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.
Categories: We like, Pub Grub, Family friendly, Sandown & Shanklin, Bembridge and St Helens
Four of us visited 4/07/12 and came across much the same problem as yourselves. Our dishes were three OAP fish & chip combos (which were then swiftly removed from an already sparse looking specials board) and a rare rump steak. The restaurant was fairly quiet, as was the bar. Much like yourselves, we waited 45mins with absolutely no explanation for the delay. After seeing a mix of earlier/later arrivals being served their food, we asked where our food was; the first young man didn't seem to have much a clue but when his Mum came out (with the first plates of our food) she said the delay was due to the fact that she was serving behind the bar, cooking and being a waitress. This seems a bit of a bizarre set of reasons when her son seemed to be doing most of the serving and there was clearly another gentleman (in chefs clothing) meandering about the place. This was all of the explanation or apology we got, aside from a "Well I'm sorry, but what do you expect me to do?".
When it eventually arrived the food was quite a disappointment, when compared to how it used to be, all three fish were in some incredibly soggy batter and the chips tepid at best. The rump steak was riddled with fat (almost half of it), burnt at the edges and medium (at best) in the middle. The staff did not return to our table to either ask us how the food was or whether we wanted dessert.
Overall a very disappointing visit and it is unlikely that we will ever return there.
The landlord was very friendly and chatty. He had a good choice of beers and wines and I noticed the couple eating had some meat pie dish which they said was very good and it was plentiful, filling the plates.
We sat down at the next table and removed our coats which is when we discovered if you weren't sitting in front of the fire, like the other diners, the room was quite chilly. The menu looked quite extensive and the specials board was also full. We went for the fish and chips. I asked if they had any mushy peas but they didn't so I said OK, no worries.
As we were the only food order for the kitchen - 2 x fish and chips - after 30 minutes we were wondering what had happened to it. I went to the bar to get another drink and also noticed the man in whites doing a lot of meandering about. When it came, he had mashed some peas for me to imitate the mushy variety which was noble of him. Looking at the batter, it was obvious the fish was pre-coated from a packet, not freshly cooked. I also noticed he was carrying a bag of chips so they were probably frozen also. OK, but somewhat disappointing.
Chatting to the Landlord after, he said that he was using up foodstuffs left over from the previous tenant (which may have accounted for the packet fish) and he was going to source fresh ingredients thereafter. He also spoke enthusiastically about Christmas and how he was going to have a full Christmas menu. Given the speed which the man in whites worked, I thought he might have his work cut out there.
The reason I mention this now is because last week we were thinking of giving it another try but I'm not so sure now. I will wait for a few more reviews.