Romsey was the home of Lord Palmerston, a 19th century British Prime Minister, whose statue stands in the market place and who lived at Broadlands, a fine 18th century house surrounded by a 400 acre park created by "Capability" Brown. Later, Lord Mountbatten lived there and it is now open to the public, with an exhibition devoted to Lord Mountbatten's eventful life. There was a great Abbey founded here in the 10th century and a 12th century Abbey Church still remains: one of the finest Norman buildings in all Europe.
Romsey also has several unusually good restaurants, one of which is Bertie's, under the same capable ownership as Hunter's in Winchester. The eponymous Bertie is P.G.Woodhouse's hero, Bertie Wooster (or is his man Jeeves really the hero?). There are somewhat tentative references to Wooster and his period in the simple but pleasant decor of this small restaurant, opening off a street with the unusual name of The Hundred. There is a pub-like bar as you enter, which, indeed, seems to be used like a pub, with regulars dropping in for a drink. The restaurant itself has small, candle-lit tables, some of them somewhat too close together perhaps. There is a good table in the bow window looking on to the street.
The Hundred, incidentally, refers to an ancient territorial division. King Alfred, in the late 800s AD, was said to have divided his kingdom into counties, the counties into hundreds and the hundreds into tithings or villae.
Be that as it may, although you may not be immediately impressed as you enter Bertie's, you certainly will be when the food arrives. You know at once that something special is in store by the look and presentation of the dishes. Individual warm tarts of brie and tomato on young rocket with a chive dressing stood proudly aloft on the plate and might have made an elegant cocktail hat for the smaller woman. The fresh plum tomatoes were peeled, the puff pastry excellent and the layers of slightly melting brie made this a delicious and unusual dish. (4.95).
Another dish, offered as first or main course, was small and tender scallops in a light sauce of white wine and ginger, which was light enough not to mask the delicate flavour of the scallops. A good salad, including dill, nestled on the plate as a base.
Other first courses could include tartare of salmon on a bed of leaves, with a quail's egg garnish (5.95); terrine of chicken and baby leeks with a roasted cherry tomato compote (4.75); fine slices of marinated peppered beef fillet brushed with a nut oil (5.50).
The main courses are equally attractive. The pan fried veal kidneys with spinach and tarragon were tender, well divided and prepared and in an excellent full (but not too full) flavoured red wine sauce. The breast of maize-fed chicken with crisp pancetta had a sauce of tiny broad beans - unusually and deliciously without their jackets. This dish looked most attractive, the chicken was beautifully tender and the flavour unusual and first class.
Other main courses on offer when we visited included pork and chive or Italian sausages with a grain mustard mash and a rich gravy; roast leg of confit duck served with braised red cabbage and a port sauce; daube of beef rump with creamed horseradish and a rich jus; roast rack of lamb with figs on a mild sauce of ginger. A vegetarian dish is always available - such as boudins of quark and courgette set on a tomato butter sauce. Main courses are priced from 7.95 to 14.95.
Vegetables and bread deserve special mentions. The white and the granary breads offered were extremely fresh and soft within and crisp without. The vegetables - french beans, carrots, broccoli and new potatoes in their skins, all fresh, were just right. Lightly cooked but not too "al dente".
All the deserts are home made, including the sorbets and ice creams, served in a brandysnap basket. There are poached fruits with citrus syllabub, summer pudding, crême brulée of summer berries and, for chocaholics, a splendidly rich and intense chocolate and orange mousse in a chocolate pyramid. (All at 4,50).
House wines, including some from the pays d'Oc and Australia, are pleasantly drinkable and priced at 8.50 to 9.50. House champagne (Reynier) is 23.50. There is a Bertie's "Connoisseur's List" (I feel it should be Jeeve's List) with wines from 14 to 19.00, a Ch. Cissac '90 at 24.50 and good white burgundies at 23.00 and 25.00. There are 37 bottles on their list, including some from South Africa and New Zealand, and half bottles of Late Bottled Vintage port at 9.95, which seemed like a good idea at the time!
Bertie's is also a good place for a cheerful light (or not so light) and reasonably priced lunch. Baguettes (delicious bread again) are available with fillings such as bacon and tomato; prawns and a tomato mayonnaise; French brie with salad and a cranberry mayonnaise (all at 3.20 to 3.60).There are also somewhat more substantial, but still light, dishes, such as pan fried chicken liver salad; potato pancake of smoked salmon and chive sour cream; minute steak and escalope of salmon are also available. (4.65 to 6.95).
To sum up, Bertie's is an un-pretentious restaurant, serving unusually good food at reasonable prices.
Berties Restaurant and Bar, 80 The Hundred
Romsey, Hampshire SO51 8BZ
Tel: 01794 830708
Open for lunch, 12 to 2, and dinner, 6.30 to 10, from Monday to Saturday.
Our correspondent Michael Pelham is Proprietor of Pelham Tours, which organises sporting, gastronomic, musical and other tours in the UK and Europe.
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