Category: Bembridge and St Helens
Unless it’s in the resort of Ryde, Sandown or Shanklin, any beach on the Isle of Wight usually earns the title of Locals’ Secret Location. This sobriquet is bandied around so often that one could assume that the majority of the Island’s coastline is a hidden gem. Which, to be honest, it probably is.
Matt and Cat have read national reviews of the "locals’ secret" Boathouse restaurant at Steephill Cove, they’ve eaten at The Priory Bay Hotel, with its secret private beach, and even well-publicised Barefoot on the Beach requires the surefootedness of a native guide as it's certainly tricky to find of an evening.
And so to locals’ secret location Bembridge Forelands. Last century, this wonderful place was the backdrop to childhood family trips on endless hot summer days for Matt and so many others. After filling his metal pail with rockpool treasures, he and his sandy-fingered siblings ate ice lollies bought from the beachside kiosk. Fast forward forty years and the pleasures of Bembridge Ledges remain as delightfully unsophisticated. In order to get the true locals’ off-season experience Matt and Cat made it their mission to spend a bracing November morning playing along the beautiful beach collecting fossils and a progress-inhibiting amount of clay on their wellies, before seeking lunch at the beach kiosk's successor: the Beach Hut.
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?
Just pass that crystal ball - Matt and Cat have seen the future.
Well, maybe they just made a lucky prediction, but you might recall when they reviewed Bembridge's excellent Lockslane bistro back in March this year, they said "With the honourable exception of Fox's, Bembridge has never yet been a Mecca for the Island’s diners, but maybe that tide is on the turn". Soon after their delightful evening at Lockslane, Matt and Cat became aware that there was another Bembridge eating venue that had undergone a transformation - this time the Old Village Inn. The pub has been subsumed by the local Character Group chain and turned into a steak and alehouse. The word was that the transformation was pretty extreme, and worth investigating. So Matt and Cat were duty-bound to see for themselves - and put to the test their prediction about Bembridge's culinary trajectory.
The Windmill Inn is now closed. This is an archive review.
Back in 2007, Matt and Cat had an unforgettable meal at The Windmill Inn in Bembridge.
It was memorable for all the wrong reasons, and it has taken them five years to venture back into the wide doors of the Windmill to see if things have improved. Thankfully, they have; although in all honesty it might have been hard not to.
It would be a cliché to suggest that Bembridge is populated by the legions of the grey. Certainly on the weekday lunchtime that Matt and Cat visited, they did see a disproportionate number of oldies, but the children would have been at school and anyone of working age would have been - well, at work. However, there are still a conspicuous few who mount their mobility scooters or fire up the 1992 Nissan Micra (5,000 miles since new, one careful owner with backless gloves and a Motability grant) and journeying down Bembridge’s gentle decline, end up at the Windmill Inn.
Matt and Cat pride themselves on not having a clue. No, really, it’s important.
They’ve never worked in the catering industry and can’t cook anything more complicated than a casserole, and they know little about wine, meat or famous restaurants. Not watching the television much means they don’t know what celebrity chefs are up to - nor do they care. What they do care about is good food well served. Every time Matt and Cat walk into a new venue, they assess it, insofar as they can, based on what happens there and then. Because that’s what matters, isn’t it? It’s the experience that is delivered on the night - preconceptions have to be left at the door.
A pleasing side-effect of this policy of wilful ignorance is that Matt and Cat are often surprised by a restaurant. Sometimes they find a great venue unexpectedly and get to praise it highly. Less often they find a terrible one and have the mixed pleasure of telling their readers about it. Either way it keeps them entertained.
Matt and Cat certainly had fun the night they visited a little café in Bembridge with some chums. Lockslane, which opened in early 2012 in the former Café Maya, is described as ‘Lockslane Contemporary Bistro’. Wondering if it would be like the much-vaunted Dan's Kitchen in nearby St Helens or maybe keep to the previous incumbent's wholesome and modest approach to catering, Matt and Cat knew there was really only one way to find out.