The Black Rat * | Winchester (UK)

This rodent sure knows how to cook with ingredients that dare to surprise! Irresistible aromas, while keeping the comforting element, reveals the quality of this kitchen!

On 88 Chesil street at the bottom of the town centre of Winchester (UK) we find The Black Rat. When local entrepreneur David Nicholson bought the place 2009, he converted the handsome 17th century building from a pub into a quaint and quirky restaurant. Keeping that pub atmosphere in place with exposed beams and brickwork and chunky wooden tables.

The Black Rat is part of Nicholson’s Black imperium, together with The Black Boy pub, The Black Hole B&B and The Black Bottle wine bar. All within a stone’s throw away. Calling a restaurant after a rodent is a bold move by the way. But not to worry, it had the perfect five stars in the “scores on the doors” hygiene ratings!

Head Chef of The Black Rat is Matt Noonan, who took over from Jon Marsden-Jones in 2018, making him the fourth head chef of The Black Rat. They all managed to keep the Michelin Star, which the restaurant received in 2011, within 2 years of opening. The Black Rat still is the only Michelin Star restaurant in Hampshire.

The Black Rat is open for dinner 7 days a week and on Saturday and Sunday also for lunch. Besides à la carte, the offer a Lunch Set Menu (2 courses at £29 and 3 courses at £34). Normally they also offer a 6-course Tasting Menu (at £70), but because of Covid it’s currently unavailable.

At the back of the restaurant is a small garden where you can dine in one of four cosy heated huts.

The Garden Huts

We booked one of the huts when we had lunch about a month ago. No heating needed that day as it was a warm summer afternoon!
The Lunch Set Menu was the only option and offered the choice of 3 starters, 3 mains, 2 desserts and a cheese board (at £3.75 supplement).

Bread & Butter

No, those are not charcoal briquettes next to the slices of treacle rye bread, but squid ink bread rolls with Parmesan. Light and airy breadrolls, with the cheese coming through nicely. Salted butter and an amazing maple and rosemary one. A gently sweet butter, like butterscotch, working excellent with the breads.

Chalk Stream Trout, Herring Roe, Rye, Wasabi & Beetroot Ice Cream

Picture perfect plate of both cured and smoked trout. Harvested by hand, these Hampshire chalk stream trout have an exceptionally clean taste. The beetroot and wasabi ice cream was an absolute joy and a tribute to the trout. Dill and radish lifted the dish even more. An excellent starter!

Duck Heart Yakitori, Rainbow Radish, Teriyaki, Shiitake

The other starter was great as well. Duck heart and a slice of breast with subtle teriyaki tones. Surrounded by beansprouts, spring onion, lightly pickled carrot and shiitake mushrooms and rainbow radish. A delicate dish with very distinct clean flavours. Love it!

Ox Heart, Sweetbreads, Beetroots, Crème Fraîche

Perfectly cooked sweetbreads, sumptuous and so tasty. The ox heart was fine with a decent chew, but lost the battle against the sweetbreads for me. Earthy beetroot and crème fraîche brought a nice balance in flavours. Nice!

Honey and Vadouvan Glazed Challans Duck, Duck Fat Carrot, Chard

A beautiful glaze on the pink and really succulent, lean and tender duck. Vadouvan coming through nicely with some honey sweetness. Posh carrots, with rich flavour from braising in duck fat. Lovely chard bonbon filled with shredded duck. Great comforting deliciousness!

New Forest Strawberry Tart, Woodruff Cremeux, Cucumber Sorbet

Strawberry tart with a short and delicate base, filled with a rather lovely crémeux, with a sweet, hay-like, earthy aroma and taste of the woodruff. Crémeux was very liquidy though, as it hadn’t set enough. Just loved the bright and fresh cucumber sorbet. Excellent with the pistachio cake.

English Cherry Baked Alaska, Pink Peppercorn, Pistachio Cake, Larch Rose Jelly

The other dessert was a Baked Alaska, but was it? Nice flavours of the browned meringue with almond. But no ice cream inside! Just a bit of custard. Tasty, but no ice cream. The cherry sorbet was great with an outspoken and bold flavour. Maybe too much, compared to the Baked Alaska.
We enjoyed both desserts, but these are not the strengths of this kitchen compared to the starters and mains.

Service was friendly and unpretentious and we were well taken care of in the secluded serenity of our garden hut. I can really recommend to book one of the garden huts by the way. It made social distancing a breeze as well!

Not only did we enjoy our hut, we enjoyed the lunch even more. Not surprised the Michelin awarded this restaurant with a star, nor that they made 10th place in The Top 50 Fit for Foodies restaurants in the UK by Opentable. This rodent sure knows how to cook with ingredients that dare to surprise! Like the wasabi and beetroot ice cream or the vadouvan glazed Challans duck. Irresistible aromas, while keeping the comforting element in every dish, reveals the quality of this kitchen!