He is bang on. I can imagine some customers who enter and turn right would never turn left, and vice versa. There is nothing wrong with diversity, but you need to get the balance right. And when you do, and you add great food at great prices – and some boxed ciders! – you’re well on the way to a winning recipe.
The Delme Arms, Cams Road, Fareham
Ratings (out of five)