How many times has Lady Gaga reinvented herself?
First it’s an encrusted lobster on her head, then she’s teetering about in a meat dress with matching flesh heels – easy when you’ve got a reputation for outrageousness and clearly no shame. These grotesque makeovers may keep Lady G’s downloads at the top of the hit parade, but is probably an inappropriate model when applied to a pub.
Over the years that Matt and Cat have been reviewing the Island’s eateries they have seen many places change hands and change styles. From the understated improvements at the old St Helen’s Restaurant – now Dan’s Kitchen, to the more GaGa-esque gaudiness that transformed characterless town-centre carvery Mill Bay II into rock café aspirant House of Legends. Two sides of the same coin perhaps, but how do you change a village pub without upsetting the locals but encouraging new customers? Perhaps the re-christened The Fishbourne (formerly The Fishbourne Inn) has the answer?
The Fishbourne is from the same stable as The Boathouse, Puckpool; and Shalfleet’s The New Inn (incidentally, in keeping with the pattern of nomenclature, why wasn’t that last one renamed ‘The New’?). The Fishbourne has had a sympathetic spruce up and boasts some very fancy-looking accommodation, which can be hired for themed breaks, including scuba diving and hair salon treats. The pub itself has also had a tasteful makeover, with sturdy furniture and tongue-and-groove panelling. The new owners have also managed to leave off ripping out the bar area; adding some comfy sofas for non-diners.
Matt and Cat were warmly greeted by the barman who, when they said they were there for lunch, volunteered information about the pie, soup and fish of the day before directing them to the dining part of the pub. This was an excellent and thankfully increasingly typical touch. Those venues that still think it’s ok for their customers to blunder around ungreeted could learn from this easy win. Other nice touches included the proclamation on the chalkboard: “our beef this week is from Waytes Court Farm, Brighstone” – less of the usual vague and unsubstantiated ‘food locally-sourced where possible’ claims.
Matt made a pretence of studying at the menu, casting his eye casually over the small but good selection of pub favourites, deli boards and seafood specialities, but he already knew that he was going to have fish of the day and chips. Cat took a more measured look; pausing over the salad selection and food for smaller appetites, choosing chef’s homemade tagliatelle with a wild mushroom, walnut and truffle sauce. Drinks bought and food ordered, the duo took stock.
Fish and chips £10.95
Small taliatelle £6.50
Several nearby tables had been pushed together and were occupied by about twenty or so women – mostly of post-retirement age – clearly having a right laugh. Matt and Cat wistfully thought about how, when they were retired, they’d spend their days having leisurely lunches in village pubs, before the irony hit them – they were doing exactly that!
The food arrived in good time with the de rigeur bucket of cutlery and condiments. Cat’s tagliatelle looked a tidy portion, with various wild mushrooms and a good sprinkling of walnut halves plus a decorative sprig of parsley. The dish gave off a fabulous truffley aroma, which matched the sauce’s scrummy taste. Toasting in the oven or a quick dry-fry in a pan would’ve improved her experience of the raw walnuts – taking the bitterness out of them, the way that Cat prefers. The tagliatelle was declared to be “made on the premises”, but so too was the venue’s “own style mayonnaise”. Unless The Fishbourne’s own style is to serve its own mayonnaise in individual Heinz-branded sachets, this latter claim was clearly not true.
Matt’s beer-battered haddock and chips wasn’t bad, but was the weaker of the two dishes. The slender fillet of fish was well-cooked, with a light coating of non-greasy batter, and was fairly bland. The chips arrived in a jaunty wrapper decorated with faux-newsprint. At least this paper cone gave a more generous allowance than the near-ubiquitous galvanised micro-pail. Matt thought the chips and peas, whilst wholesome enough, were of generic origin, but he was more pleased with the portion size. Following the unmasking of the mayonnaise, he wondered whether the homemade tartare was also not quite what was claimed, although it came in one of those teeny paper cups, so could well have been of local origin. In Matt’s opinion the dish was probably about nine quid’s worth, rather than the £10.95 that he was charged.
So, the Fishbourne served a meal of two halves; Cat couldn’t fault her pasta – tasty, attractive and good value. Matt was less enthusiastic about the fish, but actually, he saw plenty of other dishes on the menu that he’d be willing give a try next time. The venue scored big points on its helpful staff, clean and contemporary environment. The Fishbourne has been upgraded subtly with neat branding, decent signage, a good menu and smart staff. These little touches, when combined, can turn a venue from an unintegrated shambles into a quality establishment. So because of the delicious pasta and particularly the attention to detail throughout, Matt and Cat will be happy to visit The Fishbourne again.