The best thing - from a choice of many - about living on the Isle of Wight is the pleasure of being 'on holiday' at any time. When feeling like a break, residents can simply take themselves off to visit another part of the Island. Urban hubs, sleepy seaside villages and perpendicular rural retreats await.
Bonchurch is such a place. To visit its maze of twisty lanes, hewn out of steep rock, is invariably to discover some new delight, some gothic fantasy or hidden garden. If Ventnor is the most bohemian resort on the Island, its smaller neighbour Bonchurch - historically the home of poets and artisans - must surely be the place for people who are too laid back even for Ventnor. So when Matt and Cat were recommended the Bonchurch Inn they were keen to give it a go.
They found the Inn hidden down a short drive off a narrow lane. Visitors, if you don't know Bonchurch, take a map or use the handy plan on the Bonchurch Inn website. There's not much parking or turning either, so don't try driving to the inn's door. Like much of Bonchurch, the Inn is made up of chaotic and characterful early Victorian buildings, nestled against a steep rocky cliff. Matt and Cat strolled into its continental-style courtyard, with entrances to the bar and lounge, and a sizeable garden area. They went inside, and were delighted to find a small but hugely characterful old bar, oozing authenticity.
The barman greeted them in a very friendly way, and despite the place appearing to be fully booked, he managed to find them a table in the nearby lounge and deliver some drinks. Matt's beer was drawn from the barrel, giving the rare but delightfully unmistakable smoothness of a gravity-drawn pint. Gentle jazz music filtered through from the bar where a few other customers were chatting. The amiable barman also doubled as waiter, soon taking Matt and Cat's orders for lasagne and spaghetti bolognese respectively.
Having the tiny lounge bar to themselves, M and C took the opportunity to have a poke about the riotous display of ornaments which can euphemistically be described as eclectic. A plate with a transfer of fluffy kittens was competing for Cat's attention with a jolly ceramic sailor. Historic photographs of the inn were juxtaposed with faded prints of old masters ('And When Did You Last See Your Father?' and the amusingly titled 'Between Two Fires'). The busy carpet contrasted with the wood-look cladding at the bar. However, all of these artefacts gave the place a really comfy feel; it did not apologise for its faded glory and was a welcome change from the homogenised style of other venues. In fact, like the Sportsman's Rest, it evoked a time before Changing Rooms and laminate flooring had been invented. The barman switched on a listing onyx and wrought-iron lamp and the bar became even cosier - no need for contrived recessed mood lighting here.
A clattering at the door heralded the arrival of the food from the kitchen across the courtyard. This was no ordinary bar meal - the menu indicated that the food was Italian, and looked promisingly authentic. The smell of real, rich, Italian cuisine filled the little lounge. Fresh, crispy garlic bread with real parsley; a fresh green salad, and those steaming bowls of fragrant pasta.
Matt set about his lasagne, and found it sublime. Copious layers of stringy cheese covered the tasty meat, the whole thing set in a rich creamy sauce. With the simple green salad and a pint of fine beer alongside, Matt found himself enjoying one of the best meals of the year so far. Cat's spaghetti was a simpler but equally well-judged dish, made in the traditional way with plenty of spaghetti and mince, and little else. It was tasty and very enjoyable.
Reeling from this unexpected gastronomic delight, Matt and Cat sat back and absorbed some of the great atmosphere. Stan Getz's soporific bossa novas were superseded by a groovy electric piano, more customers wandered in, and the plates of steaming food were delivered with increasing regularity. The sounds of merriment from the nearby public bar added to the cheerful, bustling feel of the place. A party of touring cyclists were chatting to the barman: "So where does the 'Round the Island' route start?" asked one earnest gentleman. "Just where you get off the ferry", replied the tapman, with a perfectly straight face.
Anticipating a decent Italian pudding after the glory of the main courses, Matt and Cat pushed the boat right out and ordered dessert. Soon enough two tiramisu arrived with a big cafetière of fresh coffee. The tiramisu was home-made; deliciously moist, layered with copious amounts of marscapone and soaked in liqueur and cream. It was a fitting finale to a most enjoyable meal.
The Bonchurch Inn is a real hidden marvel - literally tucked away in mysterious Bonchurch, it manages to be an old and authentic pub at the same time as providing the most remarkably good food and beer. The friendly service was exceptional, and the atmosphere and style of the quirky old building itself was most convivial. The whole experience was one which Matt and Cat will remember with pleasure. Strongly recommended.
Categories: Pub Grub, We love!, Family friendly, Ventnor area
This is a very quirky place with memorabilia from films and TV programmes.
We have never been there and not had a very warm welcome from the owners.
We had a few days on the island researching pubs & Restaurants and really liked the Bonchurch. Thought that the food was of a reasonable standard and good value too.
The barman tried to take our order by shouting accros the bar and didn't even lay the table, just put a pile of plates and cutlery on the table.
Overall the service was amaturish, the portions of huge and not very nice. A victory of quantity over quality. We thought they were trying to do too many covers and that this was the reason the qualtiy had suffered. We will not go again and do not recommend it.We were very disapointed.
Will go again.
Perfectly cooked fat fillet steak and their own recipe Bonchurch sauce would be my last supper, delightful mixed fresh veggies too.
A totally individual, relaxed, friendly and quirky place to be.
If you like pre-prepared mass catering, carry on eating at the places you love and leave this gem for the rest of us!
Big thanks to Vicky who cooked for us on our last visit, but we will be back to try Adrian's crab linguine!