Archive review: The Dark Horse, Brading

Archive review: the Dark Horse closed in February 2014.

A while ago, Brading's former Red Lion Inn looked as though it was going to follow so many small rural pubs, and turn into housing. But it didn't - quite the contrary.

Burger, Dark Horse

After a sojourn as the Smart Fox, the place now seems to be running on an even keel as the Dark Horse; offering good pub grub in a very comfortable atmosphere. After first rolling up just a few weeks after the place reopened back in 2009, Matt and Cat returned with junior reviewer Bill in tow to see what the Dark Horse was up to these days.

One thing's for sure, the Dark Horse is a nice venue. The Island's not over-blessed with really olde worlde pubs of the traditional English type: the pub-building boom here was in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But the Dark Horse has plenty of authentic charm to go round. Real old wooden beams, low ceilings, flagstoned floors and stone walls give out a warmth and welcome that has been well-used. The tables are scrubbed pine, the chairs are upholstered with traditional patterns, and there seem to be more real fires than are strictly necessary for heating purposes.

Follow up:

Dark Horse, Chicken supreme

One thing that hasn't changed much is the scale of the menu. There are two opposed theories in the design of menus, which amount to either 'short is good', or 'long is good'. The Dark Horse most definitely subscribes to the latter school of thought. Running to a dozen pages or so, alongside a substantial specials board (or "Special's Board" as it was labelled) there's certainly no lack of choice. Details of the local provenance of the food were prominent, not only were the names and locations of the suppliers shown, but there was even a handy map indicating the farm locations. Normally M&C will make a few notes about the menu, to give some idea when writing a review later of what else is on it. But this time, after leafing through this epicurean epic, they couldn't even begin to précis it. So just assume that whatever you want, it's probably on there.

steak and chillies

All three of the diners found something to their taste. Each had their own criterion, which the Dark Horse proved capable of addressing with precision. Bill, a growing lad, was after volume. He picked the alarmingly-named Triple Horse Burger. Not made with horse, of course, but a reference to the pub's name; this mammoth feast included three beefburgers, cheese, bacon, chips and salad, with a choice of sauces. Cat, by contrast, wanted something more modest, and comfortingly mild. She chose what she recalled to be exactly the same dish as she had eaten in 2009: chicken supreme. Matt was looking for novelty, and found it soon enough with 'steak and chillies': a 10oz sirloin steak served in naan bread with a fresh chilli salsa.

The chips were not a million miles from Alan Staley's sublime thrice-cooked chips at the Royal Hotel, Ventnor

Whilst waiting for their food, the party started a debate inspired by the description of the centrepiece of Steak Night (every Wednesday night, apparently) a 68oz rump steak. Just how big was 68oz? Nobody was quite familiar enough with old-style ounces to be entirely sure, but eventually they worked out that it was 4¼ pounds, and just about two kilos. So casting around for familiar things that are still weighed in pounds, they noted that 4¼ pounds was more than half a newborn baby - probably not the ideal comparative unit.

The first meal out of the gate was the Triple Horse Burger. It caused one of those rare events: a gasp from the entire table. The towering edifice of meat and cheese certainly made young Bill's eyes light up. He was slightly puzzled by the absence of the chilli sauce he'd asked for, and he wasn't alone because the lad who brought it out seemed to be mystified when enquiries were made. It's probably fair to say that with such a comprehensive menu, nobody could be familiar with the whole thing, and the waiter disappeared to the kitchen to see what it was all about. He was soon back, to check what strength of sauce Bill required, and then a third time with the promised sauce. A hiccup entirely rectified with a good recovery by the Dark Horse. The Triple Horse Burger was enough to fill the youthful diner to capacity, and he judged it a success.

Cat's chicken supreme excellent. A mild creamy dish, the sauce of which had more than a hint of herbs and some good chunks of mushroom. Alongside came a good selection of nicely-cooked vegetables: glazed carrots, cauliflower, broccoli and French beans plus chips. All three diners remarked upon the chips which accompanied the dishes. These were far superior to the usual offerings in pubs. Big, fluffy and crisp, without a hint of greasiness, they were not a million miles from Alan Staley's sublime thrice-cooked chips at the Royal Hotel, Ventnor. Another surprise from the Dark Horse kitchen - and a welcome one.

Matt and Cat's Bill
Triple horse burger 10.45
Steak & chillies 16.95
Chicken supreme 12.45
1 x dessert 4.00
3 x coffee 3.42
Total: 47.24

Matt didn't really know what to expect with his steak and chillies, and when it arrived, it was still slightly mysterious. A bit of a novelty item, it was unusual on the Dark Horse menu in that it appeared to be something they'd thought up themselves, rather than a rendition of a pub classic. So, how did this work? Hidden inside a warmed naan bread Matt discovered a decent-sized bit of steak, cooked rare as requested. The naan had some sort of mayonnaise spread on the inside. On top of the meat was some fresh tomato and chilli salsa, and the whole thing came with salad and chips, and a slop of coleslaw. Now, all of these things were standard pub kitchen elements, with the possible exception of the salsa which must have been specially made, although the tomato was the only fresh bit. The meat was passable, although hardly the finest steak. But, surprisingly, the dish worked well, and as the juices from the steak mixed with chilli and tomato and worked their way into the dry naan, it all came together nicely. Matt was impressed.

Bill, having recovered from his Triple Horse, was ready for pudding. Matt and Cat decided to let him do the work there, and ordered coffee. The dessert menu was illustrated with photographs, which probably says all it needs to about that. Bill ordered one of a large range of cheesecakes, and found it satisfactory. The coffee was a disappointment at the end of an otherwise very good meal. Instant coffee served with UHT milk? You get better than that on the train these days. Still, another positive experience was to come, When Cat went up to pay at the bar, she was pleased with the modest price: reasonable value for pub food.

The Dark Horse has always delivered a comfortable environment and a broad, basic menu. This remains the case. The pub has been through a range of changes, and comments on the previous review seem to confirm that a period of stability is now to be expected. Matt and Cat predict success if the pub can consistently produce food like this. The young waiter was a pleasure to watch; he was a man that demonstrated professionalism in all of his transactions with customers. That said, it wasn't a faultless experience, a greeting on arrival and some fresh milk for the coffee are tiny tweaks that would make a big difference. However, with such a cosy venue and great food delivered professionally, the Dark Horse is a contender.

 Published: 15th June 2011
Categories: We like, Pub Grub, Family friendly, Sandown & Shanklin, Local produce

23 comments (newest first)

Comment from: Dave  

Just returned after having a level meal wonderful steak and my wife had a lily crab salad well worth a visit.

20/06/13 @ 22:13
Comment from: Lisa
The Dark Horse has always been a ‘pricey pub’ but now its just taking the ‘p’.

My Husband and I decided to give this place a go as it’s changed hands (again). What a big mistake. I had the lasagne which was the worst I’ve ever had, it was disgusting! Hardly any meat but lots of tomato sauce. It had obviously been microwaved as the pasta was like rubber and it’s also the only lasagna I’ve ever had with no white sauce at all!

The chips are not the same now either, just average and both portions of our chips were served together in one small bowl. So we had about 8 chips each.

My Husband had a steak with some sauce which was not great but edible. On the menu (which was splattered with filth) we noticed the sauce had changed from £2.00 to £3.50 so of course we were expecting better quality, but no, prices up and quality down.

We didn’t have dessert as the prices are so extortionate and I had given up at that point and just wanted to leave.

Everything has shot up in price. The Dark Horse has always been a ‘pricey pub’ to have a meal but now its just taking the ‘p’. I left here feeling hungry and very annoyed that we just wasted our money. Never again.

07/06/13 @ 11:28
Comment from: Hayley

Hello everyone after a year out at the dark horse I am now back running it after closing it for a good clean and freshen up. I am glad to say I am now open, hopefully see you all soon

14/05/13 @ 22:21
Comment from: da yw wyth

No good trying to go back here now - since it closed very suddenly - post office and alll

20/04/13 @ 22:12
Comment from: hannah

I was a regular diner here. I am so disapointed that this place has really gone downhill, it used to be a real gem in somewhere so quiet as Brading. Firstly they no longer sell Peroni lager, instead they have a very flat tasteless lager (that I forget the name of) No idea why as Peroni was a very popular drink!

Had the steak which was ok, in the past it was delicious.

Went back again and this time had the chicken with peppercorn sauce. It came out looking like someone had been sick all over my plate. The cream in the sauce had separated and looked totally inedible. When I pointed this out to the waiter he said that’s how it’s meant to be… Waiter is obviously new here. I asked to see the chef, chef apologised and said there had been a problem with the cream and it is not meant to be like that and changed it for a burger (which was nice).

I refuse to go back and pay for a dish that I could have easily cooked at home much tastier and cheaper.

13/04/13 @ 11:11
Comment from: David

Went there today for a light bite. The Cauliflower Cheese had an extremely runny sauce. The Carlsberg Lager was flat. Nowhere as good as with previous owners.

03/01/13 @ 15:26
Comment from: Tikka Tom
When the reviews on here turn positive we’ll give it another go

We’ve eaten at The dark Horse for the past couple of years and have always walked away happy and well fed. Alas, something has changed. A member of our party always has the triple horse burger. A tower of food for an excellent price. No more. Since our last visit (not too long ago) the price has jumped by £3 to £13.95. So an alternative was required. The specials board was adequate but none of the meals had a price. We asked the waitress for the price of one of the meals and even she didn’t know. Most of us had burgers which were meant to be ’special’ but, in the opinion of all, were rather basic. The menu has changed since our last visit and although it looks substantial the range was a bit basic. Where have all the special dishes of previous times gone? One great point that hasn’t changed is the chips. Amazing! and the onion rings are genius. Will we go back? We normally visit four, maybe five times a year. I think we’ll investigate further afield. Shame as the dark Horse is within walking distance. When the reviews on here turn positive we’ll give it another go

04/11/12 @ 10:25
Comment from: sarah j

Disappointed that I couldn’t have the chicken breast steak for lunch on Sunday; they only have steaks available in the evening now. Shame as I can only eat out at lunchtime and the chicken steak was the only reason I went there. Ended up having a roast, which was tasty but I’d rather have had the chicken!

18/07/12 @ 17:33
Comment from: Yair

It’s not as good as it was. The food is still good quality and the chips are great. But, the menu is nuch reduced and now offers only standard pub fare and the wine list has been reduced to a handful of bottles, 3 whites, 3 rose and 4 reds. Wine by the glass is now Stowells from the tap - yeuch. A shame because this was a great choice for good quality food and a good bottle of wine.

11/07/12 @ 08:26
Comment from: The Boat Builder

Well I went back at the weekend. Boy has this place gone up a notch. Great fast service and it was busy, perhaps because of it being the pay day weekend or may be because it was wet. Even so there was a couple of large parties in,the guy that was floor walking advised us that there was a gap in the kitchen if would like to order there and then, we took the advice and did not have to waitlong at all. The food was great, and they have some bin ends of wine which made the choice even greater. The owners are Rachel & Haydn, a nice couple, all I can say is you have to go, if you haven’t been.

30/04/12 @ 18:21
Comment from: The Boat Builder

Heard the news Saturday night. The Dark Horse has a change at the helm. Little suttle changes, tea lights on the tables with flowers, the back room was lighted and people using it!Oh and the other thing was we had a happy waitress really helpful and smileing.The service was diffrent other than the guy behind the bar,some you can not change, there was talk of a beer festival on the jubilee weekend, didn’t get the details. We are going back this weekend as we have friends over, so I for one will be on the look out for other changes,but I hope nothing dramatic, such a great place.

23/04/12 @ 17:25
Comment from: Sophie  

One of my favourite places to eat on the island, kudos to the Chef. But sadly my dining experience is always slightly ruined by the grumpy barman! He really needs to brush-up on his customer care skills.

30/01/12 @ 12:22
Comment from: Diana Drayton

Have been to the Dark Horse several times as I live nearby and although the food is good if somewhat pricey, the lack of customer service has spoilt it each time. The man behind the bar is always surly and unfriendly. I went with a group of 12 ladies for lunch recently and the girl behind the bar seemed to have taken over his lack of customer service. She did what she had to do with no smile, grace or welcoming attitude. Having been in business for a number of years myself, I know how important a friendly welcoming smile is and do feel that lessons are to be learnt here to make people want to go back. My companions’ chips have been excellent each time though!

20/01/12 @ 12:50
Comment from: Lin

This place could be wonderful but unfortunately I agree with some of your other customers. The lack of greeting is rude, fine helping yourself to menu’s and drinks but someone could tell you thats how it works!
We decided to go to the recent New Year’s Eve celebration with lots of our friends, tickets for buffet and group were £22.50. No front of house greeting or supervision of food. Buffet was dismal for vegetarians, nothing had any tickets on to say what was what, we were told when the food was ready but not the puddings and so going to the table to find nothing but cheese and biscuits, other nearby tables piled high with desserts! The struggling waitress came back to say ’sorry’ that was it. The group were brilliant but I’m afraid the food was not up to much and overpriced. As you would expect being New Year’s Eve our group spent lots at the bar and I’m sure they did well from the evening but its not an experience we would repeat..

03/01/12 @ 16:58
Comment from: Sammy Jay  

My wife and I visited the Dark Horse on the 27th of September after rave reviews from friends and family. After deciding to give our usual pub a miss what a let down it was! After disturbing the fist barmaid / waitresses day dream and trying to translate her grunts we got our drinks and sat at our table. Looking through the menu my wife decided on Duck and I had Hoi Sin Stir Fry. When I say duck, it was more a fatty leg with a little meat on it. And these “Famous, Amazing” chips we’d been told so much about were soggy and cold. My Stir Fry was Ok, but again there was a nice pile of fat seperated from the meat. After finishing our meals and at no point being asked if we’d “enjoyed” our meals we asked for the bill much to the annoyance of a different barmaid who had now taken over grunting duties. I dont know if there was something in the water that day but we were very dissapointed with every aspect of our Dark Horse “experience” and will stick to the “White” one in future

11/10/11 @ 19:56
Comment from: Steve

Aah, the food was okay but the stocky gentleman behind the bar was as unconvivial as ever, maybe he is not bothered if customers return or go elsewhere.

Food was acceptable.

04/09/11 @ 16:11
Comment from: Jayne

Sunday night, some good, some not so good …..

No apple sauce for the roast pork (come on, apples are in abundance at the moment - no excuse!) but apparently the rest of the roast was good. Scampi, steak and chips all ok, and nice salad garnish (decent dressed leaves etc, not just iceberg and raw onion!)but peas were dry and over-nuked,

We sat for so long with our empty plates in front of us that we cleared them ourselves. And a rather surly reaction at the bar when I rejected my tonic for the slimline one I know I’d asked for.

Rhubarb Crumble served in a honey pot - where’s the custard meant to go? And the “crumble” just didn’t!

There was more lemon in my G&T than in the lemon meringue pie, and the meringue topping was soggy on top, no hint of crispness.

Not my best experience of the Dark Horse - maybe it will perk up out of season?

(Also, it was nice to see a Thai Green Veggie curry on the menu as an addition to all the bog standard and very uninspiring veggie options of mac cheese, cauliflower cheese, veggie lasagne and veggie burger that seem to be every pub’s limit!)

30/08/11 @ 15:22
Comment from: David Smith

Oh dear only went once.

13/08/11 @ 18:42
Comment from: N. Moram

We went to the Dark Horse on the 7th July 2011 for my husbands birthday with the family. I cant comment on the food as I was so overwelmed with the poor service. The man serving behind the bar and on the diners was very curt and rude. I had taken a birthday cake into the pub on the Monday and asked that the decorations inside the cake be put on with the candles. When we asked TWICE for the cake to be brought out it arrived without the decorations and we were told he had no side plates left to put it on. When I enquired as to where the decorations were he rudly said he didn’t see them as they were hiding in a secret compartment (I must inform Tescos not to hide things in boxes) I would reccomentd that the staff go on a Customer Care Course as soon as possible as I wont be going there again.

12/07/11 @ 10:59
Comment from: Downsviewduo

Finally visited The Dark Horse in Brading this evening, have been meaning to for the last year but keep being drawn back to The Taverners! I had the triple horse burger (it was either that or the wonderfully named Woolly Whopper - Lamb Burger!). It was an immense burger, most considerable I’ve had, but of excellent quality and good value for money. My fiancé had a chicken and bacon salad which she said was lovely. The pub itself is deceptively spacious inside, with a very pleasant decor, and despite the low ceilings it is light and welcoming. Ample parking is provided behind the establishment, which was guarded by the two smallest and noisiest guard dogs (or were they guinea pigs?!) we have ever seen. The menu itself is huge, with extensive options and all tastes being catered for; it’s also competitively priced. The only niggle I would have is with the dessert section in the back of the menus; the items are illustrated with photos, I really dislike this, it reminds me of the menus in seaside fish and chip shop restaurants from my youth, and feel it does detract from the otherwise smartly produced menu. We will definitely be returning to The Dark Horse!

01/07/11 @ 21:55
Comment from: Craig

Have to disagree with you there. The Dark horse(origianlly The Red Lion)was totally refurbished in the early 90’s. The building is old but the pub interior is that thing to be hated above all others…a new pub trying (and failing) to look like an old one.

28/06/11 @ 08:26
Comment from: David Smith

Well I shall be over for my 20th years holiday on your great Island And once again I look forward to eating out every night I shall be phoning the dark horse for my first night thank you Matt and Catt

17/06/11 @ 23:23
Comment from: David Smith

well that time has come and i look forward to having my first meal this year in the dark horse thank you Matt and Catt

17/06/11 @ 23:16

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