Category: Pub Grub
The other day Matt and Cat were on the terrace of the Spyglass Inn, in Ventnor.
As they enjoyed the view of the English Channel they pondered how many other pubs could actually boast such an awesome south-facing shore-side position. Think hard folks, because that’s what Matt and Cat did. And, do you know what? They couldn’t think of one pub other than the Spyglass that is within a stone's throw of the beach on the south side of the Island. Sure the Sun Inn, Hulverstone and Chale's Wight Mouse both have spectacular views across the heritage coast but you'll never be bothered by salty spray at either of these rural venues.
The Buddle Inn at Niton Undercliff was only likely candidate. Its website trumpets hopefully that it "boasts unrivalled views of the English channel". So, to put this to the test, Matt and Cat bowled along there and parked in the little car park which did indeed have pretty good views across the sea. They sat for a few moments and enjoyed this vista, listening to the sound of the waves pestering the shore far below. But after a short stroll down the hill towards the scenic rocks and spectacular lighthouse of St Catherine's Point, they realised that the Buddle is not that near to the shore really. And in fact, the best view - and it is a good one - is to be had from the Buddle car park, albeit that it was shared with an old camper van and a derelict BMW. So having got the best of the view, Matt and Cat ambled back up to see what the pub’s food was like.
Think back to your childhood, and one of those family days out to meet the relatives. If you're anything like Matt and Cat, such a visit would have either been the best thing ever, or a dismal chore that nobody looked forward to. Some relatives always seemed to be worth the journey - others you just knew would be a bore.
That's the way it is with re-reviews, too. Matt and Cat have been buzzing around commenting on their dinners since 2005, and so some of their reviews are admittedly a bit long in the tooth. But there are a few that just keep on getting put off. Falling into this category is the Hare and Hounds. A big family dining pub, at a focal location, the place should have everything going for it. On top of that, it was a venue with good memories for Matt, who spent happy teenage evenings propping up the bar and sipping daringly on Watney's Red Barrel. When they first reviewed it back in 2007, Matt and Cat found the Hare and Hounds to be satisfactory, if uninspiring.
In subsequent years, comments on their review showed a consistent rising tide of disapproval - remarks such as "the worst the Island has to offer"; "VILE"; and "AVOID AT ALL COSTS!" Even stalwart commenter da yw wyth - normally the most temperate of critics - was moved to say "the main let-down was the food itself". It was perhaps to be expected then, that Matt and Cat somehow didn't get around to making a revisit themselves. Clearly things were not going well at the Hare and Hounds, and it was no surprise when it closed down in late 2012 for a major refurbishment. But what would the new incarnation be? Could hospitality behemoth Greene King turn the pub around? Soon after it reopened, a few comments seemed to suggest that it had - and da yw wyth said "the refurbishment certainly has made a gigantic difference!" That was enough for M&C, and they were finally galvanised to make that long overdue revisit to the Island's highest pub.
The Korean pop song Gangnam Style can rightfully boast the world record as the most liked video on YouTube - having been viewed on the video-sharing website over four hundred million eye-boggling times.
More importantly, Shanklin lays claim to being the nation's sunniest place. And zeroing in on what really matters, motorists passing through the tiny hamlet of Yarbridge, near Brading, will not have missed the banner with a proud claim from the Yarbridge Inn as it confidently dubs itself "The number one pub for excellent food in Yarbridge". There’ll be no argument from Matt and Cat. It's the only pub in Yarbridge.
Reluctantly pushing semantics aside, Matt and Cat chose to visit the Yarbridge Inn based on a little pre-dinner research on Trip Advisor. The effusive reviews showed that this seemingly modest little pub has "incredible food, fantastic staff, great atmosphere." What's more, "the chef is a dream so everything we ordered was superb". Bold claims indeed. In order to dilute this potentially "incredible" dining experience, M&C went with some friends. Bouncing their car into the moonlit car park, they stood and listened to the passing Islandline train before entering the pub.
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.