Winchester is full of history. The Romans were here and there was a Celtic settlement even before they arrived. Legend has it that Winchester was King Arthur's Camelot and in the great Hall, built by Henry III in the 1220s, "King Arthur's Round Table" still stands - even if it is probably an ancient fake!
The Saxon Kings of Wessex made Winchester their capital, and there is a fine statue in the Broadway of King Alfred the Great, who drove the Vikings out of southern England.
The great Norman Cathedral was started in 1079 and in 1382 William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester and Chancellor of England founded Winchester College, which Wykehamists (as those in the college are called) claim to be the oldest school in England in its original buildings. Its motto is a saying of William of Wykeham Manners makyth man.
Near the College, by one of the gates into the Cathedral Close, stands The Wykeham Arms, an ancient hostelry which has been looking after travellers for some 250 years. It is a delight, and has become a well loved institution to those who live in Winchester and to the many who come to visit this lovely city.
The Wykeham Arms is definitely a pub and not an hotel (although it does in fact have seven comfortable and amusingly furnished bedrooms) and Graeme Jameson, the hard working, vigilant and genial proprietor, is determined to keep it that way. It has a great atmosphere, produced partly by the amazing collections of all sorts of items that are hung on the walls and perch on every shelf and corner. There are hats everywhere. Military hats, naval hats, school hats and caps, top hats, cricket caps, mortar boards, panamas, a Lapland hat and even a mitre, which once belonged to Bishop Pike.
One can sit at old school desks or there are a number of alcoves and nooks and a crannie or two - whatever a crannie may be. Two rooms are somewhat tucked away, which makes for more private eating.
Lunch is bustling, with lawyers from the nearby courts, schoolmasters, clergymen, tourists and all and sundry. There is a blackboard that lists dishes of the day (the menus are changed daily), which might include Chicken and ham pie (5.25), beef, guiness and mustard casserole (5.95), Wyke cottage pie (a favourite, at 5.25), with soups such as cream of fennel (2.35) and plain or toasted sandwiches (2.55 to 2.95). There are some excellent puddings, such as bananas in butterscotch (3.95), baked strawberry cheesecake (4.25) and iced coffee and kahlua meringue terrine (4.25).
In the evening, it is still best to book for supper - "I hesitate to call it dinner" says Graeme. Again, the menu is changed every day and might include, to start with, smoked duck and melon salad with ginger dressing (4.65), chicken, bacon and watercress terrine with watercress mayonnaise (4.25), chicken liver pate (3.95) or curried vegetable strudels (4.25). Main courses might be grilled mullet fillets with sweet and sour red pepper dressing (11.50), Roast rack of lamb (12.25), which was tender and cooked to just the right degree of pinkness, calves liver with garlic mash and red wine and onion gravy (11.75) or monkfish wrapped in bacon and filo with a crab and chive sauce (11.75). Steaks are well hung and can be grilled or served peppered (10.25 to 11.25). Or you can have "bangers at the bar" (sausages to the uninitiated!) at 40p each.
The food is well prepared and cheerfully served by the enthusiastic young team of helpers. There is not a frozen vegetable in sight - they are lightly cooked and delicious, and I have never had better courgettes.
The wine list is not a long one, but it's varied and good, with sensible and helpful descriptions of the bottles on offer. House wines cost under 10.00, house champagne is 19.95, there are interesting new world wines in the 12/13 range and the most expensive bottle is the Chateau Cissac '90 at 15.00.
Graeme Jameson has just taken over the old Post Office across the road and is turning it into a most attractive delicatessen and wine shop - while still selling stamps and registering mail.
Go to the Wykeham Arms to enjoy the best sort of English pub, with character and a welcoming, un-intimidating and friendly atmosphere - and to enjoy good pub food at reasonable prices. Our correspondent Michael Pelham is proprietor of Pelham Tours, which organises sporting, gastronomic and other tours in the UK and Europe.
The Wykeham Arms, 75 Kinsgate Street, Winchester SO23 9PE
Tel: 01962 853834 Fax: 01962 854411
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