The Union Jack Restaurant and Pub is located in Winchester, VA’s downtown walking district in the old Union Bank. It’s not hard to spot; look for the tall white building with brown trim flying the pub’s namesake, the Union Jack.
It really seems like a Tardis the first time you get to explore the building. There’s no way that a building can be larger on the inside than it is on the outside, at least that’s the perception. As you walk through the small outside dining area into the main interior dining area, you’re immediately swallowed by a large, cavernous, echoing space. This is not the ideal space if you’re looking for a quiet meal, but is great fun with a group of friends or a night out on the town. After briefly taking in the impressive architecture, my traveling companions and I were greeted and seated by a hostess sitting at the doorway. We elected for an inside seat due to the threat of rain.
After a short wait we ordered food and drinks. All three of us ordered fish and chips while I ordered the Smithwicks ale soup, which was soup of the day. While waiting I went to take some more photos.
After passing straight through the main dining area, you come to the rather impressive bar which includes a ceiling length wine rack on one side and a showcase of their selection of beer on the other. When I say they have a large selection or beer, that’s no lie. They were even carrying Kasteel Donker, which happens to be one of my favorite beers.
After shooting a few photos I made it back to the table with the ambition to order a beer. As I was flipping through their multi-page menu that included descriptions of all their beers, I settled on the previously mentioned Kasteel Donker. The Kasteel Donker is a very dark beer that would remind a person of Guiness, but the flavor is sweet and the carbonation is strong, giving you the impression of some type of cola. It’s also a fairly high gravity beer weighing in at 11% ABV, so it’s not something you drink five or six of before going out to the bar…unless you’re intentionally trying to not make it to the bar. Unfortunately before I had the chance to order, I was delivered a Smithwicks ale. It was a mix up with the server thinking that I order a Smithwicks ale when I really wanted their soup of the day; I can see how this would possibly be an issue for them as the day goes on. I do enjoy Smitwicks though, so I decided to keep it and miss out on the deliciousness that is Kasteel Donker.
Right after the unfortunate beer mix up, my soup was delivered. It was like a french onion soup in consistency with the broth and the onions, but it had a much more savory and hearty taste. There was no flavor reminiscent of Smithwicks, but it did taste like it was cooked with beer. I honestly enjoyed it and would order it again in a heartbeat if it was offered as a soup of the day.
The fish and chips were brought to the table after that in large wire baskets with wax paper between the food and baskets. The fish portion was quite large and covered in a big mound of french fries with a side of cole slaw and two small plastic containers containing catsup and tartar sauce.
The french fries were nice an crisp an went well with the malt vinegar, but chips are only half of fish and chips and here is where I was disappointed. The fish was bland. The batter was a bit dark and might have been in the fryer for a bit too long but other than a little bit of taste from the fried batter, there was no taste to the fish unless you added tartar sauce to it.
I’ve been to Union Jack on one other occasion during the Apple Blossom festival, which is utter chaos in the street of downtown Winchester and the group I was with was actually brave enough to sit down and eat dinner at Union Jack in the middle of that mess. I was thoroughly impressed at the time with their large selection of beer and their food, so I can’t just totally write the place off after having a previous experience that was great. I definitely can’t just write them off if that previous great experience was probably during one of their busiest days of the year. Maybe they work better under pressure with a bunch of drunken revelers mucking about. I don’t know the answer, so I’m not going to attempt to start to explain it here.
Even with the meal that I based this review on not being a shining experience, I would still recommend Union Jack as a place to go and have a good beer or three with friends and to grab a bite to eat. I’ve had a good experience here before so I’m hoping that if you take my advice you won’t be as let down as I was on my last trip.
By the way, I did stop at a store on the way to the car that had a very good selection of beer. I got my Kasteel Donker after all.