We’ve all seen photos of the halcyon days Isle of Wight tourism. Esplanades filled with promenading Edwardians; Ryde Pier swarming with excited 1950s families; beaches packed with sun-worshippers in the seventies. It’s possible in these uncertain times that we might see a return to those visitor numbers, as people are reluctant to fly, the pound nose-dives with the uncertainty of Brexit and far-East holidays are cancelled for fear of North Korean nuclear fall-out.
We’re optimistic that whatever the holiday trends might be, people will always love the seaside. We live within a stone’s throw of the glorious Ryde Sands and at any time of year a walk along the prom will lift even the heaviest of hearts. Sandown has suffered from some woeful under-investment and much-reported neglect of some privately-owned landmark buildings but it still has that wonderful beach with sweeping views to Culver in the north and Luccombe to the south.
Central to The Bay is Sandown Pier, and it was the promise of a view of this edifice while eating our lunch which drew us to the Beach Cafe. We’d popped in at the tail-end of winter for a warming cup of hot chocolate and had been impressed with the friendly service and that view, so we decided to visit again on a blustery late spring day and try out the food.
Of course, being idle and disorganised, we arrived at the cafe late one Sunday afternoon just in time to see the roast struck from the specials menu. The waiter, seeing Cat squint at the board, volunteered to make enquiries of the kitchen and returned a moment or two later to say that we could have the beef if we wanted it. Matt put his hand up for that, tempted by the promise of veg, Yorkshire and roast potatoes. Cat’s eyes had already wandered to the next item on the board – crab burger – so she ordered that instead.
The Beach Cafe is clearly popular; we’re sure that they must shift a lot of roasts on Sunday. The rest of the menu was tempting too; with plenty of lighter bites if you don’t fancy a hearty meal. It was all pretty family-friendly, very clean and with attentive service and fresh daffodils on the tables. Considering that the staff must have been on the go for hours already they showed no sign of flagging or grumpiness. The kitchen must have been running like a well-oiled machine as our lunches arrived quickly with Matt’s vegetables steaming, straight from the cooker. The roast beef lunch was swamped with thick, glutinous gravy, so much so that Matt had to spend some time discovering what was on the plate. It was time well-invested, as there was plenty to find. Instead of the advertised two veg there were at least three, including some really good leeks, cauliflower in white sauce and a very generous portion of swede and carrot mash which one could argue counted as two anyway. Plenty of roast potatoes were there to soak up the gravy, and despite this being the last roast of the day the spuds were fresh and hot, not soggy and yellowed. The beef itself was plentiful, if unremarkable, and the Yorkshire pud was Lilliputian, but overall this was a good Sunday roast that Matt finished off with pleasure.
Roast beef + sweet £10.95
Crab burger £9.95
Cat’s meal was a substantial plate of salad, potatoes and the titular crab burger. She peeked under the floured bun-lid to hunt for the advertised garlic prawns, expecting one or two crustaceans and was astonished at the veritable pile of little pink seafood. The crab burger itself was more like a fishcake. The fried crab meat held together in its breaded coating; inside it was it was pleasingly clearly identifiable as crab – not much sign of bulking agent such as potato, which can often render the promise of a fish cake into a disappointing potato patty. That’s not to say that Cat doesn’t like potatoes. In fact, she was given a choice to accompany the burger, including jacket, chips or Lyonnaise. She chose the latter, and on eating them discovered that they were up there with her favourite sort of spud (number one being a competently-cooked Dauphinoise). The potatoes had enough agreeable scorching to render them particularly tasty and the onions were nicely softened. Having scoffed the burger’s meaty contents and the bulk of the potatoes, Cat finished off with a forkful or two of the homemade coleslaw and mixed salad.
The Beach Cafe had done its job too well; Cat was too full for pudding. Matt, however, is made of more capacious stuff and from the list of traditional desserts including rhubarb crumble, apple pie and sticky toffee pudding, he opted for American pancakes with toffee sauce. As a bonus the warmed pancakes came with a punnet of Mr Whippy ice cream. Well, we were at the seaside after all.
Fortified by our lunch we headed to the pier and played a game of Lost World crazy golf, made more interesting by the traditional loser-buys-the-tea-and-cake challenge. Despite a triumphant hole-in-one at Cat lost the round. She was unable to honour the cake part of the deal as, despite the vigorous workout that nine holes of Machu Piccu-and-putt gave them, both of us were still too full after lunch.
We’ve written before of how, on an inclement day, Sandown offers the quintessential English seaside experience. The faded glory, homely food and blustery conditions are all part of the charm. Sandown’s Beach Cafe was a great spot for a decent home-cooked lunch. The service was jolly and thorough, with the venue being constantly cleaned as tables became vacant – the remnants of children’s inaccurate pea-eating quickly swept away. Don’t wait for a sunny day; our view of the foamy sea and the busy pier would be enjoyable in any weather.