I have always wanted to go to Rancho Steak House. Not only have many people recommended it, but steak is also my favourite food. When I walked through the front doors I was full of anticipation, but sadly found only disappointment.
I booked my table via Rancho’s website using the online booking form. It was Thursday and I intended to visit on Saturday night around 7pm; luckily a 7.30pm slot was available. I booked it with ease but on Friday, I received a call from the restaurant.
‘Sorry but we have to push your table back, is that okay?’ They told me.
‘Um, okay. What times do you have?’ I replied.
‘That’s a bit late, do you have any earlier?’
‘We have 7pm but we would need the table back by 7.30pm.’
‘Book me in for 8.30pm then.’
I didn’t mind too much. It was a busy Saturday night running up to Christmas after all.
When I checked back, the online booking form page included a note at the bottom stating: ‘completion of form does not guarantee your booking. An email will be sent to the restaurant and a member of staff will contact you with confirmation.’ Like a lot of people, I hadn’t noticed this when I booked but then again, if booking online doesn’t give you a confirmed booking, what’s the point in having one?
On Saturday, I arrived at 8.30pm. Rancho was bustling, packed with people enjoying themselves, and buzzing with energy. As I took my jacket off and waited by the door, a waitress approached.
I told her my name and and she found the booking, then gave me a sheepish look as she told me, ‘It’s not ready yet.’
‘It won’t be long,’ she added, ‘you are welcome to wait outside or go to the pub next door.’
I refused. I wasn’t in the mood to go to Shenanigans, the Irish bar, or to linger outside in the winter cold. Instead, I waited awkwardly at the front of the restaurant.
Rancho Steak House on Osborne Road is part of a larger chain of restaurants in the south, with other locations including Fareham, Bournemouth and Southampton. The restaurant’s listing on the online directory Taste of Portsmouth reads: ‘We’re known affectionately by our regular customers and food critics as the South Coast’s Meat Lover’s Paradise’.
As I waited, it seemed the proof of this claim was right in front of me – a fully booked restaurant.
Twenty minutes later, I was finally sat down. The waitress had put some tables together for me and as an apology offered to buy me a round of drinks. Happily, I accepted.
I liked the interior of Ranchos. It has a Spanish vibe with red and black walls, mood lighting and upbeat music stirring underneath the venue’s buzzing conversations. Clean black tables and leather seating completed the decor perfectly, while on one wall the Rancho signature bull was ready to charge. Despite the delay to my table, I was glad to be here.
I turned to the drinks menu, where I found a broad selection of wines, spirits and cocktails – including a 2 for £10 deal. I ordered a small glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
The waitress hurried away, returning with my drink, a basket of bread and garlic dipping sauce. My wine was chilled to perfection and went down a treat.
The slightly battered food menu also offered a wide selection: starters included nachos, barbeque ribs and charcoaled grilled prawns and the mains, of course, featured a whole world of steak of various shapes and sizes including T Bone, rump and fillet from 8oz to 14oz. There was even an option to ask for a bigger size.
How big can a steak be? I wondered.
The menu also offered ribs, burgers, salads, fish, surf ‘n’ turf and even a combination of rump, tenderloin and sirloin steak, if you couldn’t decide on just one. They had plenty of options – some unique to Ranchos – such as the Gran Parillada which is a mixed grill including chorizo, lamb chops, rump, sirloin and marinated chicken fillet. They only had two vegetarian options including vegetable fajitas but I’m not judging them badly for that. How many vegetarians head for a meal in a steak house, after all?
The sides menu was equally broad, including garlic chips, onion rings, potatoes and rice. As I read it through, I noticed something. The steak prices were a little higher than average with a small rump steak costing you £10.50. It’s not breaking news that steak is expensive, but this cost didn’t include any of the featured side dishes, just a small side salad. In most other restaurants I’ve visited, steak comes with chips at least, sometimes a tomato and mushrooms, maybe even some onion rings if you’re lucky. But here, everything else in your order has to be added to the price, which quickly started racking up as I decided what to eat.
When the waitress came back I had demolished all of the garlic butter and complimentary bread. I ordered a small, rare rump steak with spicy garlic chips and onion rings, totalling a total of £15.20 for my meal alone, excluding the wine. The cost felt like a slap in the wallet.
I didn’t have to wait long for my order and when it arrived, three dipping sauces were served alongside my steak: blue cheese, barbecue and garlic. I liked this a lot, but as the waitress placed my steak before me, I was disappointed by the accompanying side salad, which comprised a tiny pile of shredded lettuce and a singular slice of tomato, covered in vinegar dressing.
The steak was thick and as I cut it open, revealed a lovely shade of red. I took a bite. It was a bit tough and chewy in parts, and slightly above room temperature. By the time I was halfway through, it had already grown cold.
The garlic chips were small disks of potato and although crispy on the outside and hot and fluffy on the inside, there was barely any garlic flavour to them at all. The onion rings were fine, pretty much as you’d expect anywhere.
15 minutes later, my stomach was full, the table was cleared and I asked for the bill. When it arrived, I had been charged for the drinks that had been offered to me as an apology for waiting 20 minutes for a table I’d reserved in advance.
It took me another 10 minutes to gain the waitress’ attention and tell her about the mix-up. She quickly apologised, sorted it out and gave me the card machine.
As I entered my pin, the fire alarm went off after a member of staff lit some birthday candles. With the siren quite literally ringing in my ears, I quickly left.
I had high hopes for Ranchos but for me this time, it did not deliver.
The food was mediocre while the cost and poor service made my first time here a bad one. Maybe I was just unlucky, but I’m not sure I’ll be returning anytime in the near future to find out.
Rancho’s steakhouse has been called a ‘meat lover’s paradise’ and although they have a lot of choice, quality is always better than quantity.
It’s great to have a lot of something but it means nothing if you don’t know what to do with it. I’m sure there is a penis joke in there somewhere, but I’ll leave the punchline on this one to you.
Photography by Emily Priest