A "Local" With English Flair
By Debra Cornwell
There is a joke—too long to tell in this piece—but it includes the phrases: Heaven is English pomp and circumstance. Hell is English cooking. Now don't get your knickers in a twist, mate! English comfort food has always been a welcome delight. London is now one of the foodie capitals of the world with many cultures and tastes represented in fine cuisine. A taste of England's best is available at the Union Jack Pub, which is centrally located on Winchester's Historic Walking Mall across from the Old Courthouse Civil War Museum. Founded by Winchesterarea resident Debra Johnson and her English partner, Richard Oram, the Union Jack Pub has become a favorite with locals and visitors alike.
Johnson worked in the local school system and was the proprietor of the Stone Soup Gallery. Oram is a cabinetmaker by trade, and did all the re-fitting to transform the old Union Bank building to the Union Jack Pub. The memorable interior of the 1878 building includes 20-foot tall ceilings and a 50-foot long bar.
Oram always had the idea to open a traditional English pub to share English culture and provide Winchester with "a local," as the village pubs are known in England. He thought Winchester locals would "get it," and they have.
Since opening on day one with a resounding success in 2008, each year has been better and better according to General Manager Susan Touchette. Even in economically austere times, few would begrudge a pint amongst friends.
"We strive to go above and beyond with our standards so our guests can have a really enjoyable experience," says Touchette. In four short years, the Union Jack Pub is close to earning iconic status as it seems to be all things to all people—families, hipsters, oldsters, visitors, locals, bagpipers, and more. The Union Jack Pub also offers catering for weddings, holiday parties, and events, and has its own upstairs party/function room. The catering offerings are eclectic—anything from a simple boxed lunch and snack trays to sit-down dinners.
Touchette speculates that one reason for the Union Jack Pub's success is its uniqueness. "It is so different. Nothing else looks like it. We also focus on quality products— food, beer, and service." The Union Jack Pub has an extensive selection of hard-to-find beers and no food is pre-made or out of a bag. "You can tell if someone put care into the food, and we care,' she says.
BJ Howett, kitchen manager/chef, interjects, "We buy as much local, whole food as possible. Our beef comes from fifteen miles down the road; our vegetables come from the local farmers market. We can cut fries non-stop every day. We get fresh fish delivered four times a week, and it is cooked fresh not frozen."
The care that goes into the food and service at the Union Jack Pub also goes into the environment and into the community. Certified as a Virginia Green organization, the Union Jack Pub pledges that they eliminate the use of polystyrene and minimize disposables, recycle great, and recycle and reduce waste.
Touchette says the savings from the program is donated back to the community--approximately $200.00 per month toward donated foods such as summer bag lunches for a children's charity.
"We have a great staff. A lot of our regulars are like family," continues Touchette. "We want everyone to feel welcome and that the experience and meal is enjoyable. We want it to be perfect—down to the specialty glassware so you get the right taste."
One of my dining companions proclaims, "That every Englishman loves a good curry." The restaurant's Tikka Masala, then, is a good curry. The house-made Indian curry contains fourteen spices in a fragrant, creamy yogurt base. With diced, sautéed chicken breast, Basmati rice and grilled Naan bread, this made-to-order dish is Bombay via London, and it is delicious.
Sure to be a classic, the new menu offering, Bourbon BBQ Scallops is a sweet and spicy Red Stag sauce with a hint of cherry bourbon in the back. The delicate scallops are not overpowered by the sauce or the pineapple jalapeno relish—a hit all around the table.
What's an English pub without authentic British fish and chips? The UJP selection does not disappoint. With fresh and flaky Atlantic Cod dipped in the UJP's signature beer batter, the fish rivals any local in England without exception. Served with hand cut British chips, malt vinegar, and a choice of mushy peas or coleslaw, the dish is authentic and fabulous.
Sweets are a must with bread pudding and flourless chocolate torte topping the list. The bread pudding is home made with dried cherries and cranberries with chocolate chips, warmed and topped with house-made custard and chocolate sauce. The torte is rich, dense, and decadent.
What's a local if you don't run into friends? Dining al fresco, the Pritchard family of Smithfield Farms had a pleasant lunch. Maggie Major of Winchester and her family enjoyed their meal on the day I dined there, too, "It is a very easy place to bring a family, enjoy great drinks, and dependable food without feeling like you are in a "bar" if you don't want to be. I personally love the asparagus spears appetizer and their salad offerings are nicer than many other comparable restaurants.
My go-to lunch and sometimes dinner is the Plowman's Lunch— always a nice variety of cheese and fruit, satisfying, but not heavy. I love it with a big IPA or a Castle."
Check out www.TheUnionJackPub.com for special events such as Oktoberfest which starts in August, for Pint Nights, and for which nights they tap a gravity-fed keg called a firkin. The pub is licensed to sell growlers and specialty kegs, and happy hour is offered daily. Proper tea is served on weekends and by reservation for groups. Gluten-free options are plentiful and delicious, and are identified on the menu.
Don't miss the Full English Breakfast on Sundays: two fried eggs, housecured English back bacon, sautéed mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, baked beans, and toast—that's truly the best of English comfort food.