Ashby’s is a hotel where a couple from Normandy (via Somerset and the New Forest) have recently set up their French wares to run a restaurant.
On Jo and Christophe’s menu, you’ll find northern French food such as a bowlful of moules marinières with Chardonnay, shallots and cream; French onion soup; boeuf Bourguignon; mille feuilles; and Crèpes Suzette, both at lunchtimes or evenings.
The couple also steer the dishes to southern France and Italy with a Niçoise salad; Parma ham with mozzarella and peaches; crayfish and black olive linguini; wild mushroom and pea risotto and rosemary focaccia bread. They veer northwards again towards British must-haves such as homemade bacon burger with cheese; rib eye steak with chips; Gressingham duck breast. There’s sea bass too as well as smoked salmon with capers.
The 110-year-old building mainly houses the rooms, the front an add-on to the hotel on Ashby Place housing the bar, conservatory and restaurant. Modern in décor, the bar stretches back into a raised carpeted restaurant with stone fireplace, roccocco mirrors and wall panelling.
Spick and span, the whole space radiates relaxed quality, the light jazzy music adding another layer to a well-run business. These French pros have upped the Ashby game by offering genuine warmth, hospitality and service.
I ordered a beef Bourguignon from the lunch menu, a bargain two courses at £6.50. The evening three-course menu is a reasonable £17.50 alongside an a la carte, with starters around £5, mains from £9 to £15 – that Bourguignon, those moules, the French soup and other dishes are on both lunch and dinner menus.
A perfect-sized portion emerged from the kitchen. The classical stew, if properly adhered to, consists of baby onions, mushrooms, carrots, wine and very tender beef cubes. Add some thyme, as the chef did here, and some quartered new potatoes on top, and you have a delectable dish of merit.
It could have used some pommes mousseline to mop up the juices instead of the new potatoes but I nitpick. This immensely satisfying food, served in a lovely grey-rimmed soup plate, needed a good red wine.
‘I have just the wine, from the south-west. Try this and see,’ said Christophe. It worked perfectly.
I haven’t seen that old warhorse Crèpes Suzette on a menu for decades. Would the chef flambé the pancakes in either curaçao or brandy at the table as in grand establishments of yore? A less showy version emerged, the pancakes too thick but the orange sauce with oodles of cooked, thinly-sliced orange peel was excellent as was Jude’s quality ice cream.
Oddly, there are few places that re-visit proper northern French cooking locally. But in the hands of this Normandy couple, the real deal is once again possible to savour and love. Bienvenue! My bill came to £15.
Ashby’s Gastropub and Boutique Hotel, 4 Auckland Road West, Southsea, Portsmouth, PO5 3NY
Open: noon–2.30pm and 6pm–9pm (noon–3pm Suns, not Sun evening or Mon). Breakfasts from 8am–10am
Food: Five (out of five)
Disabled access: Good, with plenty of space between tables.
How to get there: Head for Southsea, turn off Osborne Road on to Ashby Place and the restaurant is at the far end. A public car park is in front.