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The Dolphin (Portsmouth, Hampshire)

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A pub serving food in Old Portsmouth.

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      20.07.2012 20:42
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      A pub in Old Portsmouth serving good food

      The Dolphin on High Street in Old Portsmouth is said to be Portsmouth's oldest pub, dating from 1716. I had never been there, but my son had had a Christmas works do there and he and his partner had recently taken to having a drink there in the evenings. We thought it might be worth sampling their food, and when a miserable, wet bank holiday struck, it seemed like the perfect occasion.

      We arrived soon after 6pm, and there were just a few people in the Dolphin enjoying a drink. There was a semi-enclosed room to the right that looked cosy with an open fire, but my son and his partner didn't think that would be the best place to sit and have a meal. Further down, beyond the bar, was the main dining area where there were plenty of tables to choose from. We picked one not far from the bar. My son and his partner sat down on a long wooden seat with upholstery that had seen better days - in fact it looked almost as though it had been there since 1716! I had a basic wooden chair. We had already ordered a round of drinks at the bar; the orange juice that two of us had appeared to be freshly squeezed and had slices of fresh orange in it. Very impressive. A waitress brought us menus, and there were a few specials listed on a board in the room we had passed near the entrance. I remember that they included fish and chips as well as a chicken dish.

      One side of the menu listed starters, snacks, omelettes, two salads, ciabatta sandwiches and hot drinks. The starters included three vegetarian options as well as chicken skewers and deep fried whitebait among others; they ranged in price from £4.75 to £5.95. The sandwiches were a similar price and featured varieties such as prawn mayonnaise and melted mature cheddar and onion. We chose to share bread and olives with dipping oil (£3.95) from the snack section, which also included cheesy chips and a farmhouse platter. There is a choice of cheese, mushroom or cheese and ham omelettes, served with chips and salad garnish, for £8.95 or £9.95. Coffees and tea are also listed on this page of the menu.

      There are fourteen main dishes to choose from as well as four in the grill section and several specials. For vegetarians there is a mixed bean chilli made with Quorn mince (£8.95), Italian potato gnocchi (£11.95) or roasted vegetable mezzaluna (£11.95). My son chose the Dolphin special Burgundy beef stew (£9.95), but unfortunately they had run out. He then ordered Old English Hampshire pork sausages with bubble and squeak mash and caramelised onion gravy £8.95). His partner, usually the sausage fan, decided on the Dolphin open burger (£8.95) with an extra topping of mushrooms (80p). I had little trouble choosing the chef's homemade fish pie (£8.95). Quite a few of the mains are more expensive than the ones we chose, going up to £14.95 for a 6-oz fillet steak served with either Boulangere potatoes and green beans or salad and hand-cut chips. Side orders of bread, vegetables, onion rings, salad and hand-cut chips are available (£2.50-£3.00), but we didn't feel the need to order anything extra.

      The dining area was very quiet so I had a look around while we were waiting for our food. There are plenty of wooden partitions at intervals to allow for more privacy. The walls are filled with old paintings of ships, not surprisingly as the Dolphin is so close to the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour. At the back of the pub is a small garden that looked very pretty with its hanging baskets of flowers, even on that dreary evening. I thought it would be something to look forward to for a warm, sunny day, but the tables were so small that I don't think food could be served on them.

      My son's sausages arrived first, piled up on top of the mash with plenty of gravy in the deep, round plate. I was a little surprised that the waitress then asked us if we wanted any sauces, but my son's partner asked for some ketchup. Almost immediately, however, another waitress arrived with the burger and fish pie. The burger was attractively presented on a wooden slab with thick-cut chips at one end and tomato at the other. I was warned that my fish pie was extremely hot as it had only just come out of the oven, and the topping was in fact still sizzling. It was served with a salad garnish of lettuce, red cabbage, tomato, onion and a long slice of cucumber. I opened the topping of the pie in several places in the hope that it would cool down a little and decided that I would make a start on the salad. My son and his partner were both more than satisfied with their choices; my son liked the fact that the sausages seemed to be traditional and hadn't had herbs or anything else unnecessary added to them. I finally had a go at the topping of my pie and it was deliciously cheesy. As I got further down, I started to find quite a few mussels, which surprised me. The description of the pie in the menu was "a selection of white fish, prawns and smoked haddock in a creamy sauce." I honestly didn't notice any smoked haddock, and there wasn't a great deal of white fish. Mussels and prawns were the main ingredients underneath the mashed potato, so it was really more of a seafood pie. That was fine by me, but there might be someone who isn't keen on mussels and was looking forward to smoked haddock. I couldn't quite finish it all, and it took me quite a while to eat because it was so hot to start with. But overall we were impressed by the food.

      Since we hadn't gone for the more expensive main dishes, we didn't feel too guilty about asking to see the dessert menu. We didn't really have room for anything too filling, such as the citrus cheesecake (£5) or the chocolate and Amaretto torte (£5.50), so we considered the lighter options. My son's partner chose three scoops of chocolate ice cream (£4.50, with strawberry and vanilla also available) and I went for Pimm's Creme Brulee with a homemade cinnamon biscuit (£5.50). My son, however, wasn't interested in the desserts; he has developed a taste for whisky and likes the fact that the Dolphin actually has a printed whisky menu. He asked to have a look at it and wanted to try something new; the various varieties range in price from £3.50 to £9.50. I know absolutely nothing about whisky, and all I can say is that according to the receipt he ordered Strathisla (£4) and enjoyed it.

      The ice cream was good and so was my creme brulee. I just about had room for the biscuit, which had a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar on top. The creme brulee was very soft and creamy with a perfect crisp top, again sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. The Pimm's wasn't a particularly strong flavour but added a distinctive taste. Both desserts were garnished with a s strawberry cut in half and a blueberry. When the waitress came to take our plates away, she jokingly told my son's partner off for not eating his fruit and said she would come back in a couple of minutes. He ate the strawberry, but I had to have the blueberry. I always think blueberries have no taste, but they are too good to waste.

      I visited the ladies' toilets which were clean and well appointed. There is just one step up to them which might cause a problem for the disabled.

      Our bill came to £47.80 which I thought was quite reasonable. It didn't, however, include our round of drinks from the bar which were about £6.60. If you pay by debit card as we did, the Dolphin adds a handling fee of 50p, and if you pay by credit card there is an extra charge of 2% of the total bill. We left a tip in cash rather than adding it to the card payment.

      I'm sure we will go to the Dolphin again as we all enjoyed the food. Service was polite and friendly too. It makes a change from the chain restaurants in nearby Gunwharf Quays, and in better weather it could be combined with a walk along the Millennium Trail. I should mention that real ales are served at the Dolphin, so it is an interesting place to go and have a drink for anyone who likes traditional pubs with a bit of atmosphere. You won't find any fruit machines or televisions in this place.

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