Man has been grilling slabs of meat for millennia and today it’s seen by restaurateurs as one of the easiest, most cost-effective ways of running a business.
Buy a grill, hire a chef, get in some steaks, add some chips and away we go. No need to have trained staff, only those who can throw a steak on some heat, pop a potato into a fryer and manage health and safety.
The Coach and Horses, marooned on the Hilsea island roundabout, has recently morphed into a Flaming Grill pub. The lovely brick building, dating back to the 1880s, has seen many changes in that time and this is the latest incarnation.
The menu itself is like reading a lit firecracker, the colour splashes and pictures making it virtually impossible to concentrate. ‘King Size’ ‘Only £7.49’, ‘Have 2 for only £2.20,’ ‘From £2.29’ ‘Only 99p’, ‘only £1.79’, ‘Flaming Hot Value Deals’, ‘Hot Deal Wednesday’. Okay, okay, we get the message! You’re in the business of sell, sell, sell. It’s not all grilled meat. There are loaded cheese wedges and breaded prawns for starters and steak and ale pie, lasagne and scampi for mains. Profiteroles, key lime pie and chocolate fudge cake are on the list of puds.
I sat at one of the many booths dotted around the tastefully-decorated pub with its painted wood, tongue-and-groove ceiling, high tables, high-backed chairs and oversized lighting.
I’d ordered a ‘tender flame-grilled 10oz rib eye steak, served on sizzling onions with chips and HP steak sauce’, priced at £9.99. I could hear its arrival even above the relentlessly loud music.
The steak was ordered medium-rare. ‘Are you sure you want it like this? It could be chewy.’ said a staff member, one of the many who are a credit to the business thanks to their charm and work ethic.
The meat continued to cook from medium, not requested medium-rare, to well-done due to, you guessed it, that sizzling heat. Not a good move, Flaming Grill.
The meat itself was passable, not particularly flavoursome and unseasoned. The industrial-strength sauce demonstrated a lack of buying-in sensibilities and the onions were steamed and unpleasant. And those chips were poor quality and lukewarm.
There are no vegetables listed at all, so it’s mystifying why you are given the opportunity to ‘add seasonal veg for only 99p.’
No doubt they’ll do a sizzling business, the staff the main reason for going there in my book. The menu panders to greed, a smoke-and-mirrors effect of style over quality substance.
It’s such a simple thing, steak and chips. But I rather think this place has made a bit of a meal of it.
My bill came to just over £13, including an extremely poor glass of Rioja.
Flaming Grill at the Coach & Horses, London Road, Hilsea PO2 9SE (023) 9266 0533.
Open: From noon-10pm for food all week
Food: Two (out of five)
Service: Four (out of five)
Atmosphere: Three (out of five)
Good space for wheelchairs
How to get there: The pub is close to the Portsbridge Roundabout, which gives access to Portsea Island from the A27 and is the main route to Hilsea and North End. Turn off into London Road then into the right hand lane. The pub is on an island and is accessed by continuing round to the other side. Large car park.