Note: After writing this review in 2010 Matt and Cat were banned from the Blacksmiths Arms in 2012, so it won’t be updated. See why at the end of the review.
Matt and Cat are often entertained by Isle of Wight residents who brag about the views from their homes. “We have the best view of the Solent,” Cat heard a colleague boast once, “We can see the racing at Cowes” – and presumably the belching smokestacks of Fawley oil refinery can be glimpsed beyond the gin palaces.
Much has been said on this website about restaurants with spectacular views; it is a general rule that the more breathtaking the vista, the less effort is made with the food. Whilst there are several honourable exceptions, you don’t have to look far to find some popular seaside eateries rightly confident that punters will come in their droves, shovelling in indifferent fodder distracted by a view of the sea.
However, not all venues with views are tainted. Some manage to provide decent food as well as something nice to look at. At Newport’s Blacksmith’s Arms, much is made of the panoramic view of Parkhurst, Newtown and beyond. So much so, in fact, that they have extended the pub with a glass-walled room offering extensive uninterrupted views of the surrounding countryside and distant northern coast. When Matt and Cat last visited the Blacksmith’s Arms way back in 2006, it was a smaller property with underwhelming catering. Have the recent improvements extended to the cooking?
The day Matt and Cat visited was one of those fine autumn days with clear skies and crisp colours. The view across the valley to Parkhurst was delightful and they paused in the pub’s capacious car park to look beyond the decent-sized kids’ play area and behold the surrounding countryside. It was a great vista, and for once a view which was not mostly of the sea.
The pub can be entered from one of two approaches; through the front door into the vestiges of the original pub, with its low ceilings and stone floor. Or you could enter from the rear, through the patio, bypassing the cosy bar and emerging into the newer sections of the building. M and C chose the garden approach, taking care to shut the gate with its warning of dogs on the loose inside, and arriving in the conservatory where the pub reveals a different character from the homely front bar.
The restaurant area has been expanded with the addition of the vast north-facing conservatory. Matt and Cat, spotting a table by the window, took their seats and enjoyed the view. What they enjoyed less was the intermittent yipping of an attention-seeking spaniel and its owner’s feeble and ineffective attempts to keep its voice under control. The Blacksmith’s Arms welcomes dogs, and has a few of its own wandering around. This is great, as dog owners often feel excluded from all sorts of places when with their charges so it’s sensible that the Blacksmith’s makes its dog-friendly policy known. It’s not really fair of Matt and Cat to highlight this particular disruptive hound, as there’s little the pub could do about it, but each of its high-pitched cries, followed by the antiphon of the hapless dog owner did little to enhance the atmosphere.
Turning their attention to the menu, Matt and Cat noted that it was not as extensive as their first visit, which was an improvement. It looked like the pub was concentrating on a few good classic dishes like burgers, steaks, fish and a reasonable vegetarian selection – a commendable strategy. There were also lighter bites such as baked potatoes and a variety of salads and sarnies. Matt couldn’t resist checking out the specials board which had nearly a dozen extra dishes to choose from. While on his feet he went to the bar and, along with the drinks, he ordered ‘Blacksmith’s burger’ for himself and chicken breast in a creamy Stilton sauce for The Cat.
Blacksmiths Burger £8.95
Chicken Stilton £8.95
Black Forest Gateau £4.00
Polite staff laid out cutlery and napkins and, after a short while, the food. Cat’s chicken sat in a cheesy puddle and its accompanying vegetables were delivered in a side dish. The chicken, which had been roasted, was a tad on the dry side but it was moistened by the fantastic Stilton sauce. There was a good selection of vegetables: new potatoes, mange tout, cauliflower, carrots and cabbage, and more than enough for a single portion. Delving into the inner reaches of the chicken Cat found its interior to be softer and it was nice and hot throughout.
Matthew’s burger was a whopper. Two meat patties, unable to be constrained by the bun, hung outside like a pair of spaniel’s ears. A fried egg too, was escaping from its bready cover. Grated cheese, and a really thick, smoked rasher of lean bacon completed this very decent entry in the Island’s hotly-fought best burger stakes. Hot, fresh chips and a very good green salad got top marks from Matt.
Despite stuffing themselves with their first courses, M and C could not resist the lure of Black Forest gateau. This staple of the 1970s dinner table seems to be making a comeback. In fact, the winning cake at the Great Isle of Wight Bake-off was a BFG and it was a worthy winner. The gateau at the Blacksmith’s Arms was a standard one, and pleasant enough. It came with a boat of cream, allowing M&C to drench it as much as they liked. It was soon gobbled up.
Cat couldn’t resist a visit to the ladies which on their 2006 visit was described thusly, “The construction of the toilet is unfinished; the ceiling awaits completion after the installation of a velux window.” Like a box of motorcycle parts going rusty in a garage, the toilet is still an unfinished project. Although there is now a note apologising for the state of it.
So, on Matt and Cat’s first visit since 2006, what’s the verdict? The Blacksmith’s Arms is a pub worth visiting, especially if you’re a dog owner who likes a spectacular view. The conservatory is a great addition but it’s a shame that the owners have been unable to encourage their builder to apply the same vigour to the toilet. However, the food is certainly better than before with a decent menu, tempting specials and very good value.
Note: After writing this review in 2010 Matt and Cat were banned from the Blacksmiths Arms in 2012. The landlord wrote to explain as follows:
Yes you are [banned], back in 2006 when we where refurbishing you probably done our family run establishment alot of harm over a ladies velux window not being painted, I also hear from other businesses that think you are now making money from your loyalty scheme, we have an excellent reputation on the island and our buisness is booming having expanded year on year!