A pensioner, a teenager and a toddler walk into a pub and demand lunch. As much as this may sound like the beginning of a joke it is, in fact, a scenario played out every Sunday at Ryde’s Ponda Rosa. And, unlike some venues which choose to make things a bit awkward for the old and partially deaf by playing conversation-squelchingly loud music, or being ill-equipped to accommodate the extremely young who need their own tiny thrones, the Ponda Rosa welcomes all comers.
This was certainly the experience of Matt and Cat one drizzly summer Sunday. Having built up an appetite whooshing down Union Street on the fabulousness that was Ryde Slide, Cat, with Matt and her octogenarian father in tow, left the hubbub of Ryde Leisure Strip and headed to the town’s deep south and the mock-Tyrolean roadhouse the Ponda Rosa.
Shaking themselves dry from the rain-lashed car park, the party was half-expecting to just rock up and get a table. However, it seems that many other people also had the same idea of eating at the Ponda Rosa; people with the foresight to make a booking. The chummy maitress d’ was not at all admonishing; she advised the group that they would be in for a slight wait and perhaps they would like a drink at the bar. Well you know, perhaps they would.
Before they each had a glass in hand from which to toast Cat’s derring-do, their table was ready. And a fine table it was too, in a central location next to the (unlit) fire and within sight of the carvery.
The thing about a carvery – and a buffet for that matter – is the lack of preamble. M&C eat out a lot; they are veterans of poring over many a menu, checking out the specials board and making enquiries about the soup/pie/fish/potato of the day. Alas the chance to stroke their metaphorical beards in a reverie while scrutinising the menu was denied them. In its place was the welcome opportunity to immediately pile up a hot plate with meat. And veg. And gravy, and more veg.
A carvery must be a restaurateur’s dream. A set meal at a set price, with little if any expectation of accommodating vegetarians, gluten-free bandwagoneers, allergics, freedom foods campaigners and other niche dietary requirements. Nope, not much for you too, vegans (or should that be you two vegans?). The carvery lunch is aimed squarely between the eyes, nay lips, of the lowest common denominator. It must be able to fill the seemingly inexhaustible stomach of a teenage boy and his alpha dad. His bird-appetited grandmother and baby sister must also be able to eat the meal with the minimum of chewing and without the unwelcome shock of anything too spicy or “foreign”. And it should be good value, without any hidden charges – in case paterfamilias is paying for the whole party, which they should be able to do without bankrupting themselves.
The Ponda Rosa chef took Matt and Cat’s tickets and they made their choice. Turkey for The Cat, cut into agreeable slices and crowned with a Yorkshire pudding. Matt indicated his preference by pointing at the chef’s glistening beefy log. Despite slaving over a roast baking tray plus heat lamps, the chef was in good spirits. He reminded Cat of Andy, her local lollipop man; diligently working at a tricky job whilst at the same time indefatigably cheery: a big hit with young and old alike.
Meat and ‘Shires procured, Matt and Cat shuffled to the vegetable counter. The regulation new and roasted spuds were there; brassicas, root veg and much more. A notice at the end of the cafeteria indicated that patrons only got one go round, which was fair enough. Veterans of the Pizza Hut salad bar will certainly have the skills to maximise the surface area of their plates with cunning use of the firmer vegetables or by filling the central well of their Yorkshire pudding with some of those lovely crisp parsnips.
Then it was back to the table to eat. The Ponda Rosa was filled with those sharing a moment with their loved ones over a plate of the beef of old England. The roast dinner was, indeed, a good one. Tender, tasty meat and, as they say in marketing parlance, “all the trimmings”. Cat’s choice of trimmings included cauliflower cheese; a rare and delightful treat these days except, for some reason, at a carvery where it appears to be de rigeur. Everyone tucked in enthusiastically.
When she bought everyone’s carvery tickets Cat had been upsold two courses. Like the main course, the puddings were predominantly traditional. Knickerbocker glory, fruit salad, ice cream. If this was a Jamie Oliver restaurant, these retro sweets would have the punters enthusing knowingly about the chef’s nostalgic irony. What’s old is new and what’s the latest thing will be passé next week and round and round go mainland dining trends in a dizzying vortex. But this is the Isle of Wight so we’ll just sit tight and wait for it all to catch up with us. Again.
Matt had a waffle with ice cream which was a cut above average. The waffle was not a soggy, reheated lozenge but a freshly-toasted and crispy specimen that dripped with caramel sauce as the ice cream melted and dribbled down it enticingly. Choosing the dessert that was likely to make the least impact on her already taut belly, Cat had a fruity mango sorbet. It was served in a flared sundae dish and decorated with with a hefty drizzle of what in the 1970s was referred to as ‘monkey’s blood’. A refreshing end to her meal but, to be honest, she could have managed with just the single, generous, course. A noob mistake that she won’t make the next time they go and dine there.
A repeat visit to the Ponda Rosa is on the cards for sure, particularly if M&C were entertaining a large and diverse party. Cuisine like this is never going to get written about in the Sunday supplements, which are often too concerned with gimmicky fare such as Japanese/Scandinavian food fusion and swanky places that will relieve you of twenty-five nicker for a single crab leg. But for genuine crowd-pleasing fodder, at family-friendly prices – with extremely attentive service to boot, you should gather some kin and head to the Ponda Rosa. A meal there is not just for wedding anniversaries and birthdays, you know!
- Ideal for all the family
- Eat as much or as little as you like
- Generous portions
- Not a vast variety of food