With the recent addition of West Quay’s Watermark development, Southampton’s food scene is looking better than ever. Well-known brand names such as Wahaca, Five Guys and Zizzi’s are regularly brimming with students and families alike, and continue to flourish. Nonetheless, as more and more franchises enter the city, it is often easy to forget about the local, independent restaurants that we are so lucky to have. Here’s a selection of my favourite unreported treasures that are worth exploring:
Belgium and Blues
Located in Southampton’s up-and-coming Cultural Quarter, Belgium and Blues is a quaint, independent bar and brasserie. Set on two floors – The Gin Bar on street level and The Beer Cellar down below – Blues prides itself in having nothing but the best quality produce, with over 40 different Belgium bottled beers, and a similar number of gins, all of which can be enjoyed with a Fever Tree tonic of your choice or a recommended option from the knowledgeable staff. Unlike its drinks selection, Blues’ food menu is simple and paired back, showcasing delicious Belgium classics such as Flemish stew and schnitzels, as well as unfamiliar delicacies such as Bitterballen – a light, deep-fried Belgian snack made with beef and herbs – and its vegetarian alternative, Kroketten.
Recommendation: Visit on a Thursday for Steak and Mussel Night to grab yourself a big, hearty bowl of House Moules and Frites, accompanied with a glass of the Conker Dorset Dry gin and premium tonic.
Dubbed “Southampton’s German Bar Experience”, Stein Garten will transport you to the streets of Munich as soon as you walk through the door. Decorated to resemble a traditional Bavarian bierkeller, Stein Garten is quintessentially German. Guests can revel in a selection of regional draught beers and ciders in conventional two-pint steins, including the eponymously named ‘Stein Garten Hefeweizen’. Those looking to try some local cuisine have the choice of popular dishes such as bratwursts and beef goulash and a number of home comforts including spätzel – a German favourite with soft egg noodles in a creamy smoked cheese sauce – and succulent roast pork shank.
Recommendation: Tuck into a classic chicken and pork schnitzel, served with red pickled cabbage and a choice of potatoes, alongside a large stein of Krombacher.
Off the back of its success as Portsmouth’s first Japanese restaurant in 2009, Sakura recently opened a branch in Bedford Place, maintaining the same authentic decor and love for Japan that has proven so popular at its flagship restaurant. Sakura has demonstrated that Japanese food can be more than just sushi, providing customers with a plethora of dishes that range from the crowd-pleasing – katsu curry, ramen and gyoza (deep-fried or steamed dumplings filled with meat or vegetables) – to the more obscure such as takoyaki (octopus balls) and okonomi yaki, a smoky Japanese sausage pancake. Those with special dietary requirements will not be left disappointed as the restaurant caters for a number of intolerances, supplying nut free alternatives, along with a number of gluten-free options.
Recommendation: Try a little bit of everything with a ‘teishoku’ which comes with a variety of sashimi and make rolls, calamari and soups. Pair it with a warm bottle of traditional saké, a Japanese wine not too dissimilar to our mulled Christmas favourite.
Bring & Mix
Situated up the road from Sakura, Bring & Mix is the ultimate hidden gem. Sharing a building with Retro Cafe and opening only two nights a week, Mix transforms into a 1920’s speakeasy, offering customers an alternative night-out with a twist. For £19, guests can bring a number of spirits of their choice and indulge in bespoke cocktails made by trained mixologists, who serve them straight to their table.
Recommendation: The less you know, the better!