IT CAN hardly be called a new kid on the block.

The building that houses The Vestry in Southampton’s Commercial Road has, after all, stood for over a century.

For most of its time it served as a church, a counter-point for some no doubt, standing opposite The Mayflower theatre with its dancing girls and theatrical types.

Whether church and stage mixed well I couldn’t say, but the latest reincarnation as The Vestry restaurant, bar, music and dancing venue seems to fit the premises well.

You shouldn’t speak ill of the departed, and it’s not that I didn’t appreciate the place in its more recent incarnation (Joe Daflo’s).

But there’s no denying the new look, the new feel, the food and the new approach from staff suits it better. Gone for instance was the former ban on children eating there on a Sunday. How sensible.

You know the place has changed the moment you arrive through those marvellous old church doors. The large bar is now backed by the most impressive of Renaissance Italian frescos, in this case depicting a group of what appear to merry fifteenth century well-to-do young people enjoying themselves.

It may not be to everyone’s cup of tea – or vodka shot – but there’s no denying the piece (by …… bytheway) brightens the place up no end.

New décor has given the place a much more welcoming feel throughout, and there was certainly a bustle when Mrs M and I dropped in for a bite before heading over the road to catch a show.

The timings gave us a little less than an hour and half before curtain up for the place to show off its new menu and create a welcoming enough atmosphere for us to consider returning.

Some ask. But The Vestry has a set menu ready ideal for pre-show diners and if the unhurried pace of the serving staff had Mrs M and I glancing at our watches once or twice as the meal progressed, we need not have worried.

In fact all the staff we met were delightful.

After being shown to our first floor balcony table with its marvellous view of the comings and goings at the bar below us, there was ample time to order drinks while the menu was explained to us.

For starters we could, for instance, plump for Hampshire ham hock terrine with piccalilli and Melba toast, or marinated beetroot with crisp aubergine, feta cheese and roasted hazelnut dressing. In the end I went for the warm salad of black pudding, pancetta and poached hen’s egg while Mrs M enjoyed the confit duck somosa with shredded cucumber and hoi sin dipping sauce. I’m an on-off fan of black pudding, but this was superb.

Our choice of mains included fillet of sea bass with tarragon new potatoes, or Bradan Rost hot smoked salmon Caesar salad with anchovies and garlic croutons.

This time Mrs M went for the slow roasted belly of pork with bubble and squeak and cider jus and I the braised lamb shank on creamy mash potato with a rosemary gravy.

Both were superb. My lamb simply melted off the bone. If Mrs M had any complaint it was that the portion defeated her.

For puds we could have chosen from a lovely range of delights, from fresh banoffee cheese cake to blackberry and Bramley apple crumble to vanilla fudge brulee. Alas time was now against us – our fault for not putting our foot down on the way.

As we left the restaurant was beginning to fill up. The Friday evening live music had begun and, staff told us, there would be dancing later on if we wished to pop back.

We were sorely tempted. But Mrs M was determined to return when we could make a proper evening of it.

We both decided we liked The Vestry very much indeed.

· Meals at The Vestry are on a set or a la carte basis and, we felt, extremely well priced for the quality of food, surroundings and service.

· The set menu after 5pm is for £14.95 for two courses, £17.95 for three.

· The set Dining and Dancing Menu for three courses is £24.95 to include wine.

· A la carte meals include starters priced from £4 for soup and crusty bread to £9 for rope grown mussels; mains from £8 for pasta and £10 for Bradan Rost Caesar salad to 12oz New York strip steak for £21.

The Vestry,
Commercial Road,
023 8023 1101