Since 2002, The White Star Tavern has been nestled in Southampton’s Oxford Street – a mecca for foodies and home to some of the best restaurants in the city. The White Star Tavern is the jewel in the crown – a gorgeous gastro pub (the first in the city!) complete with dining room, serving fantastic, modern British cuisine. In fact, it was awarded a 2 star rosette by the AA in 2010 (and is the only venue in Southampton to hold this honour). I love the fact that TWST partners with Hampshire Fare to source ingredients from the local area whenever possible. This creates a showcase for some fantastic produce, and means that menu changes with the season, too.
In my opinion, if you’re looking for a restaurant and bar in Southampton, this is one of the best. I have fond memories of brunch with friends here – avocado toast and endless Prosecco, which certainly starts the day as you mean to go on! But we were here to sample the dinner menu, which was full of truly tempting delights – everything from classic pub grub like burger and chips, to more refined fayre like beetroot and goat’s cheese risotto and curried lamb rump.
The meal kicked off with a bread board – chewy, sourdough bread with whipped unsalted butter on the side and an optional dip of really delicious, thick balsamic vinegar and a grassy, punchy olive oil. But here’s my tip – don’t fill up too much on the bread, because you’re going to want to cram in as many courses as your stomach can handle here! (Mind you, when the bread is soruced from the Hoxton Bake House, you’ll find it hard to resist…)
For my starter I had an absolutely incredible cream of sweetcorn soup from the specials menu (seriously, I’m still hankering after another bowl now!). Sweet, rich and unctuous, it was dressed with a mild paprika oil and crowned with a crunchy, salty crab fritter which balanced perfectly. This was one of the best soups I’ve ever had in a restaurant! The kind of dish where you wish you’d asked the chef for the recipe, and then spend hours online trawling for something similar, just to recreate that magic all over again. Mmmmm….
For his starter, my husband ordered the slow cooked ox cheek from the standard menu. It came with charred pak choi and a black bean glaze, topped with fresh chilli and spring onions. The beef was melt in the mouth tender and deeply savoury – it had a really intense, rich flavour! Truly, the essence of beefiness – I guess that doesn’t really work as a snappy slogan, but it’ll do to get the point across!
Also from the standard menu, my husband ordered the White Star Tavern burger – gorgeous high quality beef patty, on a sweet, toasted brioche bun that had just a hint of nutty chewiness about it. He also ordered extras including onion rings, cheese and pulled pork. The onion rings were beautifully crispy with a tender interior, and the pulled pork worked really well as a soft, sweet counterpart to the well-seasoned beef patty. Check out that gorgeous colour on the beef in the photo above! This was definitely a great take on a pub favourite – the only possible let down were the fries, which were fairly standard. Considering the exceptional quality of every other element of every course, I was surprised that TWST didn’t offer beef dripping fries or triple cooked chips, or something similar – but these were perfectly adequate nonetheless… (And by this point, my husband was definitely struggling to finish the meal – in case you wondered about portion sizes!)
For my main I ordered another dish from the specials menu – roasted hake stuffed with wild mushrooms, Jersusalem artichoke gratin, peas and cured ham, and truffle butter jus.
I usually shy away from white fish dishes at restaurants, because I feel like they could be a bit bland – but this was a powerhouse of flavour. The hake was creamy, sweet and soft, and the stuffing was crumbly, moist and meaty, thanks to the woody, earthy texture of the mushrooms. The pea and ham vegetable side dish was addictively good, but if we’re talking illicit substances, the jus was most assuredly the hardest stuff of all – I don’t think I could quit mainlining this if I had a ready supply. This truffle jus was sticky and super-savoury – the kind of sauce that makes you want to lick your plate and ask for more.
Coupled with the gratin and the hake it was unbeatable – I can honestly say, as with the soup dish, that this was the best fish dish I’d had in a restaurant, and if I ever come back to TWST and see this on the menu again, I won’t rest until I’ve ordered it and convinced everyone else on the table to order it too. Even my friend Sara, who is allergic to fish… No, it was that good – she’d die happy, believe me.
Before I move on to dessert, I have to mention that gratin – sweet, nutty and with a slightly firmer texture than potatoes, the Jersusalem artichoke made an excellent accompaniment to the fish, and I’m really glad to see it on the menu instead of the more obvious potato side. Its delicate flavour worked perfectly here.
For pudding, we had a pair of desserts that sort of matched – my husband had the Death By Chocolate, and I had Death By Tonka Bean. Look at this amazing presentation! I love a chef that has a sense of humour, and this little coffin-shaped brownie, complete with raspberry blood splatters, was a great surprise when it came. (Sorry, I’ve ruined it for you now – but promise me you’ll order it anyway!). The highlight of the dish was this fantastic little skull, which was actually a burnt white chocolate and vanilla bean parfait. SUBLIME. It had such a great depth of flavour, and was so intensly creamy. The same parfait adorned my dessert, luckily – or I would have fought my husband for his and the decorations on the plate wouldn’t have just been raspberries…
My Death by Tonka Bean was a special dessert for that evening – a pistachio brownie, with chocolate custard, tonka bean custard, raspberry sauce, salted dulce de leche sauce, honeycomb, and the parfait on top.It was such a neat touch that both of us had different skull designs – a great example of the attention to detail I grew to appreciate from the restaurant during our visit.
If you’ve never had tonka bean in a dessert before, I’d highly recommend you give it a try. It’s a truly unusual flavour – like a vanilla that’s run off to join the circus, toured the world, and got a bunch of tattoos. There’s vanilla in there, but it’s accompanied by clove, coconut, sour cherry and a hint of liquorice. A truly unique combination – and it gave my dessert a remarkable depth of flavour. The honeycomb was also a really nice addition – sticky, sharp-edged and caramelised, it played well with the sour raspberries and thick, gooey chocolate custard. What a way to end the meal!
If you’re after a dining experience that’s witty, accomplished and confident, I’d heartily recommend The White Star Tavern. After having visited them for dinner and brunch, I’d rate them as one of my favourite local restaurants – definitely somewhere to take a fellow foodie on a date, or out for a special occasion. The staff are friendly and very helpful, the restaurant is beautiful, and the pub is lively and has an excellent cocktail list (including Seedlip too!).
Visit the website at www.idealcollection.co.uk/whitestartavern to see menus and to book.
My meal and drinks were complimentary for the purposes of this review – my opinions, words and photos are my own.