Is pub grub an actual genre of food? It probably is. Leave aside the rather chummy and dated feel of the word ‘grub’, and the conveniently rhyming description gives a clear expectation to the prospective diner. Sizeable portions of hot food, usually a focus on meat and chips, and some draught beer available to wash it down with. It’s a type of meal that has a very broad appeal, but nonetheless it is possible to have bad pub grub, dull pub grub, and just occasionally really excellent pub grub. All of these are available on the Isle of Wight, but of the three, you can guess which one we are usually on the hunt for.
One of our favourite dining pubs has long been the Pointer Inn, Newchurch. It seems as though we are not alone, because these days it’s not always easy to get a table there unless you book up well in advance – always a sign of something good. So you can imagine we were excited to hear last year that the team behind the Pointer Inn were buying a pub of their own, and the former Blacksmith’s Arms was reborn as the Blacksmiths. This was a particularly pleasing bit of news for us, as we had in 2012 been banned from the Blacksmith’s Arms for writing a review in which we described it as “a pub worth visiting”. Needless to say, we were pleased to walk back into the rebranded venue after a six-year absence, and were very keen to find out if the magic of the Pointer Inn had successfully crossed the Medina to Calbourne Road.
A key part of the ‘pub grub’ experience is the warm welcome, and sadly that’s one part of the formula that all too often goes missing. But not at the Blacksmith’s: this all went very well. We’d arrived unbooked on a busy evening, and were right away escorted to a snug little table in the ancient bar area. Admittedly, this meant we couldn’t gawp at the spectacular views across the Solent from the popular conservatory, but actually, the cosy little snuggery was just what we wanted. A couple of dusty stablehands with a dog were sipping swift half after work, an old gubber was peering at his newspaper at the bar, and two affable gentlemen were chatting. A scene that could have been a century old.
The menu was, delightfully, very similar to the Pointer Inn. Favourites such as Newchurch pie, mixed grill and Pavlova were all there. We shared a splendid starter of seared scallops, pea purée and bacon. Soft, sweet melt-in-the-mouth shellfish and minty peas were artfully arranged to make a dish that looked good and tasted better. Would you ever eat a slug, we wondered? We all probably would love to scoff those molluscs if they were served up like this.
Matt had already spotted on the specials board a slow-roasted Jack Daniels BBQ pork belly. Throwing any pretence at subtlety to the winds, he didn’t even check the rest of the menu – and nor did he need to. This magnificent chunk of meat was a huge lean slab, slathered with the BBQ sauce. Sweet and irresistible, and decorated with a big crispy piece of crackling, this worked so very well. A classic of the genre, it took some familiar elements and combined them with a novel perspective; creating a dish that was interesting enough to demand attention, and yet at the same time reassuringly safe and nourishing. Classic pub grub stuff.
Jack Daniels BBQ pork belly £13
Newchurch pie (light bite) £8
Pavlova (light bite) £4
Belgian waffle £6
Cat’s minty lamb pie had plenty of pastry; there was no puff-pastry hat gesture here. The gravy was thick, if a little sparse: a peppery watercress quiff topped the whole thing off. Fresh, hot veg in a pot was more than enough for both of us: mangetout, squash, courgette, baby carrots. (‘Baby’ vegetables though – when did that become a thing?).
So far, things had been going well. But then came the really good bit – dessert. At the Pointer, Matt invariably has what we call the Atomic Pavlova – a mushroom cloud-shaped masterpiece of meringue and fruit of which he’s never found an equal. This time, Cat pipped him to the post and chose the smaller version of the pavlova, presumably the ‘Little Boy’ option. The sweet little cloud of sticky meringue floated enticingly over a handful of fruit – just the right size for a delicate appetite, but still that unrivalled Pointer pavlova goodness. Matt’s Belgian waffle came with banana brulee, peanut crunch and ice cream. The hot waffles melted the ice cream, which ran down over the rich banana and peanut toppings. A suitably lavish end to a really great pub grub experience.
So good news all round. They let us back in, and it was worth the wait. If you can’t get a table at the Pointer Inn, then you might be in luck, because another bigger pub is now open offering the same winning combo of cheery service, a proper pub experience and some really enjoyable food. Highly recommended.
- Excellent pub grub
- Spectacular views from the conservatory and garden
- Friendly service from an established team