NESTLED in the heart of Winchester, The Willow Tree is what a watering hole looks like when the people running it are passionate about what they do.

Described on its website as a restaurant and bar, the head chef at The Willow Tree is at pains to point out that it is not a ‘gastro pub’.

Chris Bury says that while customers in the bar can enjoy the same carefully selected, locally sourced produce as in the adjacent restaurant, the Willow aims to be a proper pub in the truest English tradition.

“We’re like a country pub in the city. You can walk in with your dog and have a pint and a nice meal,” he says.

With an open fire crackling away in the tastefully decorated yet unpretentious bar, the Willow certainly has that feel.

As well as the usual lagers, there are two quality ales and a pint of Guinness comes in at £4.10, while a glass of house white is priced at £4.25.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that owners Brian and Jarina Ahearn have clearly placed great importance on quality food. In recent years ‘locally-sourced’ has become something of a buzz word for pubs and restaurants, but it’s not something the Willow merely pays lip-service to.

Manager Peta Tait explains: “We use Dexter beef which we get from Swarraton and the partridges are from Upton Park. We’ll be selling our chutneys at the Christmas market by the cathedral too.”

Classic British fare such as beerbattered haddock and chips will set you back £9.95, while the chef takes a real pride in the steaks served. The 10oz long horn rump, hung on site and aged for 35 days, is priced at £12.50.

Having closed its doors in December, the Willow reopened under its current management three months ago and is making the most of a truly outstanding site. The beer garden is flanked on both sides by the River Itchen with trout and otters among the attractions, as well as a wood-fired pizza oven.

Whatever label you want to give it, the Willow Tree is a superb place to have a drink.