Last year Mark and I were spending Christmas Day with his family, but in the week leading up to it we were in Winchester for a wedding with my side of the family. We decided to have our family Christmas celebration during our stay and we went out for a Christmas dinner at the River Cottage Canteen. They always put on such a lovely Christmas menu that pushes the boat out a little further than your turkey roast with the usual trimmings and I love their ethos and the fact that they always use local, seasonal, organic produce. We had a lovely time and enjoyed the food so much that we decided to go again this year. One thing that really impressed me this year was that they have a vegan as well as a vegetarian option for every course!
One thing to bear in mind if you’re travelling to Winchester from further afield is that the parking situation, particularly around the holidays, is really busy! All I can say is leave plenty of time to get there and try the park and rides first.
We were welcomed by the lovely staff and shown to our seats in a cute little nook. We had preordered our food so we were served really swiftly.
I started with the gin and orange cured salmon with dill and chive sour cream, pickled fennel and rye bread which was such a delicate and beautiful combination that I’m going to have to try at home. The cure of the salmon was so subtle, yet you could definitely pick out the juniper and citrus notes which complemented the other elements perfectly. Mark started with the potted game with a spiced plum pickle and walnut bread. It was a generous portion as the game was dense and it was full of flavour so the simple accompaniments of the pickle and walnut bread worked really well.
For my main I chose the roast and confit organic chicken with creamy celeriac, smoked bacon and chestnuts. I find roast chicken breast often to be dry and a bit underwhelming in terms of flavour, but this chicken breast was so delicious and served with a crispy skin which I love. Then the confit chicken leg…oh my goodness I have never tasted chicken so succulent and tender! Once again the combination of all the elements with the smoky bacon, the creamy yet tart celeriac, the sweet chestnuts and that perfectly seasoned gravy, was faultless and everything played its part in what was a really really delicious dish.
Mark chose the River Cottage ale-braised beef & onions with bashed carrots, thyme and turnips. I could see as they set down his plate that the meat was so tender that it was ready to fall apart! The ale gravy was beautiful too – you can’t go wrong with beef and ale! A highlight for both of us was the roast potatoes which were easily the best roasties I’ve ever eaten.
I finished off my Christmas lunch with the mulled winter fruit salad with stem ginger biscuits. The fruit was a mix of apples and pears mulled in a lovely syrup that wasn’t too sweet really letting the flavour of the wine sing through. The ginger biscuit perhaps was a little softer than I expected and could have had a bit more of a snap, but I really enjoyed the flavours.
Marks choice was the vanilla, honey & bay pannacotta with stewed apple and boozy prunes. He really enjoyed it, but his only comment was that the way it was presented in the glass made it a bit difficult to get a good balance of pannacotta and prunes as you ate and you miss seeing the good old wobble!