Never let it be said that we’re cheap. Well, maybe just a bit. Truth is, we probably wouldn’t have set off for Cowes on a chilly Monday evening if it hadn’t been for the fifty per cent off food offer at the Union Inn. We’ve eaten at the pub several times, and found it good. But somehow, we’ve never got around to writing about it. Half price food was clearly the trigger we needed.
Often the scene of loud, lively boozy sessions for the summer’s yacht crews, the Union in the off-season is a cosy, homely pub that locals seem to love. It feels comfortable and lived-in. If shabby-chic is still a thing the the Union is keeping the faith. Tempting saggy armchairs lure visitors to the real fire; intimate nooks and corners are ideal for chatting with friends. We settled in the simple back room and considered the menu. The pub was populated with a scattering of drinkers and diners, and the buzz of conversation drifted across our (slightly sticky) table. “Mine was all of eight inches.” said a nearby chap proudly to his friend. “She couldn’t hold it.” As it turned out, he was talking about a computer tablet his wife was having trouble with.
Matt was delighted to see one of his favourite combinations on the burger list – ‘Philly Burger’ which he mistakenly took to mean Philadelphia cheesesteak. Cat was equally inspired, spotting salmon burger with lime and coriander crème fraîche. So we picked a rare double – two burgers. On arrival they looked pretty weeny on their wooden boards, with their chips arranged in a miniature frying basket, but these were top-class chips. Hot, browned and full of sweet flavour and texture, these fries stood head-and-shoulders above the usual pub sad spud-stick stack. Matt also had a side of onion rings, which were palatable but not quite as outstanding as the chips, tending for some reason to glom together into an oniony mass which required dissection.
So, to the burgers. Matt was impressed by the meaty and tasty burger he had. With great texture and perfect juiciness, this burger was up there with the best on the Island. An unusual crispy toasted bun instead of the ubiquitous soft shiny brioche made a very good matrix to soak up the juices – all in all a highly promising burger. Now attentive readers will recall mention of Philly cheesesteak. Anointing Matt’s excellent burger was a generous dollop of a creamy mix. On investigation, this proved to be cream cheese, bacon and chopped jalapenos – all of which, to be fair, were mentioned on the menu and none of which are in Philadelphia cheesesteak, traditionally made with melted cheese, not cream cheese. Matt had misunderstood the menu. He chewed his way through the spicy topping manfully, but decided that it didn’t enhance the meal. Next time he might just go for the unadorned classic burger experience – that burger was good enough to stand alone.
Philly burger £10
Salmon burger £10
Onion rings £2
Bread & butter pudding £4.50
Home-made ice-cream £4.95
Total 50% off: £15.72
Ignoring something on the menu called ‘UFC goujons’ which sounded like an obscure European football team, Cat chose herself a salmon burger. It was a bit of a gamble; would it be a salmon fillet or a fish cake? Everyone knows that there is a spectrum of fish cakes from the mainly-potato-with-a-hint-of-onion-and-a-single-fish-flake (you know who you are) to the patty that’s all fish and no (potato) cake. The Union Inn’s salmon burger was thankfully the latter; a good portion of salmon in a crumby jacket served with some peppery watercress. Oozing from under the soft bun lid was a trickle of lime and coriander crème fraîche, a pleasant alternative to acidic tartare. The chips were really something to write home about too; sweet brown shells, soft innards, gnarly shaped – the artisan chip hat-trick! Delish.
Dessert time, and Matt wasn’t going to break with tradition – every time he eats at the Union it’s bread and butter pudding with custard, for good reason. This reliable, warming comfort food suits the Union’s laid-back, amiable environment. This time the soft pudding was subtly laced with marmalade, and lavishly supplied with hot custard. It’s neither clever nor original. And, done well, you can’t really beat it.
Cat has decided that if she was only allowed to ever have one pudding for the rest of her life it would have to be ice cream. The Union Inn’s ice cream menu looked far superior to the usual scoop of vanilla, chocolate or strawberry. Marmalade? Salted caramel? She chose the latter. It was spectacular; chock full of chunks of caramel – none of your tooth-shatteringly brittle lumps but a soft texture your dentist would approve of. Eating it Cat’s tongue enjoyed the intermittently sweet then salty taste, spontaneously declaring: “If this is home-made I might have to marry the chef”!
Both courses were astonishingly good. For such a modest-looking pub in the corner of a town where there are several fancy restaurants, the Union Inn really stands its ground. We left the pub replete and happy. Good food, an enjoyable atmosphere, and a cut-throat price with the seasonal Monday discount. This is a place we’d be pleased to recommend.
This is the full-length version of the review that first appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Homely atmosphere
- The chips were really something to write home about
- Cut-throat price with the seasonal Monday discount
- Sticky table