“ Address: 4 Auckland Road West / Southsea PO5 3NY / Hampshire „
Ashby's in Southsea is principally a "boutique hotel" with a restaurant attached to it. It is tucked away behind Palmerston Road, about a hundred yards from the shopping precinct in one direction and the common in the other. It is within easy walking distance of the sea front as well. There is a car park in front of the main entrance to the restaurant.
My brother and his wife had had dinner at Ashby's last month and recommended it to me, especially as at lunchtime the restaurant was offering two courses for £6.95. There had been a very good review of the place in the local paper not long ago as well. A colleague was retiring from work, and another colleague and I wanted to go and have lunch with her one Saturday. I suggested Ashby's and they both agreed, so I booked a table for the last Saturday in November at 1pm.
I was a little surprised that nobody came to greet us when two of us arrived, but I went up to the bar and said that I had made a reservation. The gentleman, presumably the owner, led us through the bar area to the dining area at the rear and said we could choose any table we liked. We picked one near the window at the back of the area, and menus were brought. We were asked if we would like to order drinks, but we decided to wait until our other friend arrived. I was a little taken aback to see that, rather than two courses for £6.95, the offer was for two main courses for £15 or one for £8.50. As there were three of us, that meant we would pay £23.50 altogether for our main courses. It seemed that Ashby's had recently changed hands, as it used to be run by a French couple but this was obviously no longer the case. Hence the price change, but I think they have the same chef.
When the three of us were settled, the owner soon came for our drinks order; we asked for two tonic waters and a pineapple juice. He apologised that the Wild Mushroom and Pea Risotto was no longer available, and it was lucky that none of us was vegetarian as that was the only veggie option on the menu. There were starters but we decided to go straight for a main course. The choices were Ham, Egg and Chips, Sausage and Mash, Beef or Chicken Burger, Fish and Chips, or Beef Bourgignon. We weren't particularly impressed by the limited menu, but both my brother and the local reviewer had recommended the Beef Bourguignon so the three of us plumped for that.
The waiting time for food was very reasonable, but it has to be said that we were the only people in the dining area at that time. Just one other group of people came in while we were there. Our food was served in large, deep plates; there was so much gravy that one of my friends asked if we could have spoons as well as knives and forks. There was an impressive amount of beef, chopped into small cubes, and it was very tender. There were also some tiny onions, slices of carrot and wedges of new potatoes resting on the top. The Bourgignon was sprinkled with herbs and certainly looked appetising. My only criticism was that it was rather too highly seasoned, and later in the day I did feel more thirsty than usual. My two friends thought that there could have been a little more potato, but they remarked on the generous amount of beef. While eating we were asked once or twice if everything was to our liking, and we didn't make any complaints.
When we had finished we were offered desserts (at just under £5) and coffee, but our main course was so filling that we couldn't manage anything else. We had plenty to talk about and we sat for quite some time chatting. There was no attempt to make us feel that we had outstayed our welcome, even though we didn't order any more drinks. Whether we would have been able to stay that long if the restaurant had been busier is another matter. Eventually we decided we had better make a move, so I went to the bar and asked for the bill. This was brought almost immediately, along with three chocolate mint crisps which were not wasted. The bill came to just under £30; we paid cash and added a tip, as service had been polite and efficient.
I visited the ladies' toilets before leaving and found them to be very clean with plenty of toilet tissue, liquid soap and a hand-drier that worked better than many others. There is the odd step to be negotiated here and there, so disabled visitors might struggle a little.
On the whole I would recommend Ashby's, although to have run out of the one and only vegetarian main dish is not really acceptable. I'm not sure what prices are like in the evening, but I would imagine they are higher than the lunchtime ones. There were quite a few people coming and going, and I presume they were staying at the hotel. I would be interested to know how many of them actually dine at Ashby's. It is an ideal location in terms of proximity to shops and the sea front, but there are so many eateries in that area that competition is very strong. If you are a fan of heavy wooden panelling and portraits of the nobility of the past, you will appreciate the décor. I admired the domed glass area of the roof just inside the main entrance, but in general I prefer more contemporary settings. It didn't strike me as a place for families with young children, although there were one or two kids' options on the menu. The Beef Bourgignon, though, I have to say, is well worth a return visit.
Opening hours: Breakfast is served from 8am to 10am. Lunch is from noon until 2.30pm, or 3pm on Sundays when a roast is served. Dinner is from 6pm until 9pm on Tuesdays through to Saturdays.
Ashby's Gastropub and Boutique Hotel
4 Auckland Road West
Tel. 023 9282 3497