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Review: O'Neill's Irish Pub & Grill, Winchester, UK ~ November 2012
O'Neill's Steak Pie

O'Neill's, 90–91 High Street, Winchester. We were invited by Ursula, the manageress, to visit and try some of the latest dishes introduced on the new Autumn/Winter menu. We had enjoyed a lovely meal at O'Neill's the year before so didn't hesitate in replying “yes please”.

Arrival. We arrived around 6.30pm on a dark November Tuesday to be greeted with genuine warmth and the friendly smile of Becci – the boss for the night. Inside we could see quite a few people sitting enjoying a meal or friendly drink but it wasn't crowded. There are several 'out of the way' tables dotted around, so if you fancy a snug dinner for two or a family meal, you'll be fine. Equally, if you wanted to bring along a small army, there are areas suiting party occasions too.

Interior. O'Neill's always manages to exude a sense of warmth – no matter what time of the day we've popped in. Its 'Olde Worlde' interior is charmingly lit with warm wooden features, and, as is the norm, the neverending bar looked immaculate. O'Neill's has fast become a favourite quite simply because of its consistently courteous staff, great surroundings and very pleasant atmosphere – even at the quietest times. This versatile venue offers differing guises suiting a wide variety of occasions. For example, at weekends, live music nights and charitable events it transforms itself into a thriving party hot–spot.

Dining Areas. The different levels offer diners a choice of open or more intimate sections with each set–off by quirky adornments, such as Guinness Toucans smashing through the wall! (see pic above). We decided on the lower dining area by the front windows as it offers relative privacy, thus no disturbing others with camera flashes, and decor reminiscent of an old fashioned manor house living room.

Drinks. Being typically un–adventurous in the drinks department we ordered a pint of beer and a lager. However, all the usual drinks expected from a well stocked bar are available – together with some Irish specialities. Drink in hand we settled in and happily let Becci advise us on the dishes we should try. Ordering complete, we sat looking forward to new flavours ahead and found it wasn't long before our starters arrived; Parsnip Soup and a Fish Sharing Platter.

Parsnip Soup. We were presented with the vegetarian version of the Parsnip soup (minus topping of bacon pieces) and have to say that it looked, smelt, and tasted, home–made: you know the type reminiscent of heart–warming soups that clever Mums make. It's consistency was thick, smooth, and you could really taste the parsnip; subtle, not in your face, but most definitely there – absolutely brilliant! If you're not a fan of soup, we recommend you give this a try – it's deserving of accolade, and as such, has a very good chance of converting you.

Ciabatta with Melting Cheddar. Accompanying the soup were Ciabatta slices oozing with just the right amount of melting Chedder cheese. The soft bread had a crisp outer crust, tasted fresh, and offered succulent squidgyness when bitten into – especially after a quick soup dunk!

Hand–battered Fish Platter. The platter comprised generous portions of chunky Haddock Goujons, Smoked Salmon on Colcannon Cakes, Salt & Pepper Dusted Calamari, Garlic, Chilli and Rosemary King Prawns (3 per skewer), accompanied by a pot of Tartare Sauce and Garlic Ciabatta. We found the fish tasty and succulent with the crisp battered pieces providing a nice contrast of texture. Although my dining partner found his chillied prawns a touch bitter (mine were fine), we both agreed the platter was very good, with the Calamari (a difficult fish to perfect) reigning supreme.

Beer Batter. We were told the beer used in the home–made batter comes direct from the pump, and that the beer type was regularly alternated. We found the batter light, crispy and not in the least bit greasy (no single drop of oil was left on the plate!).

Condiments. On our table we noticed two unusually branded 'Ballymaloe' bottles of relish, one plain tomato, the other Jalapeno. Becci told us the sauces had been served for a while and proved so popular O'Neill's decided to sell them to fans. We are both sauces/relish mad (not an overstatement) but usually don't add any to dishes we sample and write about, instead, a bottle of the Jalapeno was acquired for home sampling and it soon became clear why they took off in the way they did; the freshness of aroma, juicy tomato flavour, just the right amount of spice, and perfect thickness in consistency – definitely not your run–of–the–mill relish!

Mains. Irish Stew with Thyme Cobblers accompanied by a bowl of chips, and Game, Port & Blackberry Pie accompanied by Peas and Colcannon. The mains were presented together and exuded an array of gorgeous meaty aromas which lingered exceptionally well on the nose – the chips looked pretty good too and were excellent for dipping in the stew's rich sauce.

Winning Irish Stew. In early 2012 the O'Neill's group launched a “create your own Irish stew” competition – the winning entry is now firmly placed on the new menu. The stew comes topped with two Thyme Cobblers and a side of Soda Bread and Kerrygold butter. For those who don't know, a cobbler isn't a dumpling, but a scone which is placed on top of the stew to steam thus absorb the flavours/aroma. The stew had been beautifully cooked to bring the lamb, carrot and potato to the fore. Each chunk of lamb literally melted in the mouth and, married with the delicious sauce, tasted divine.

The Thyme cobblers were nicely sized, fluffy, and had a crispy top. However, if, like us, you're not a big fan of Thyme, then be wary as the flavour, though pleasant, was just a little too prominent for our taste buds. That said, forget the fork, grab a spoon and tuck in!

Game Pie. The pie, rectangular in shape, was big! The thick crust comprised flaky, golden pastry which, when cut into, let loose an array of mouth–watering aromas. The contents included large chunks of supremely tender pheasant and rabbit meat doused in a dark, rich sauce that brought these bold flavours together very nicely. We love hearty, tasty pies and found this to be yet another O'Neill's winner!

Colcannon. The accompanying Colcannon was creamy, flavourful, and when smothered in the robustly meaty (proper) gravy, simply gorgeous. All in all we found the combination of Pie, Colcannon, peas and gravy delicious – another hearty dish to bring warmth and contentment on the coldest day!

Dessert. Although we were very nicely full at this stage, we couldn't stop ourselves from accepting Becci's invite to try a couple of the new desserts added to the latest menu.

Sticky Dicky Porter Cake. This cake, made with Irish stout and spiced fruit, is dark, rich and moist. It comes topped with sticky toffee sauce and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The flavours and texture reminded us very much of Christmas pudding but this was lighter and different enough to stand alone as a worthy alternative.

Winter Berry Pudding – a suet and crumble creation that, along with the custard, really did look, smell and taste very good. The crumble topping was sweet and crunchy, the suet pastry light, and the berry contents spot–on. Suffice to say this super combination of textures and flavours got polished off pretty quickly (amazing how much good food a person can eat!).

Both of the desserts were a real treat – we'll do our best to make sure a little more room is kept for this course on return visits!

To Finish. After the meal we contented ourselves with listening to (and trying to answer) the quiz; an amusing, fairly busy, interactive affair with prizes – it soon became clear we wouldn't have won if we'd signed up, but it was great fun all the same.

Verdict. The new dishes were a triumph, and every rewarding mouthful was relished with gusto. O'Neill's serves exceptionally good grub and it's clear to us the company goes that extra mile. There's a range of menus to choose from; breakfast, lunch, fixed, etc., with each changed regularly to offer diners a variety of tasty traditional, as well as creative, dishes.

O'Neill's prices are great value with special offers that are exactly that – special! So, should you be thinking of visiting for a meal – dont hesitate; both of our dining experiences were excellent, which suggests you'd eat very well, and at a price that won't break the bank!

O'Neill's Pub & Grill. 90–91 High Street, Winchester. Hampshire.
Tel: (01962) 844001

For menus, special offers, events diary, photos & contact details:
Click to visit the O'Neill's Website

Our thanks for another super dining experience are warmly sent to
the O'Neill's team – together with our compliments to the Chef!

Review by
Paula & Richard

O'Neill's interior

O'Neill's Interior

Parsnip soup and cheese ciabatta

Parsnip Soup and Cheddar Ciabatta

O'Neill's Fish Sharing Platter

Fish Sharing Platter

Bowl of rich Irish Stew

Irish Stew

O'Neill's Game Pie meal

Game Pie

Winter Berry Pudding dessert

Winter Berry Pudding