What Southampton may lack in visual charm, it more than makes up for in food to rival its genteel neighbours in the New Forest and Winchester. Fancy an artisanal pizza? You got it! Want to sit down for pie in a diner? No probs. Always wondered what food a ‘MasterChef’ winner would serve up? Wonder no more – because Southampton has it all. For years, this city was best known as a place you pass through on your way to somewhere else (usually on a cruise or via an Isle of Wight ferry). But recent times have seen a wide array of appealing sights and things to do spring up. And we’ve noticed these brilliant Southampton restaurants pulling in ever-more visitors... from ever-further afar. So get stuck in and see what the fuss is all about yourself.
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Best restaurants in Southampton
Why go? An attractive, timber-heavy brewpub and restaurant in a medieval woolhouse.
Hoppy house-brewed beer might be the name of the game, but a Deep South-inspired menu has enough going on to attract the most pious teetotaller. It’s a grab bag of zhuzhed-up cajun, delta and creole flavours: snacks of pickled okra and pork crackling cornbread, then cherry cola-glazed wings, succotash beans, super-sounding gumbo and so on. Southern-comforting stuff.
Why go? A daytime deli and cosy boutique hotel restaurant with a neat line in porky morsels.
The simple food at this spin-off from the New Forest’s lovely Pig Hotel is served from noon until 8pm – so spend the day pigging out on things like air-dried lomo, garlic sausage rolls or chorizo on sourdough (with Isle of Wight tomatoes, naturally). Swine averse? Snaffle a plate of hot-smoked chalk stream trout or some cheese instead.
Why go? Slick, self-consciously traditional Indian joint.
A high-street curry house hawking dishes of ‘primordial authenticity’ using ‘ancient’ cooking techniques might sound a bit lofty. But Coriander Lounge isn’t your regular Cobra’n’masala slop shop. It seeks to provide spice seekers with more nuanced Indian flavours. The classics are repped, but it’s the karai, parsi and chef’s specials that are really appealing. Malai kofta, anyone?
Why go? A welcoming Inner Avenue boozer that prides itself on its gargantuan burgers.
Anyone claiming to dislike burgers is either a fool or a liar. Everyone else will find much to love at the cosy Rockstone pub: there are classic bacon cheeseburgers, modish vegan jackfruit numbers and romance-killing patties slathered in black garlic mayo, plus creative sides and sundries like beer-battered olives and vegan katsu seitan ‘chicken wings’.
Why go? A long-standing, romantic modern European spot on Oxford Street.
After a chic, smart city institution? Oxford Brasserie is it, dishing out butter-heavy classics that’ll never go out of fashion. Scallops with black pudding and pork belly? Yup. Veal T-bone with dauphinoise and choucroute cabbage. Of course. Lymington crab linguine, duck breast with cherry jus, and poached pears for pudding? Tick, tick, TICK. Classic stuff all round.
Why go? Excellent artisan pizza at the South Western Arms pub in St Denys.
A moveable wood-fired oven is the source of Southampton’s most popular pizzas. Glance outside this St Denys boozer and you’ll find it knocking out a bevy of simply topped pies, the most elaborate of which is The Bryn. Laden with fennel sausage, parmesan, ham, jalapenos and more, it’s an edible tribute to Bryn Lewis, much-missed founder of local music venue The Brook.
Why go? Classy Italian dining in a converted Victorian warehouse.
Ennio’s was voted Hampshire’s best Italian by the newspaper Corriere della Sera. Sounds a bit random, but they might be on to something. From nibbly antipasti to meaty secondi, via insalate and proper pasta, the vast menu has all bases covered. Fish, though, is the focus – try scallop and prawn thermidor, tomato-y brodetto stews and groaning fritto misto platters.
Why go? An all-day parkside café offering plant-based – AKA vegan – dishes of all stripes.
Brighton throngs with vegan joints; Southampton not so much. Rejoice, then, for Café Thrive. Pulse-packed salad bowls aside, clean eating is dismissed in favour of seitan burgers (pimped with tempeh rashers and cashew ‘cheese’), pizzas and sandwiches – there’s even a vegan New York reuben. What’s more, the dairy-free sundaes look better than the real thing. Almost.
Why go? A comics-themed diner whipping up fine pies near the Polygon.
Piecaramba! is a bit like Bristol’s pun-heavy pie-oneer Pieminister. By which we mean it makes delish pies with ridiculous names, like the lamb-and-red-wine Woolverine, a curried chicken Chick Norris and the Piecaramba! itself, with beef, melted cheese and kidney beans (a burrito in pie form, basically). Mash, gravy and minty peas are, of course, plentiful. And obligatory.
Why go? If you've ever watched ‘MasterChef’ and wished you could taste what’s on the telly, now’s your chance.
Shelina Permalloo, who won the series in 2012, opened a cute street food kitchen in Bedford Place where she serves the homely Mauritian dishes she grew up with. At Lakaz Maman, which means ‘Mum’s House’ in Mauritian Creole, everything is halal and they cater for gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan diets. Expect coconut curries, tropical burgers, roti wraps and more.
Why go? A characterful Spanish stalwart near the Isle of Wight ferry.
La Regata has been going for almost 25 years, and for good reason. It’s atmospheric, value for money and does the kind of tapas that pay no heed to finicky trends. Fancy small plates of Iberico ham, Cantabrian cheese-stuffed dates, sherry-simmered chicken livers, gallons of Rioja and more aioli than you can shake a castanet at? ¡Sí, Señor!
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Ready to explore the city?
With Southampton’s roots dating as far back as the Stone Age, parts of its 12th-century stone walls still stand and its first museum (Tudor House), which opened in 1912, is still intact. Add to that a direct ferry to the Isle of Wight and the New Forest being a mere 20-minute drive away, and there’s plenty to get your teeth into.