(Less Than) 24 Hours in Winchester

My aunt was celebrating her 70th birthday and had invited Steve and myself along for the ride. I finished teaching just after 2pm and hopped in the car still in my ballet gear to get to Winchester in time for pre-dinner drinks.

We had booked ourselves into a quirky boutique bed and breakfast a stones throw from my aunt’s house and the city centre. The Black Hole is situated on Wharf Hill opposite its sister restaurant The Black Rat and next to The Black Boy pub. There is a wine bar too a short walk away called The Black Bottle.

The Black Hole B&B is no ordinary bed and breakfast. It has a prison theme with all the rooms being called “cells”. Complete with thick vintage wooden cell doors that must have come from a pretty amazing reclaimation yard. There are mug shots of prisoners faces on the walls which add to the quirky vibe. You would think it would be pretty morbid in style but it actually felt very light and airy. Our bedroom was cell 6 on the second floor. A spacious room decorated simply (obviously) with striped carpets and wallpaper that recreated the look of wood panelled walls.

The bathroom was pretty luxurious by prison standards. No bucket in the corner here! Instead there were fluffy white towels, some yummy smelling products and a rather lovely bath and shower. Just what I needed after 5 hours of teaching followed by a 2 and a half hour drive. 

Once washed and dressed for dinner Steve and I ventured out. Being a little early to meet the other guests we decided on a drink on our own first. My favourite pub in Winchester, The Wykeham Arms, was only a ten minute walk from the Black Hole so we decided to walk through the water gardens and Winchester College grounds to get there. It was beautiful in the early evening sunshine. I felt totally relaxed and in a holiday vibe. We ordered our drinks and took a table in the bar to enjoy them. The Wykeham Arms has a great selection of ales and wines alongside a wonderful menu. If we didn’t already have dinner plans then I would have suggested we stayed for food. I have eaten there twice before and haven’t been disappointed.

From The Wykham Arms we walked back the way we came to our meeting point, the Black Boy. Just next door to where we were staying! Steve and I ordered drinks and made our way to a large table outside as we knew there were others joining us. Lorraine and Dai arrived first followed by my cousin Max. I hadn’t seen him for a while so it was lovely to catch up before the other guests arrived. Other relatives turned up plus some of Lorraine and Dai’s closest friends. Once we were all assembled we walked the 5 minute trip down to The Chesil Rectory. The Chesil Rectory is a well established restaurant in the oldest, and in my opinion, one of the prettiest buildings in Winchester. They specialise in modern British cuisine from what I could see although we had a limited menu created for us due to the fact that we were a party of 14.

We were greeted by the rather lovely Douglas and his team all eager to please. We were offered a welcome drink and I asked if there was anything local on the menu. There was! A rather crisp and  delicious sparkling wine from Hattingley Valley. A local vineyard in Arlesford. As my regular readers will know, I love trying things that are local to the area I’m in. It just makes sense to me.

Like I said previously, there was a limited menu due to the fact we were a large party. A choice of two starters. Isle of White Heritage tomato salad with a local goats cheese or an asparagus soup with a poached hens egg. Steve and I decided that we would order one of each so we could try both. The tomatoes were heaven on a plate and the asparagus soup was creamy and flavoursome. For me I felt that the poached egg was a little over done but it didn’t effect my enjoyment or the flavours. It just might have been nice if the egg’s yolk had run into the soup a little when cut open.

The main course choices were haunch of venison with a black currant jus and creamed parsnip mash, chicken in a creamy sauce with vegetables plus trout with a light broth. I wish I had taken a picture of the menu to remind me of the correct names of the dishes. Very strange of me not to have done so. I must have been enjoying my Hattingley Valley fizz too much!

I ordered the trout and Steve ordered the venison. My uncle Dai had the chicken so I could try a little of all. My trout was deliciously light and the broth was delicate and fresh. It had an oriental richness about it. Steve’s venison was rich and succulent. The tartness of the black current jus cut through the richness of the venison perfectly. There were lots of positive noises coming from Steve! Dai’s chicken was so moist. I think I overheard Douglas saying it was cooked in a water bath to keep it succulent. None of us could fault our main courses.

There was a dessert option too but Lorraine’s birthday cake had been presented and cut so we all decided to have a piece of cake instead!

The whole evening was a joy from start to finish. It was lovely catching up with my cousins Max and Aaron plus Aaron’s wife Jo. As well as spending time with Lorraine and Dai.

After a good nights sleep in our large and comfy bed we pottered downstairs to sample the Back Hole’s breakfast. The tables were all set up with tin plates, bowls and mugs to resemble prison dining although it was far more luxurious than that. I ordered eggs, tomatoes and veggie sausages. Steve had the full English. There were cereals, yoghurts, croissants and toast available as well as various teas, coffees and freshly squeezed juices. Both of our breakfasts were cooked to perfection using quality produce. Just what we needed after a night of rich food and wine.

After breakfast and our check-out we walked the 15 minute walk through the water gardens and the cathedral grounds into town. There was a craft market set up through the high street which was an added bonus. I purchased a lovely succulent from one of the stalls that I had fallen in love with.

After our mooch around town and the exploration of all the side streets we stumbled across a coffee shop called Coffee Lab. A new shop that opened in March this year but destined for a long future judging on the quality of the coffee, tea, sandwiches and cakes. This place had a really cool vibe and definitely a place I will remember for a future visit to Winchester. I must tell my aunt to check it out as she loves a good cup of coffee.

After coffee it was time for us to think about making a move and the two and a half hour journey back home. The Coffee Lab was a perfect end to our less than 24 hour visit! 

See you again soon Winchester. I look forward to discovering more of your foodie delights next time!

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