Matt and Cat\'s Isle of Wight Eating Out Guide
On a rainy Sunday at the fag-end of the summer holidays, Matt and Cat took a large family gathering to Ventnor in search of...
The Spyglass Inn, Ventnor

On a rainy Sunday at the fag-end of the summer holidays, Matt and Cat took a large family gathering to Ventnor in search of a good feed. Naturally their thoughts turned to The Spyglass, which was the first in a notable local chain of pubs across the Island, others of which have garnered very good reviews from your diligent researchers.

Matt and Cat have, in the past, eaten many pleasant meals at the Spyglass. It is a remarkable venue, poised above the sea at Ventnor, with spectacular views across the little bay and its beach, and with a strange microclimate that encourages you to sit outside at almost any time of the year. Thus it was with no hesitation that the family party settled itself in the Boathouse – a comfortable and roomy extension to the atmospheric but convoluted little rooms of the main pub. As it was Sunday afternoon, the party thought little of the sticky tables and chip-strewn floor – after all, the kids in their party were likely to add to the mess soon enough. In the main pub a guitarist was tuning up for one of the daily live music performances which, in this intimate venue, is an enjoyable year-round treat.

The menu is simple and straightforward, with a good supply of pub grub standards, sandwiches, baguettes, salads, grills and burgers, with a few local crab dishes featured. The prices are not the cheapest but, for family dining, there is often a premium to be paid in the most popular locations such as the Spyglass. The pub caters for families, with a decent children’s menu (perhaps with an emphasis on chips that Jamie Oliver might not have approved of, even if the children undoubtedly do) although whilst waiting for dinner to arrive, the youngest member of the party was discomfited by the surprisingly meagre baby changing facilities in the establishment.

Crab salad, The Spyglass, Ventnor
Crab salad

The meals arrived, and brought consternation for Cat as it transpired that Matt had feebly ordered her a beef sandwich instead of the requested beef salad. The waitress gallantly and immediately leapt in with an apology and a complementary bowl of salad for Cat, despite it clearly being no fault of the Spyglass. This was a most impressive bit of service.

The food was good, although perhaps not such exuberantly presented big portions as might be found in, say, sister pubs The Dairyman’s Daughter or The Bargeman’s Rest. Matt’s jumbo local sausage was a little blander than expected, but perfectly good and a welcome hot feed on a damp afternoon. The local beer, very well kept, served to improve matters and complemented the meal very well.

Sadly, at this point the good stuff began to come to an unexpected halt. Despite your reviewers confidently assuming that the Spyglass would perform as it always had done in the past, on this occasion the pub must have been having a bad day in the back room because the party found not one, not two, but three dirty plates amongst their meals. And not just a few crumbs either. Matt’s pudding came with a smear of mashed potato and gravy, Cat’s sandwich plate included some unexpected second-hand mustard, and another plate had obviously been stacked on top of another dirty plate and not had its bottom washed as the underside was crusty with grot. Given the ravenous children and the lateness of the hour the party decided not to complain and request a re-run of the meal, as no doubt the very helpful staff would have been very happy to oblige, but, frankly, it was not worth the bother.

So, The Spyglass. Expecting to rave, Matt and Cat find themselves obliged to report a flawed diamond. Still, it’s the most fantastic location, and has certainly done well historically. Give it a try – Matt and Cat will do so again, in the hope of being able to report improvements.

UPDATE: Matt and Cat revisited the Spyglass with some friends for Sunday lunch. Things were much better this time. Decent food at very reasonable prices, served fairly quickly in big portions and with some very nice ales – all to the accompaniment of live music. And no dirty plates. It was crowded and a bit smoky in the main pub but the Boathouse extension, whilst less atmospheric, was more roomy. An enjoyable meal in convivial surroundings.
The Spyglass Inn, Ventnor

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  • IW Regular

    23rd October 2016 #1 Author

    Can’t believe that mine was the last review on this classic island pub two and a half years ago! Lunch today was better than last time as the chips have returned to their former glory. No skinny oven chips, but proper good sized chips. My usual Spyglass Deluxe (big) cheeseburger was OK but nothing special. When we first went here (20 plus years ago) this was a welcome change from the standard beef burger or cheese burger options that existed in those times. Nowadays, most decent pubs have Gourmet Burgers (the Folly has Wagu beef, for example) and this certainly wasn’t ‘gourmet’. One thick succulent burger would be far better than the two skinny, slightly over cooked and dry, offerings and the cheese was raw and not melted. Mrs IW Regular had her usual crab baguette which was as good as she remembered it (during our last visit she was let down as they had sold out of crab).

    Two pints of 49’er (recommended by a local as he was aged 49, who was drinking two pints at a time with a double whisky chaser – don’t think he’ll reach 60) and a half of German lager for my good lady helped wash it all down. One thing is generally consistent in IOW pubs – good beer. On the mainland its nearly always that vile John Smiths Smooth served ice cold – which in the case of bitter, should be made illegal in my view!

    When I returned from the bar having ordered, my wife asked if ‘that miserable woman’ was still there. She’s been gone for years (see earlier reviews for a fuller explanation as she was legendary) and in a funny sort of way, I really missed her. It always provided for amusing conversation over lunch when her delightful chatty charm with known locals immediately turned to brusque, frosty and unhelpfully clipped tones with visitors. The girl serving drinks behind the bar today was very slow and not terribly friendly, but she wasn’t down right rude as the famous lady used to be. Ah well.. that’s progress.

    Reply

  • IW Regular

    22nd April 2014 #2 Author

    Our 2nd favourite pub on the island after The Folly Inn.

    Seemed to be under new management as the bar service was far friendlier than in previous years. Historically, known locals are treated as VIP’s and infrequent visitors in a far colder manner. Not so this time, so much better.

    We have always found the food here to be very good and it almost lived up to this reputation this time with one notable exception – poor quality chips.

    The chips at The Spyglass Inn have always been fantastic in all the 20 plus years we have been going there. Chunky and home cooked flavour. Not so now. Sadly, they were bland, thin and tasted like oven chips.

    We will still go there during each visit to the Island but this is a retrograde step which I hope will be reversed.

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  • JB

    9th December 2013 #3 Author

    At last! Hurray etc… I asked for fresh milk with my coffee and I actually got it! The staff were friendlier than in the past and what with the very pleasant relaxing guitar playing, the atmosphere was great. However, I still think the prices are a bit steep … hence I only had some rather mediocre chips. As I see that the Chowder (fish) is back on the menu, I shall probably try that again – but, I think it’s a bit expensive.

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  • IW Regular

    12th April 2012 #4 Author

    Thank you Neil for some common sense, unlike some of the childish responses provided by several others.

    Sadly, the canine obsessives fail to appreciate the irony that it is them forcing their habits on us, rather than the other way around!

    As for the pathetic ‘go to another island’ comment, tourism is the biggest source of income and job creation for the Island. Narrow minded attitudes like that result in business closures, increased unemployment and the associated drop in property prices that go with it. Time to wake up to the real world!

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  • Neil (Local)

    12th April 2012 #5 Author

    Problem is (as I found a few years ago), you may not know that dogs aren’t allowed at a particular pub. My experience was at the Crab & Lobster (Bembridge) when we got there, there were no dogs to be seen. We had ordered our food and while we were waiting, a very wet long haired dog was bought in (obviously straight off the beach) and its’ owners (all with muddy boots etc) sat at a table near us. After a few minutes the dog shook itself spraying dirty water droplets all over the place. The owners did not bat an eyelid. (Not the dogs fault of course). As there were no other vacant tables for us to move to, I approached a member of staff to ask what could be done as we weren’t aware that dogs were allowed where people were eating and were were not happy especially what had just happend. The dog owners were regulars apparently so obviously the staff member replied ‘not a lot unfortunately’. So, we had little choice but to cancel our order and leave. Its all very well saying ‘don’t go to eat where dogs are allowed’, but how do you know if there are no dogs in there before you arrive? I havn’t got a problem with dogs in pubs at all, but where food is being served, then they shouldn’t be allowed.

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  • Lester

    12th April 2012 #6 Author

    I was being general, but my point supports Jef – if you dont like dogs go elsewhere, and one place to eat where dogs are not welcome is restaurants.

    How about regular visits to a different Island….Isle of Dogs might be good!

    Reply

  • Jef

    12th April 2012 #7 Author

    IW Regular
    How can you compare Smoking in pubs to Dogs in pubs? What Nonsense!!
    Never heard of anyone dying from passive dog dribbling! If you don’t like dogs then don’t go in pubs that allow them! Quite Simple!!
    There are plenty of eateries of varying quality/price that don’t allow dogs, use them! don’t try and impose your preferences on the rest of us!

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  • IW Regular

    12th April 2012 #8 Author

    Lester –

    The same sort of lame arguements were used over smoking and now, thank goodness, that is banned in all indoor public places.

    Pubs are not cheap places to eat these days. During a 1 week break I do not wish to eat in restaurants every lunchtime thank you. Pubs used to be cheap spit and sawdust places for drinking and snacks. Now they are restaurants that serve drinks.

    I do not expect dog owners or dog lovers to appreciate how unpleasant it is for others to have to eat alongside animals, just as smokers fail to accept just how revolting and intrusive their habit is.

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  • Lester

    12th April 2012 #9 Author

    Dogs in pubs….not restaurants…cheap food pubs…go to a restaurant and you will see locally sourced, good food, cooked with much care, and no dogs!!

    If you go to this pu or The Folly, Blacksmiths etc there will be dogs, if you don not like dogs when your eating do not go to these places! Dont moan thats your fault for choosing a cheap food pub and not paying a few quid more for some quality!

    Reply

  • eric – ryde

    11th April 2012 #10 Author

    Oh dear…. dogs in eating establishments.
    When are the restaurants going to deal with this “problem”? As soon as we see dogs in a restaurant, we head straight back for the door. As previous people have said, you never know whether animals have been on or at a nearby table, and especially if there hasn’t been a proper clear up. Thankfully there are enough good clean places to eat on our island.

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  • IW Regular

    11th April 2012 #11 Author

    After a pleasant stroll around the Botanic Gardens this morning, we headed into Ventnor for lunch at The Spyglass Inn.

    My first ever review on Matt & Cat (5 years ago – see top of page) struck a chord with many other diners when I mentioned the miserable woman taking the food orders. In fact, members of our party mentioned her, unprompted, on our drive to the pub today! In an odd sort of way, I was quite disappointed to find an extremely pleasant lady taking the food orders – smiling, polite, please and thank you and even wishing us an enjoyable meal!

    We usually take over a booth area at the front of the pub (many years ago it was a no smoking room – old habits die hard) but some other diners had beaten us to it. Cheek!

    The food arrived promptly and was excellent, apart from slightly limp chips (for me, the others were fine) and overly wet salad for one diner. Big portions delighted us chaps but was too much for the ladies. When 5 of the 6 meals arrived and we enquired where the last meal was, I realised in horror that I had forgotten to place one of the diners food orders. In a stroke of magic the staff produced the ‘missing’ dish with a matter of minutes. This was truly impressive as it was entirely my fault and we were all able to eat together.

    A very good experience, slightly spoilt by two recurring ‘problems’ that we have experienced a few times (each) this week in a number of establishments on the Island.

    The first was a family from hell with a screaming baby. I have come to the conclusion that my wife and I were the only people who, when our children were very young, worried about spoiling other diners meals and took the ‘offending’ child outside until quietness was restored. Sadly, this level of consideration does not appear to be replicated by many people.

    Secondly, there were several dogs in the pub, including one sat on a chair. Yuck! I don’t notice this problem as much on the mainland and I know that dog lovers fail to accept that it is off putting for non canine obsessives, but I stand by my comments made earlier (re The Folly Inn) that dogs (other than guide dogs or hearing dogs) should NOT be allowed in eating establishemts – full stop.

    So, food 8 out of 10, service 10 out of 10, but overall 7 out of 10 as a couple of points need to be docked for the presence of animals in a food establishment.

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  • John & Hilary

    2nd March 2012 #12 Author

    we have had several lunches at the Spyglass after cliff walks. Service & quality has always been good for what is pub catering. Yesterday we had the fish chowder. Absolutely superb, so much fish hardly room for any liquid! Prices maybe a bit touristy. Place was very full including locals.

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  • Dave Wilson

    24th February 2012 #13 Author

    Very disappointed to be served burgers that were probably from a freezer with bright yellow cheese slice on a dry bun.

    Note to self: Must check internet for reviews before eating out!

    One bite each was enough to confirm our fears. Asked for the manager and was offered the food supervisor who quickly agreed to refund in full.

    Stopped at Taveners in Godshill who managed to rectify the day.

    Note to self: Must check internet for reviews before eating out!

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  • JB

    15th February 2012 #14 Author

    Having had lunch here again and again been disappointed, reread reviews and thought I’d add my winges. Still UHT milk only – apparently there is no fresh milk available. I had some very tired salad, one piece of very ordinary brown toast with tasteless so called Game Pate(accent on e). What I really want is fresh milk for my coffee or tea and some of that now elusive Fish Chowder! I will still go there for an alcoholic beverage or soft drink, as the view out to sea is so lovely.

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  • Simon Marsh

    21st December 2011 #15 Author

    Our young family stayed in Ventor in Augsut and we for dinner at the Spyglass 3-4 times.

    The beer was excellent (my primary reason for visiting) and the food portions huge, but the quality and variety nowhere near as good as chain pubs like Slug & Lettuce which is a great shame.

    The family is back next August and hopefully there will have been some improvements.

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  • C & R

    26th March 2011 #16 Author

    A shame also that they do not have a better range of sauces instead of the cheap sachets! It’s these little touches that totally spoil what should be a great eating experience in a fantastic location. We had lunch there yesterday. It wasn’t particularly cheap and I left feeling irritated by the lack of attention to detail, along with the landlord’s seemingly ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude.

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  • Tony Green

    25th March 2011 #17 Author

    Had a nice meal at the Spyglass last Wednesday on very pleasant sunny day.
    Shame that they do not offer tea by the pot and serve all tea with UHT rather than a small jug of fresh milk. £2.80 for 2 medium sized cups of tea, I recommend that the owners pay a visit to Quarr Abbey to guage what a pot of team made with “real” milk looks and tastes like.

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  • ODH

    12th February 2011 #18 Author

    went for dinner last night, wasn’t expecting much to be honest – nor has that opinion changed.

    Ordered ‘de-luxe’ double cheese burger £9.25 and asked for garlic mayo instead of normal got a surcharge of 50p ! £9.75 total

    ‘Deluxe’ ?? hmmm I think not – cheap burger bap, cheap processed burger cheese, cheap frozen chips (which weren’t the worst bland anaemic affair but still) reasonable side salad.

    I actually felt a bit ill ( cheap meat, cheap everything and not ‘deluxe’ ) after eating most of it – and unusually for me, I actually failed to finish it.

    The spyglass has one of the best locations on the island – and wasted.
    Great views, atmosphere, location & great music, thanks to the Goose Island Syncopators who were playing, cheers Keith BUT
    The menu is in desperate need of an overhaul – the food & actual menu card. And the beer is some of the most expensive on the island

    resting its laurels, just serves cheap food for the masses 5/10

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  • Sue

    21st September 2010 #19 Author

    Came here three times for an early al fresco evening drink during our holiday in September. Very disappointed not to encounter the infamous ‘Mrs Grumpy’, will try again next year!

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  • Daniel Bennett

    4th September 2010 #20 Author

    We had a very disappointing meal there last night, they used to be very well known for their food, but, alas they have become too well known and now cater ‘for the masses’ rather than the niche market. In other words, a very bland meal, even my little one said how the ketchup was sour!

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  • mike e

    3rd July 2010 #21 Author

    you must be easly pleased or have no tastebuds or can they really make a cheese sarnie thats edible .i think not

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  • chris thompson

    2nd July 2010 #22 Author

    i love the food there.. especially the cheese sandwich’s. Best ever!

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  • Two Veggies

    16th June 2010 #23 Author

    Whatever you do, forget deviation from the menu….Our guest asked for an egg with his gammon….err no we cant do an egg HUH???? I ask for garlic bread….nope we dont do garlic bread, please DO NOT ask for things that are not on the menu>>>> Only one further quip, the dying rat outside on the terrace…….please don’t tell anyone says the waitress…..yehh right, wonder if he is served with garic bread?

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  • FinchyVentnor

    7th April 2010 #24 Author

    I love the Spy for it’s location, ales, ambience and staff (grumpy Helen Mirren lookalike excepted, although I did get a smile off her once). I have to say though that the food is going as downhill as fast as the prices are going up. I had the most disgusting fish pie there the other day. Burnt mackerel clinging to the bottom of the bowl, covered in lukewarm mash and raw grated cheese. No discernible white sauce at all. All served with tired salad and chips. So basically I paid £10 for fishy mash with chips. Never again!! I really hope they sort it out because it’s horrible when you see an old friend let themselves go a bit.

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  • mandy

    13th March 2010 #25 Author

    Went there last week and ordered the calamri. It was horribly bland and tasted as if it had just come from the freezer, there was no way it could have been fresh, for £10 this was great will not be going again.

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  • Shaz, Meg & Ben

    6th February 2010 #26 Author

    Overpriced, uninspiring “food.” Beef sandwich, small, bland and fatty. Coronation chicken baguette was sloppy, salad garnish limp and tinged with brown.Sarnies at £6/£7 a joke. Veggie meal very basic. All in all not a pleasant experience….decor very neglected and had a sticky feel about it.Staff could be more welcoming. Used to be so much better. .

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  • Margaret Humber

    2nd December 2009 #27 Author

    The Spyglass should be the most wonderful pub to eat at! It really isn’t! The food is barely good enough and could be so much better. Every time we go there, they’ve removed something we liked from the menu and lowered the quality of the rest. They seem to be trying to run the business into the ground and can’t even provide white or rose wine from a bottle! Such a shame for such an amazing location.

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  • JB

    24th September 2009 #28 Author

    Have to tell all what a friendly and pleasant lady is now installed on the food counter – not that I had any problem with the rather serious usual lady (one of the owners I believe. Had a really lovely home made fish curry. I do wish that there was more of a selection on glasses of white wine. Unless I wanted a whole bottle there were only two white wines on offer. With the amount of business that is done, I would have thought they could have opened a bottle of Pinot Grigio for me, especially as I heard another lady asking for the same. Having a glass of wine from a tap is not somehow the same!

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  • vicky

    6th August 2009 #29 Author

    True saying about any publicity being good publicity but we haven’t been back since she was rude when we took friends there at Christmas….. I rather take my business to someone that deserves it and it isn’t like it is the best pub on the island…. The Pointers is leagues above it!

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  • Gavin

    1st August 2009 #30 Author

    Disappointing that a seafront pub is using frozen fish and packet meals. The food, is at best, edible.

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  • kj

    26th July 2009 #31 Author

    its an old adage..any publicity is good publicity and her nature is now legend thanks to all of your posts

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  • Tracy

    24th July 2009 #32 Author

    Oh how we laughed about the comments re the landlady…….we had taken her severity personally and now know………….. it’s not us and we’re still laughing!

    She got cross with us once, because she once dropped some of our prawn order onto the terrace…….. scary, very scary!

    But we wonder, how is she still in business?

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  • Matt

    23rd July 2009 #33 Author

    I love the location of the spyglass! Its a perfect setting for most occassions. Unfortunately there is little else possitive I can add. The food is bland and unintresting (much like the rest of the restuarants in it’s chain..Dairyman’s daughter, Steamer inn, etc..) As for the lady who takes the orders (Ive heard is the owner’s wife! I say ive heard as it appears she quite a talking point among many FORMER customer’s) she is nothing short of downright rude in unnecassarily epic proportions, and has ruined my experience here on several occasions. Many people I have spoken to about the Spyglass, all have a story to tell surrounding this woman too. However, some of the younger serving staff have been lovley!
    It’s a real shame that the food is so poor, and this lady is so insistant on impressing her awfull temperment upon her customer’s! Only a quick occasional pint outside from now on for me, so that I can take in the fantastic location.

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  • Martin

    18th February 2009 #34 Author

    I visit Ventnor two or three times a year so was very interested to read all these comments and make them about right and fair. I too have got a bit bored with the main menu but can’t stay away because of the location! I find the best option for food is the daily specials blackboard which usually has something to suite. And I did get a smile from that lady once… now try to remember how I did it!

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  • Holiday Maker

    4th January 2009 #35 Author

    Great view ,but sad service and long long wait for food
    What a crying shame great location need proper catering and good menu

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  • Neddy W

    4th November 2008 #36 Author

    As a long time visitor to the Island I am enjoying reading your reviews…it amused me to read that the unsmiling woman at the Spyglass is still there scowling at all an sundry. We’ve all got every right or or reason to be miserable I know but why oh why do people who appear to hate the general public take jobs that involve them with the general public?

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  • Ventnor regular

    21st September 2008 #37 Author

    Nicely done out pub with a good selection of beers in a fantastic location, but I can’t help thinking that it is resting on its laurels a bit as new places spring up around it. The menu is pretty much the same as it was when we first went there 15 years ago and, to be honest, we have got bored with it. Last week I was in the bar for a drink in the afternoon and someone came in asking if they did cream teas (what a good idea on a hot afternoon, overlooking the sea). No was the reply, “but we do have packets of biscuits” as the tiny prepacks on the bar were pointed out … that sort of typifies the way it has got stuck in a timewarp, who wants those in a pub these days …

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  • mike legg

    16th August 2008 #38 Author

    great seafood chowder, crab salad,and crab bagetta the best, but the lady who takes the orders has “she got a problem”
    still my favorite been going since it opened

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  • Tim

    4th May 2008 #39 Author

    The last time I ate at the Spyglass I was served raw cheese on top of a Fisherman’s Pie. When I requested for it to be grilled the waitress said this could not be done as “chef” hadn’t turned the oven on.

    The Spyglass sadly trades on it’s position with a bank of microwaves – oh she did put my fisherman’s pie back in the microwave so the cheese sperated out into oil.

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  • Lee

    7th January 2008 #40 Author

    Have been to the Spyglass twice recently, and while I can’t fault the views, location, etc, I WISH THEY’D WASH THEIR SALADS! I realise many folks regard salad as mere garnish and pick at it or even leave it, but I don’t – and to have gritty, unwashed lettuce twice in a row just isn’t on. Good main courses though, and Guinness too. I mean, of course I forgive ’em, but WASH YER SALADS, SPYGLASS!!!

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  • A N Other regular visitor

    18th September 2007 #41 Author

    Visiting our daughter on a regular basis from London we can make the spyglass on a friday afternoon from the city just in time for the last food order…we have never experienced bad food, just excellent food and entertainment, we find it to be the best pub in the area after sampling many others, have met the offish lady mentioned and yes she was a little curt, we put this down to a bad day ! as said before do not be put off, just go, enjoy food and excellent bands.

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  • IW Regular

    21st April 2007 #42 Author

    We used to live on the Island but now live in Gloucestershire. We visit for a week every year.

    …the middle aged lady who takes the food orders has to be the most surly and unfriendly person in any eating establishment on the island!

    We like the Spyglass Inn for its food and location, but have to say that the middle aged lady who takes the food orders has to be the most surly and unfriendly person in any eating establishment on the island!

    We’ve been going there for around 12 years and I’m pretty certain she’s been there the whole time, but we have never had as much as a smile or eye contact and the most half hearted of ‘thank you’s’. She hurries you when you order and is abrupt and offhand. Friends and relatives have all made the same observation. I had assumed that she was the landlady as I’m staggered that if she’s an employee she’s not been spoken to.

    Don’t be put off going, but be prepared for a frosty reception!

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  • Matt

    24th September 2006 #43 Author

    You certainly can! Delighted to be of service. Do let us know what you think too, won’t you?

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  • Rachel F

    24th September 2006 #44 Author

    Can I say how much I appreciate a site that is interesting to read and helps me make an informed choice of somewhere to eat.

    Reply