Brading was once an essential destination on the clockwise coach tour. For a while, although the town is not quite suffering from the malaise that has hit neighbouring Sandown, its attractions have been somewhat diminished. The twenty mile an hour speed limit enabled drivers crawling through the town to see their faces reflected back from the empty windows of the Brading Experience, the Secret Garden tea room and the decommissioned post office.
However, there is a quiet revolution going on in the town. Brothers chippy remains resolutely open, the railway station is a well-run heritage centre and pubs the Wheatsheaf and the behemoth that is the Bugle maintain their positions. The budget Tussauds that was the Osborn-Smith Wax Museum has reopened as a restaurant.
Now, remarkably, there is a third pub in this, the Island’s smallest town. When the shutters went up on the Dark Horse it all seemed to be over. And yet… and yet… it has reopened once more, this time as Kynge’s Well. Instead of using Brading as the Isle of Wight’s slowest rat run, Matt and Cat decided to actually stop and see what the heck was occurring.
Half expecting the pub to be empty on a Monday night, they entered a positively party atmosphere. A typical family group, from tots to totterers were enjoying themselves at a long table; in fact there were only a couple of seats left in the place. This augered well.
Offered menus and drinks before they’d even sat down, Matt and Cat were struck by the level of service. Table service in a pub instantly lifts the meal from the tedious experience of jostling at the bar, and Kynges Well has joined the revolution.
Browsing the now de rigeur clipboard menus, M&C saw a good range of pub dishes, with an attractive list of specials on the wall. Nothing was expressly provenanced; terms such as ‘IOW crab’ and ‘our butcher’s’ pork and leek sausages were as near as they got. Nonetheless, the menu spoke to Matt and Cat and it said “Have the whitebait, and meat. Yes, both of you look like you need some iron – eat MEAT.”
As they snuggled into their alcove with the unmistakable waft of woodsmoke gently pervading the room (yes, folks a real fire in June!) Matt and Cat considered all of the parties and meals they had had in Kynge’s Well’s previous incarnations. M&C have quite an orderly filing system and can put their hands on photos of meals they had a decade or so ago, but sometimes it’s just fun to recall things with their actual brains. And so they sat, reminiscing about many and varied past culinary experiences – quite a few in that very building – until interrupted by the arrival of their blanche bait.
The breaded whitebait was good. Neither Matt nor Cat have ever cooked this delicate little fish but they have eaten enough of it to know that the whitebait at Kynge’s Well was perfectly done. The crispy shells each contained a decent soft, moist fish. These were not, as is sometimes the case, a brittle crust containing a puddle of hot oil where the fish was cooked to oblivion. M&C squeezed lemon on the dish and happily dunked their bait into a pot of smoked paprika mayo. Simple but effective.
All the while they were in the pub, the staff were clearly keeping a distant but attentive eye on the table. Not too overbearing, but quick to clear the plates and enquire about drinks top-ups. M&C hate to feel neglected but it’s also appropriate to give diners a bit of space. It’s a tricky balance to achieve and often found wanting, but not here. Later they discovered that the new team had been chosen with an eye to their personalities – clearly someone has a clear idea about delivering good customer service.
Cat was on one of her rare steak jags as she had spotted fillet on the menu. The eight ounce steak was pleasingly soft, and served with a pile of chunky wedge-cut chips still in their jackets. Alongside the usual trimmings – onion rings, tomatoes and a vast mushroom – in place of peas was a tasty pile of twiddly pea shoots. Cat had port and Stilton sauce with her steak and a jolly fab dish it was too. She was careful to scoff the tender meat first knowing that she would be unable to finish the generous heap of chips – as indeed turned out to be the case.
Matt predictably chose burger and chips. Like the steak, the burger had a few local variations that distinguished it from a more typical pub menu. One of those things was its bun; a fresh, soft, floured bap supplanted the trendy brioche. Has the brioche had its day, or hasn’t it made it as far as Brading? Actually, it was a pleasure to have a non-brioche bun and either way, the burger was a big juicy Matt-pleasing meaty patty – which must surely have been made in the Kynge’s Well kitchen. Another innovation was the addition of rich barbecue-flavour pulled pork, making the bap’s fillings a rather good combo. Served with more of the skin-on wedges and a ramekin of coleslaw, this had Matt written all over it.
Blanche bait £5.95
8oz fillet steak £21.95
Port and Stilton sauce £1.95
As the starter and mains had been above par and the service so friendly, plus they’d seen a rather luscious-looking sundae be delivered to the neighbouring table, Matt and Cat were keen to stay for desserts. Cat enjoyed a very acceptable baked vanilla cheesecake with raspberry compote and chantilly cream. The intense fruit gave a pleasing zingy kick when eaten with the creamy ‘cake. It was really very good. Matt chose strawberry pavlova. Now, regular readers will know of Matt’s love for the Pointer Inn’s ‘atomic’ pavlova – so called because its vast meringue cowl looks like a mushroom cloud. The Kynge’s Well interpretation of this classic dish was presented as a towering cylinder of fresh soft and moist meringue, with tasty fruit and more of the chantilly cream to make a pretense at holding the sweet pile of loveliness all together.
Although Kynge’s Well had only just opened its doors, it seems to have hit the ground running. The characterful venue itself has always been a favourite of M&C; with its historic beams, real fire and low ceiling. Obviously, there is also an actual well that you can look down, well fans. Add to those fundamental assets a keen eye for detail, a comforting menu with a few embellishments to raise it from the herd, plus of course that rather exceptional service and you have a winner. This, plus the other proposals for the town could be the shot in the arm Brading needs. The Kynge’s Town is dead, long live the Kynge’s Town!
This is the full-length version of the shorter review published in the Isle of Wight County Press, June 2015.
- Really good service
- A substantial pub menu
- Good beer on draught
- It's got an actual well!
- Parking is not straightforward
- Mind your head on the ceiling