Mill Bay II is now closed.
The fortunes of the Joe's franchise have flowed and ebbed. Its glory days were in the early noughties when it was the place for The Beautiful People to hang out flicking through Sunday supplements over a frothy coffee. Alas, like many other businesses in these economically depressed times, the Newport and Ryde branches have suffered - being recently in administration. However, Union Street's Joe's is back on its feet under new management, and Matt and Cat can confirm that its trajectory looks promisingly upward.
Like its coastal sister in Ryde, the Newport branch of Joe's faded; Christmas 2007 saw the most dismal service at Matt and Cat's office Christmas lunch and the writing was on the wall. However, things have changed. Both venues are in new hands, with Newport's bar now being managed by Mr and Mrs Tredwell - veterans of many of the Island's big eating-houses. With a sprinkling of modification, the vast venue has re-opened as the rather unnecessarily-suffixed Mill Bay II. Cat visited recently and can confirm that the place is now back on its feet and getting ready for another incarnation.
How often in films do you hear the phrase, "I've got a bad feeling about this"? If Star Wars is anything to go by, far too many.
However, to exhaust the phrase one final time, these were the words that issued from Cat's lips as she and Matt drove into the grounds of Rookley Country Park. Not the most welcoming of entrances; a bland-looking building with a single sign directing visitors round the back of the structure. M and C with junior reviewers Bill and Jack followed the arrow and eventually found themselves in quite a nice airy bar and dining room. Inside, it was well-appointed, with many comfortable tables and big sofas to lounge on whilst watching the inevitable television. It had the added advantage that you didn't have to look at the outside, either.
A conservatory and decking had been added to the unprepossessing building to make the most of the rather dismal view - a small former quarry surrounded by mobile homes. However, the welcome from the eager staff was immediate and very friendly, and the meaty aroma of the carvery was enough to make the quartet lick their lips in anticipation. Could this venue overcome its handicap of being positioned by an industrial estate in one of the Island's less notable villages?
Writing for this website is fun. But it's not just about chowing down on (mostly) lovely food and scribbling a bit of gibberish about it.
Matt and Cat occasionally plan in advance where they would like to go. However, some evenings their planning fails and they have to think on their hooves.
For once, they had decided early on where to eat and, remembering to get tooled up with a camera, they drove directly to their chosen destination - Lakeside Restaurant at Rookley Country Park. Despite the glowing signs enticing them in, the car park was empty. Having just spent an evening as the only diners on the Albert Cottage Hotel, they decided that they would like to eat in company. Therefore they turned the car around and headed towards Godshill to the Taverners. The car park there was empty too, and the lights were off. Mmm. Not to be put off, Matt and Cat peered across the road to the Loaves and Fishes. That too appeared to be closed. Had everything ground to a halt because of the impending first eviction from this year's Celebrity Big Brother? Surely not?
Working their way eastwards, they stopped at the Old Smithy car park and, pausing to listen to the church bells carolling in the frosty moonlight, they eyed up The Griffin. Would it be fourth time lucky?
The Sloop is like the singer Madonna. Old, cheap, inexplicably popular, and always reinventing itself. Every once in a while The Sloop seems to think that people have stopped paying attention, and decides to sell up; reopening in a new guise. Matt and Cat first visited the Sloop in 2007 after a refurbishment, and again in May 2008. By October 2008 another relaunch had occurred, and M & C visited again. All three reviews can be seen here - the older ones are down the page.
October 2008 review
The brash new Sloop makes no apologies for selling its main attraction. Gone are the long menus and pretensions of sophistication - the Sloop is now a carvery selling meals at £3.50!!! Yes!!! Loud signs along the roadside scream £3.50!!! at passers-by until only the most dull-witted would not get the message that they should go there, immediately, and eat meat. So Matt and Cat decided to follow the herd. Sniffing loftily and remembering some previous underwhelming carvery experiences they consoled themselves with the prospect of sharing their derision with their readers. After all, you can pay more than £3.50 for a glass of wine - how good could a £3.50 carvery actually be?
Being seaside dwellers, Matt and Cat tend to cling to the edges of the Island - except when heading to the megalopolis that is Newport for their day jobs. However, they can be drawn to Vectis' rural innards when necessary. One such voyage of discovery lead them to Rookley's uber-pub, The Chequers.
This is not the first visit to this sprawling roadside inn for the dynamic duo. Many years ago, along with their fellow desk jockeys, they celebrated Christmas in true office worker style in the pub's accommodating (and brand new at the time) conservatory. The Chequers coped admirably with the challenge of feeding a horde of office-workers on pleasure bent. Memories are a little hazy, but Matt and Cat can just recall how their colleagues prepared for the event: having started the 'lubrication' process with tins of lager at their workstations, ties were cast asunder and collars were daringly opened by the time they arrived en masse at The Chequers. The lunch descended into the sort of chaos that only cube rats can cause, culminating in a tired and emotional senior planning officer tumbling down the kiddies slide with his shirt off and nipples like chapel coatpegs in December's chill wind. Would Matt and Cat's latest visit also result in nudie-planners and discreet inter-staff fumblings?