Near the top of Dish Detective’s list of pet peeves are large bar and restaurant chains which pretend they are cool indie outfits when in fact they are designed by committees of branding experts and offer identical food across their sites.
If you’re a chain, I prefer you to be upfront about it like Wetherspoon’s or the Hungry Horse; the culinary experience ranges from ‘good value passable’ to ‘utterly terrifying’, but at least you know where you stand.
But Miller and Carter is a new one on Dish Detective’s occasionally parochial mind, as despite the existence of dozens of branches across the country there are none in this neck of the woods, except for Bursledon.
It’s in the former Windhover Manor pub, which – whisper it – was a Harvester, and there’s a distinct difference between the two.
Firstly, Dish Detective and party feel decidedly under-dressed. We turn up on a Sunday lunchtime – early and unbooked, and just as well as it gets busy. It’s fair to say we are dressed to go to a car boot sale, as that’s, er, what we have been doing.
That and a trip to the wonderful Bursledon Brickworks Museum.
As we sit here, famished , we see several parties arrive looking fit to attend a wedding. Bravo, frankly – the art of looking smart on a Sunday is in sad decline. But that gives you an idea of the place it is; it’s a treat. It’s not a quick bite when you can’t be bothered to cook.
But even with the aforementioned chain apprehension, it really is good.
As we are here on Sunday, we both go for the Sunday three-course deal, at £25.95 each (as I said, it’s a treat).
It’s the chipotle chicken starter for Dish Detective, while our companion chooses salt and pepper calamari.
The calamari has a good light batter, and does not fall into the pitfall of being chewy, while the chicken is decent. Not jaw-dropping, but a good texture, not too greasy and a nicely gentle chilli flavouring.
However, let’s include the smallest of downers at this point.
The little dish of salad or slaw on the side of plates is rubbish in each case. Flavourless, an odd dressing, chewy where you want crunchy. Little black mark for Miller and Carter there.
But do you know what? It matters not a jot. The place is a temple to meat – not piled high, but properly cooked – and, by goodness, it delivers.
The main course shows that the kitchen – even if it is following strict orders from a faceless head office – is doing it brilliantly, and with marvellous ingredients.
An 8oz sirloin is cooked absolutely to how a medium should be, and the meat is so tender that a minimum amount of force is needed to cut it. It comes with an onion loaf (a cousin of a potato rosti) and a peppercorn sauce, although the meat is so good the sauce is redundant.
It also comes with a wedge of lettuce for which there had been a choice of sauces – we go for bacon and honey mustard.
On the other side of the table, a butcher’s burger lives up to its name. Not just a chunky burger, it comes topped with bacon, cheese, and sliced fillet tails… truly meat upon meat, and that’s before you get to the onion and the fried egg.
Impossible to eat gracefully, but none the worse for that, it is a great burger.
Desserts also hit the mark – an Eton Mess and a sticky toffee pudding, although while a pleasant way to end the meal it’s fair to say we are full already.
So there you go. Perhaps, against our better romantic hopes, the chains will win out after all.
But if they are like this, then at least we will be well fed when they do.
Miller and Carter
Ratings (out of five)