Vegan Guide - Winchester
As unrepentant historical nerds and fans of the TV show Vikings, Winchester has long been on our list of places to visit. The cathedral city on the edge of the South Downs is known for its storied history, beautiful architecture and idyllic walks just on the doorstep.
Having been voted several times over as one of the best places to live in the UK, Winchester is undeniably well-heeled. However, while restaurants from celebrity chefs Rick Stein and Hugh-Fearnley-Whittingstall might loom large over the Winchester foodie scene, there is no need to break the bank to eat well here. A great variety of wonderful independent restaurants and cafes exist in the city, all serving brilliant vegetarian and vegan options at affordable prices.
Piecaramba, 11a Parchment St
When you think of a pie and mash shop, it tends to conjure images of old-fashioned signage, dark interiors and porcelain tables. Piecaramba is none of those things. Partly a comic book store, partly pie and mash shop and full of charm, this eccentric café combines two things that have no right being together and – somehow – makes it work perfectly.
The interior is as if an overexcited child in the 90s had been given creative control – a Sega Megadrive on the wall, Adventure Time figurines and (our personal favourite) a giant poster of the Sunnydale crater from the finale of the Buffy TV series. It’s an earnest, unadulterated shrine to all things geek – and the fact you can buy a comic for £1.50 or a pie, mash and peas for under a tenner just makes it all the better
Having failed to get a booking for dinner (you need to book a few days in advance) we turn up for lunch instead. It’s quiet to begin with but soon fills up, with the majority of those eating ordering from the vegetarian/vegan menu.
We soon find out why. The Fun Guy, with its mushroom and walnut filling, has a rich, majestic flavour you want to savour, while the Not Dog (vegan sausage and caramelised onion) comes with a beautifully light, crispy crust. The highlight of the dish, however, is the chilli and mint mushy peas, which is one of those side dishes you wish you knew the recipe for so you could have it with everything.
Overdraft Craft Ale and Taco Bar, 5 Jewry St
We hadn’t intended to go here, but having discovered this concept (beer + tacos) while wandering the streets of Winchester, there was no need to discuss dinner options. The craft beer menu – while at London prices – offers enough different types of craft beer to appease any palate, while the recent addition of an £18 vegan platter for two is possibly the best taco-related deal either of us have seen.
The platter arrives with fours tacos (two frijoles negros, two vegan ale battered tomatillo), a massive bowl of roasted elotes corn full of fresh flavours and spice, a bundle of tortillas covered in guac, salsa and pico de gallo, and a further bowl of refried frijoles negros, presumably in case you were still hungry after everything else.
The entire platter was bursting with fresh flavours from the chillies, tomatoes, coriander and spring onion, while the the tomatillo taco offered a wonderful bite of dirty battered goodness as a counterpoint. While it was more than enough food for two, it didn’t sit as heavily as that much food should, no doubt thanks to the decision not to use vegan meat substitutes. It’s definitely worth a visit – you’ll come for the tacos and the beer, but you’ll want to stay for the elotes corn. That stuff is gooood.
16a Parchment Street
We were invited to stay overnight at the beautiful 16a (formerly Hannah’s), a stunningly designed self-catered guesthouse in the heart of Winchester. As well as providing us the perfect base for visiting the city from, 16a is a place where you immediately feel at home, filled with snug little corners, comfortable armchairs and even a library full of books so you can settle down and enjoy a rainy afternoon.
The rooms themselves are stunning: the bed wraps you up in a warm, soft embrace while the shower in the ensuite bathroom was so good that I had to remind myself of the worsening climate crisis to make me turn off the taps and get out. The unexpected bonus is the bath, which sits on a balcony above the rest of the room and can only be accessed via a very steep set of steps.
Being self-catered, 16a allowed us to go out and explore the city while also having the flexibility to eat at the guesthouse when we wanted. The kitchen is packed with teas, coffees and other items such as toast and jam, which meant we didn’t have to go out looking for a supermarket in order to have a bite to eat over breakfast – although we couldn’t resist picking up a couple vegan cookies from the Millie’s Kitchen market stall on the High Street while out on an early morning walk.
PG & Wells bookshop, 11 College St
While there is plenty to see in Winchester, including the cathedral, the ruins of Wolvesey Castle and the picturesque Water Meadows, it’s also worth popping into the independent bookstore on College Street, where we picked up a copy of Nathaniel Rich’s book Losing Earth. While the book itself doesn’t make for particularly light reading, it’s great to see an independent bookstore both thriving and challenging their customers with bold non-fiction suggestions around climate and the environment.
Pi Pizza, 132 Stockbridge Rd
We’d been told before we arrived that we should visit Pi Pizza, and we weren’t disappointed. While it’s slightly out of the main hubbub of Winchester, that doesn’t mean much in a city that is smaller than many towns.
It’s worth the trip up the hill and past the station, however, for the bright, colourful interior and, more importantly, the great Italian food that’s on offer. We shared a starter of garlic and thyme doughsticks, which came as long fingers of soft focaccia-style bread accompanied with a tart olive tapenade and a wonderfully sweet yet spicy habanero chilli oil, which I could have smothered over everything, to be quite honest.
Resisting the urge to coat our pizza in habanero was probably a good move, as it allowed us to really enjoy the different flavour combinations on offer. Pi Pizza offers half-and-half options on all its pizzas (or thirds on its larger pizzas) and, while we were tempted by a massive pizza with all three vegan options on, we decided on a smaller, lunch-size portion with only two flavours.
Both were unique and delicious in very different ways. The aubergine, piquillo pepper and balsamic half was a piquant hit of spice complementing the earthy taste from the thinly sliced aubergine, with a scattering of pine nuts adding extra complexity. The combination of flavours in the purple sprouting broccoli and parsley cream half was even better, the roasted sultanas an unexpected delight. The pizza itself was served on a delicate, thin crust which made it all the better.
Having eaten several uninspiring pizzas over the past few years, it was a wonderful experience to have vegan pizza that wasn’t either slathered with vegan cheese or simply trying to replicate a meat-based pizza. While it’s not the cheapest, the menu and ingredient combinations at Pi Pizza have clearly been designed with care – and we’ll almost certainly be finding our way to the sister restaurant in Battersea at some point.
48 hours wasn’t quite enough to see everything we wanted to in Winchester, and we’re sure we’ve missed some excellent places. Where would you recommend we go when we return in the future?
You can check out some of our other vegan guides around Europe below: