Peel your eyes away from the Still & West’s dark wood interior, take in its views of Portsmouth Harbour and you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’re on a vessel like those skimming around you.
The Fuller’s pub’s first-floor restaurant commands such panoramic views of the water it feels like the bridge of the next ship bound for port.
Low ceilings, bulkhead light fittings, weather clocks and wall-hanging oars, standards and nets are all elegant nods to the theme in this historic hostelry.
Throw in painted signs for the so-called upper and lower decks, the Sun Deck and the Bosun’s Fish and Chip Hatch and the Old Portsmouth venue’s intentions are made quirkily clear.
My dining companion and I visit in the evening.
Streaks of light crossing the harbour and candles on tables combine to cast reflections in the restaurant’s glassware. Soul music plays gently. The venue may be vast, but it feels cosy, warm and – oddly for a pub – romantic. It is the perfect retreat from a cold and windy winter’s evening.
W e’re after a seat upstairs, a barman on the ground floor spots our entry and greets us with a genuine smile. He tells us to have a lovely meal. Nice touch.
After our ascent to the restaurant, our luck continues. We have the place to ourselves and our server welcomes us like a dear friend. She immediately makes us feel at home.
To start I opt for a dish I’m intrigued by and like the sound of – the pulled pork doughnut, with paprika sugar and an apple and saffron dip (£8). I get a pint of HSB to wash it down (£4.50).
My companion’s choice is the balsamic roasted figs with goat’s cheese, honey and chicory (£8). She asks for a glass of the house red. It’s a Cesari Essere Merlot (£3.40).
The server checks and double-checks for any allergies. Appreciated and noted.
Without yet taking a single bite, the variety of the menu strikes us.
It’s clear head chef Luke Emmess and his team aren’t bound by a logo above the door, but like to adventure with their British produce.
At a glance, the doughnut could fool anyone with a sweet tooth. It looks as though it could be pumped with chocolate, but make the first incision and out oozes hot pulled pork with a barbecue zing.
The apple and saffron dip has more of the former than the latter, but it’s a cool contrast to the warmth of the dough nut. It’s rather strange, in a good way.
In a rare plot twist, my dining companion and I both agree on the same main course. She’s a vegetarian and has been for five years.
Our common culinary ground for the night is a pumpkin risotto, with mascarpone, crispy sage, and pumpkin seeds (£13).
The clash in texture and taste of the sage leaves with the smooth, buttery risotto is so satisfying, but we feel the rice is slightly underdone. Regardless, we leave our dishes spotless – perhaps with a want for a bit more.
The waitress asks if we’ve left room for dessert. We have.
Mine is the vintage ale sticky toffee pudding, with toffee sauce and Fuller’s buffalo milk salted caramel ice cream (£6). My partner goes for the tiramisu, with caramelised banana and mocha foam (£6.50).
This last course is a flavourful fanfare.
In the sticky toffee pudding I’ve found a new favourite dessert.
Lashings of luxurious toffee sauce make the cake perfectly moist, while the hot pudding duels with the silky ice cream in a melting battle of the elements that is voted a winner by everyone who tastes it.
This is no ordinary pub.
The Still & West, Old Portsmouth
Tel no: (023) 9282 1567
Ratings (out of five)