A few things about Portsmouth that you’ll only know if you live here. Everyone starts wearing T-shirts, skirts and other summer gear at the first sign of sun in March, drivers will stop to let you cross the road even if it means they flagrantly break the Highway Code and risk causing accidents, and everyone likes to go to the Harvester for a treat.
And not just any old Harvester either – the Port Solent branch may well be very nice but the full-on Harvester experience is the grand old building on the Eastern Road, standing proudly by Langstone Harbour.
The Great Salterns Mansion, as nobody calls it now, is indeed a genuinely old, listed building, rather than a new-build dressed up. You can tell by the front staircase that couldn’t be less wheelchair or buggy-friendly if it tried (though there are other ways in), and the fact that the layout of the pub really isn’t how you’d design it.
No matter, it’s the Harvester and has a special place in our hearts.
The Dish Detective went on a Sunday lunchtime, and early on lunchtime at that – it was before midday when we walked in. Despite the time, and despite the swathes of empty seats, it was a task to get a table – they had hundreds of people due in for the next few hours.
Settled in and orders done, the Dish Detective and partner got ready for the best part of the Harvester experience, the salad bar. You can’t really explain it to someone who’s never been…you get a bowl, that looks like it should have corn flakes in, and you can fill it up with salad.
It will be like no other combination you will ever eat, and you would never create this mess at home, for example: pasta with tomato sauce, lettuce, raw peppers, cous cous, and some kind of vegetable in a curried coronation-type sauce, topped with some olives. And, er, some pickled onions. And some croutons and bacon bits, because you must always have bacon bits.
On paper it’s the diet of a mad man. But somehow it works. Because it’s a treat.
Speaking of which, we were also impressed with our main courses, although they definitely fall into the standard pub grub category.
The DD’s partner had an Angry Bird burger (£11.49), a chicken breast in a peri-peri sauce with avocado and cheese, while the DD had a Classic (£10.49) – as it sounds, topped with cheese and bacon.
The meat was good – seasoned, and felt like it was made from minced beef rather than a compressed factory-made patty. The chips were crispy but inside were on the doughy side, but sweet potato fries were done well. It’s perhaps a touch pricey – but not if you factor in the salad.
We were pleased, and full by this point – it wasn’t a day for a pudding. But we were also amazed by some of the options on the menu; for example, in the burger section, you can try The Big One (£15.49) – two 6oz burgers (the Classic was one), and with half a rack of ribs on the side.
That sounded a lot, but we were then transfixed by a gentleman at the table next to us eating the Ultimate Mixed Grill (£21.49), which had, and I quote the menu, ‘a quarter of a rotisserie chicken, an 8oz rump steak, half a rack of ribs, 7oz gammon, two pork sausages, two fried eggs and two black pudding slices. And if that’s not enough an extra £3.49 will get you a half and not a quarter chicken.’
My goodness. Our nearby companion ate the lot, while discussing Brexit with the rest of his family. We were fascinated, while thinking ‘We could turn that plateful into four nights’ dinner’.
As we left, it was just after 1pm, and the restaurant was filling up. At the traffic lights, a queue to get in had built up in the filter lane on southbound Eastern Road. It’s a Pompey thing.