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.
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