You know those photos that regularly appear in the Isle of Wight County Press? The ones with a tiny old lady sat in a chintzy armchair surrounded by beaming generations of her family? There’s little great-granddaughter Courtney-Mae dandled on the knee of her granny Pamela. Various aunts and uncles gather round the back of the recliner, delighted to celebrate the old dame’s significant birthday.
Matt and Cat recently had the honour of attending a 90th birthday party for Cat’s step-mother Hazel. This venerable old lady, the daughter of a Royal Marine and who made her contribution to the war effort in the barrage balloon corps, looked positively peachy as she welcomed her many guests – the young and the young-at-heart. The party was held at The Royal Beach Hotel, Southsea which is a pretty good mainland venue for a group of diverse ages and mobility. Matt and Cat enjoyed a decent buffet, sang happy birthday and chomped down a slice of cake with a nice cup of tea.
This event lead them to consider where on the Island one could hold a similar party. Of course there are many hotels more than equipped to cater for an afternoon tea for a couple of dozen people. The Royal Hotel naturally, and the tea and cakes at The Priory were, in Cat’s experience, quite sublime. But what if you don’t quite have the budget for these prestigious venues?
As luck would have it, it was Matt’s birthday the same week. And, although he’s got a bit of a way to go before his ninetieth, he and Cat decided to celebrate with a Sunday lunch accompanied by Matt’s teenage offspring. The parameters were set as follows: must be in Ryde and must be good value. The Appley Manor Hotel sprang to mind so off they went.
This big hotel, on the southern boundary of Appley Park, managed to mostly dodge the bullet fired by 1960s ‘developers’, unlike its neighbour Appley Towers, which was demolished and replaced with the slightly-less-than-magnifique bungalow estate. There is a flat-roofed extension to the Manor which houses the dining room and, on the day that Matt and Cat visited, it was being used to capacity. For a moment, M&C thought that they’d misread their calendar and it was in fact Mothering Sunday – the place was so full of multi-generational diners.
By some miracle there was a single table for four which had just become vacant and, as the young staff busied about wiping it down and replenishing the cutlery, Matt and Cat took stock. The Appley Manor Hotel does not have a carvery, but it does have a Sunday roast with a choice of meats. There was also a quite substantial menu, with something for just about everyone – although nothing that would be too exotic or challenging.
Soon after they’d taken their seats Matt got up again to place their order. He had pork. His lads had pork too; ribs and belly respectively. And Cat, she ordered salmon. At the food counter there was a helpful message saying that there was a forty-five minute wait for food. Frankly this came as neither a surprise nor any real disappointment; the place was packed to the gunnels, and a reasonable warning of this kind of delay is always welcome. Matt and Cat and the teenagers spent the time waiting enviously eyeing the vast buffet at an adjoining table. It was a really impressive spread; obviously part of a special menu for one of the birthday parties there that day.
Main course x 4, dessert x 2, drinks and coffee x 4
There were at least two birthday balloons bobbing above the tables: one said ’60’ – however this was trumped by a further balloon that proclaimed ’80’. At that moment a voice came over the public address system proclaiming, ‘We have a birthday here today – Max is eight!’ The announcement drew a round of applause from the diners. Well done, Max! Matt and Cat wondered if he would have his subsequent 72 birthdays at the hotel in order to earn the respected ’80’ balloon.
Well before the allotted forty-five minutes the food arrived. Under-promise and then over-deliver – it works every time. The diners felt as though their dinners, which included a massive pile of vegetables, had arrived early. This was a decent, substantial Sunday lunch in the classic family pub style. Matt and Cat have often speculated on what a roast dinner with no trimmings – or only some of the trimmings – might look like. It’s hard to be sure as it never seems to appear on pub menus, but whatever it would be, this one was not it. Clearly the trimmings were all on offer, and had been provided. Carrots, peas, broccoli, parsnip, roast and boiled potatoes, crispy crackling and stuffing where appropriate, and plenty of gravy. Cat’s salmon, a slight deviation from the pork enjoyed by the lads, was well-provided with a rich, creamy parsley sauce, sweet peas, a big pile of fresh chips and a wedge of juicy lemon.
Conversation was yet again interrupted by the passage of a cake, fizzing with a lit sparkler and iced with the number ’65’. This confection was delivered to a chorus of happy birthday from everybody: “Happy birthday dear WHOEVER!” they bellowed – keen to participate. Even though they were there to celebrate a birthday at their own table the teenagers held their heads in their hands, mortified at M&C joining in with gusto at the outbreak of communal uncoolness – not helped by them having spotted a number of their classmates amongst the throng of busy staff.
Once their dinners were safely dispatched, the desserts were eagerly ordered. Cat had been making big eyes at the nearby buffet again – some massive tarts, towering cheesecakes, and creamy trifles were being put on display for the lucky attendees at that party. Although she was tempted when she found many of the same things available to the regular diners, she eventually decided that the salmon had filled her up enough, and had to leave the puddings to the boys. Matt chose a hot Belgian waffle with ice cream and chocolate sauce – it was in exactly the same style as the main course, plentiful, simple and satisfying.
So, the verdict? No complaints from the well-fed birthday party as they wandered back out through the tables of other celebrating families. The food was very good for the price, if a little unadventurous (suitable perhaps for multi-generational diners). The dishes were well-presented and the portion sizes were generous. Of particular note was the service. Despite the young average age of the staff they were without exception polite and helpful, and working well together. In such a busy environment this was no mean achievement. What’s more, there were clearly plenty of staff both out the front and in the kitchen, with the Appley Manor apparently being in possession of the scrying ability that so many busy venues lack, and able to predict that a Sunday lunchtime is going to be busy enough to require a full complement of staff. So, next time you’ve got a big family event, Appley Manor should be a contender for your consideration. Especially if you like big desserts.