The last review that Matt and Cat wrote described a delicious cream tea, enjoyed on a sunny afternoon at the Old Gaffers Festival.
Since that date, the sun had not only doffed its hat but brushed it off, stashed it back in its box and shoved it in the deep recesses of the loft. Still, like the English folk they are, Matt and Cat weren’t going to let a dismal summer curtail their eating out activities. So, on a spectacularly blustery Saturday night they deliberately chose the windiest place they could think of and went there for dinner.
Actually the windiest place on the Isle of Wight is probably the Needles – the Old Battery certainly has the stats to support this claim, being the home of one of the Island’s weather stations. Knowing that the Needles Battery Tea Room would be closed, they headed to the other end of the Island’s chalky spine, Culver Haven. Perched on the top of the eastern cliff is the Culver Haven. The venue has in the past taken a bit of a pasting from commenters on this site; not particularly for the food but for its other amenities. It may not be the highest pub on the Island*, but it’s certainly the last toilet for some considerable hike. This has, in the past, caused friction between the landlord and passing walkers, but these days the controversy of Toiletgate has abated. There are new owners in the Culver Haven and one of their first, prudent, acts was to decommission the external Yale locks on the loos and take down the ‘patrons only’ signs. With the toilets declared a free house, what about the food? And the wind?
As Matt and Cat inched their way up Culver Down gale-force winds buffeted their car. The purpose of their adventure was to have a windy dinner and, although they’d yet to eat, the wind did not disappoint. As they exited the car, its doors nearly swung off their hinges and M&C almost got sucked out by the vacuum. Relieved to enter the relative calm of the quiet pub, they took some menus and sat in the conservatory to make the most of the evening light and spectacular views.
This turned out to be a fabulous seating choice. Although presumably of a robust construction, the conservatory creaked and flexed and occasionally let out a mournful cry as the wind found some ingress. It was like being on a galleon in full sail, but without Russell Crowe barking orders or being forced to eat weevily biscuits. With dinners on order and drinks in hand, Matt and Cat peered out through the bowing windows at an intrepid little ferry pitching and yawing across Sandown Bay. They giggled nervously as the wind got up and they tweeted about their adventure so far. As the clock ticked on with no sign of any food the fun began to give way to discomfort – after the sun had long set , the groaning of the conservatory walls was drowned out by the rumbling of their empty stomachs. After nearly an hour’s wait their dinners arrived, with no acknowledgement or explanation for the delay.
Using his tried and tested yardstick of pub grub worthiness, Matt essayed an eight ounce beefburger with added bacon and mozzarella. This came with chips and salad, plus one of those funny little paper cups full of some kind of relish. The only thing to distinguish it from a million other such offerings was the slightly daring addition of a trio of mixed citrus slices. The bacon was excellent, the burger was burgery, and the added mozzarella was only just discernible as a slim, yellowy layer on top of each burger. Sadly, and maybe in connection with the hour’s wait for the food, the burgers and cheese were veering towards the tepid side. Matt ate the meal, and enjoyed it – but wouldn’t particularly walk through a gale a second time for it.
Chicken, brie and bacon £11.65
Cheese burger £8.75
Extra bacon £1.95
Pint cider £3.30
Cat ate chicken breast with bacon and Brie in the hope that it might be something like her favourite comfort food. Like many of the other items on the menu, it suggested pretty standard pub fare. However, unlike some other pubs’ food, it looked like there had been a modicum of human intervention in the preparation and cooking of the dish – and not just to open a microwave door.
The chicken and bacon was served with chips, veg and, in another paper ramekin, cranberry sauce. It was a pretty big meal and unlike Matt’s, was mostly at a decent temperature. Again the standout ingredient was the bacon; lean, nicely cooked and plentiful, it was almost a meal in itself for the modestly-appetited Cat. The Brie was mostly melted, with just its rind being resistant to the application of heat. There was a decent bowl of assorted vegetables too; again fresh and in good order. The chips were slightly craggy, lukewarm and looked as though their best days were behind them but they tasted ok. This was a pretty good rendition of chicken, cheese and chips, although Cat would have preferred a dish half the size delivered twice as quickly.
Any thoughts of pudding had, along with any loose matter outside, moved swiftly on some time earlier. As Matt and Cat settled up they enjoyed a very cheery chat with the young barman and his mum. Clearly the new landlady was enjoying her change of career and, as it transpired that this was her first foray into the hospitality industry: clearly a decent start, which M&C salute and encourage. However, if the summer ever perks up then the Culver Haven will undoubtedly find itself inundated with visitors who, as well as wanting to avail themselves of the toilet facilities will probably also be looking for food. Let’s hope that the kitchen will have got its act together should a sun/hat interface ever occur again.
Matt and Cat shrugged on their coats and slipped out into the teeth of the gale. So, Culver Haven has clearly improved its attitude towards the casual visitor, and also the service, when it came, was very friendly and positive. It’s a great location with some of the best views around if you get the right seats. The food was decent if undistinguished, but to wait an hour for pretty typical pub grub wasn’t really good enough.
*The highest pub on the Isle of Wight is the Hare and Hounds.