A couple of months ago, Mr W treated me to a trip to the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton for my birthday, and we had a pre-theatre meal in the Theatre’s own restaurant, Ovation. It was very good, so when we booked tickets to see a matinee performance of the musical “We Will Rock You” with my parents, we decided to book lunch in Ovation beforehand. You can reserve a table on the theatre’s website as part of your ticket booking, which was not only convenient, but also a clever marketing touch – and I’m all for those! Looking at the restaurant’s own website, they also have some clever marketing ideas to get people in on the days and evenings when there’s not a show going on at the theatre, including theme evenings and tribute acts, plus half price lunch deals during the week.
The restaurant is on the top floor of the theatre and is accessed by around three flights of stairs, or a very ‘cosy’ lift. It’s quite interesting to take the stairs if you have a bit of time to spare before your booking, as the walls are covered in posters from previous productions that have appeared at the Mayflower and signed pictures of may of their stars, dating back many years. What we found most interesting was the pantomime posters from years gone by, looking at which celebrities were flavour of the month for panto at that particular time – and indeed which ones were still in the public eye now, and which had long faded back to obscurity!
Ovation has a theatrical theme, with old theatre posters on the walls and decorations that include theatre masks. It’s beautifully decorated, predominantly in black and white, and gives the impression of being quite new, although I’m not actually sure how long it’s been open. The light in there is really nice. Being quite high up and having windows all along one wall, it’s really bright and airy. Our first impression on this visit was less than ideal – we stood for quite some time at the entrance waiting to be seated, and another group were waiting behind us, whilst more and more staff (eventually 5 in total!) congregated around the bar at the other end of the restaurant. I’m sure they were all doing something work-related, but it was remiss of them not to be keeping an eye on the entrance, particularly as they must have known they had bookings. In the end, Mr W went over to let the Maitre d’ know that we were waiting, and he did come over, but seemed flustered and didn’t offer to take our coats. He was also rather dismissive when my father asked what the specials were and was very insistent that our waitress would be over shortly and would let us know when she arrived.
As it was, we waited quite some time for our waitress, Hayley, to come over, but when she did, all was forgiven, as she could not have been nicer or more attentive throughout the meal.
Wary of needing to stay awake throughout the theatre performance, and the soporific effects of a large lunch with wine, we decided against having starters and went straight for the main feature. (See what I did there? Oh, that’s cinema, sorry.) I have to admit to a bit of a weakness for good old traditional fish and chips (when done well – I can’t stand chip shop takeaways), so I chose that, especially after being told by our waitress that the handcut chips were ‘the best thing ever!’. Mr W went for the seasonal special dish, which was a smoked duck and pea risotto, my mother chose a roast chicken and mango salad, and my father went for lamb’s liver with bacon.
Our food came relatively quickly, which I think is very important in a restaurant that is likely to be catering for people who are time constrained due to a theatre performance, but unfortunately my mother was given a hot chicken main dish, rather than the salad she had ordered. Happily, this was rectified almost immediately, so suggests an error at the pass, rather than the wrong dish having been prepared, and also meant there was no delay to the rest of our meal.
My fish was very good, a chunky, generous portion without being obscene in its size (think pub portions of battered fish!) although I did have to ask for a lemon wedge, which I had noticed the diners at the next table had on their plates, but mine was absent. The batter, though, was very crisp, no sogginess to be found, and also the fish had had the skin removed before being battered, which I prefer. The tartare sauce that accompanied it was excellent too, but sadly the chips didn’t really live up to expectations. As is so often the case with chunky chips, they were only just the right side of the line between raw and cooked, and were a little too ‘al dente’ to be really enjoyable. Chunky chips can indeed be ‘the best thing ever’ if they are crisp on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside, but they are really hard to get right, and these ones didn’t quite make the grade. The whole thing was served with a large dressed salad, which was very pleasant and very fresh, but my preference would have been for mushy peas (have I no class?!)
Mr W’s risotto was very tasty, but not quite what we were expecting. There were no whole peas visible, and instead they seemed to have been pureed and mixed in with the risotto itself. Conversely, the duck didn’t seem to have been cooked with the risotto, as the rice had no smoked duck flavour to it, but the pieces of duck that had probably been stirred in at the last minute were really tasty, and the rice was cooked very well, with just a hint of a crunch. The men shared a bottle of Chilean red with their meal, and my mother and I, who both had to drive later, had a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a white wine spritzer respectively.
On the whole, despite a few minor flaws, we all enjoyed our main dishes and decided to finish off with a dessert. Mr W and I did our usual sharing of a sticky toffee pudding, and my mother had one to herself! My father had a chocolate parfait, served with mandarin ice sorbet. Our sticky toffee pudding was served with banana ice cream, but my mother asked to substitute this for vanilla, and Mr W agreed to do the same before I could express a preference that banana actually sounded quite nice!
Despite the ice cream situation, our desserts were very good, and also very nicely presented – although the ice cream inexplicably (and completely unnecessarily) had what appeared to be breakfast cereal sprinkled around it. We finished off with tea, coffee and some of the nicest mints I’ve tried. The branded after dinner mint seems to be a dying breed anywhere other than Indian restaurants these days, so it was nice to have this little touch, especially as they were a lovely bitter dark chocolate with a crisp minty bite to them. I’m ashamed to say (but not ashamed enough that I won’t admit it!) that as my parents didn’t want their mints, I slipped them in my handbag, and Mr W and I enjoyed them after our lunch elsewhere the next day!
I would definitely go back to Ovation if I was seeing another matinee production at the Mayflower. The food is very good, and it’s a lovely location for a lunch, although I’m not sure how I’d feel about going there for dinner, as I can’t imagine what the restaurant would look like in artificial light. The service needs a bit of polish, although as mentioned before, our own waitress, Hayley, could not have been better, and there were a few minor details about the food that needed attention, but on the whole we really enjoyed our lunch – and we all stayed awake throughout the show!
Recommended for pre-matinee lunch.
Food: *** Service: *** Ambience: ****
Ovation Restaurant, The Mayflower Theatre, Commercial Road, Southampton, Hampshire SO15 1GE