This is an archive review of a previous incarnation of The Boathouse. For the current review go here.
The Boathouse – and Matt and Cat’s previous remarks about it – has proven to be one of the talking points of this website. See the bottom of the page for the old review. Way back in 2008 M&C described the newly-reopened venue as “like the curate’s egg – good in parts” – damning with the faintest of praise. Comments from others, which you can read below, show that this inconsistent experience was not atypical. So perhaps it was no surprise when The Boathouse once more closed its doors in early summer 2009.
What was more surprising was how quickly they reopened, this time revealing a new set of faces drawn from the highly successful stable of Liberty’s and The Black Sheep Bar. Both of these Ryde eateries have garnered approval from your reviewers in the past, so Matt and Cat were intrigued to see whether this formula could be successfully parachuted into an ailing venue that could once have been described as Springvale’s biggest white elephant.
August 2009 review:
The first thing to say about the all-new Boathouse is that it looks just like the old one. In fact nobody, without a keen eye, would really notice any difference on the surface. And that’s not surprising. The one thing, possibly the only thing, the restoration of the former Battery Hotel achieved was to make a very high-quality venue indeed. A big public bar area at the back with comfy chairs and a cosy log fire leads gracefully into a series of sophisticated rooms where customers can enjoy intimate dining with spectacular views across to the mainland. It’s all very clean, very tidy and immaculately tasteful – even if, as a brand-new set-up, it is inevitably a little short on lived-in character.
M & C arrived unannounced and strolled into the bustling bar. No tables were to be had in the more formal restaurant area, but the cheery staff directed them to the bar tables, which turned out to be ideal, with plenty of room and lots of opportunities for discreetly observing fellow patrons. They settled down with drinks and the new menu. Here was one difference for a start – when Matt went for a pint of beer he had eight pumps to choose from. Last time every one was dry. A bar which sells beer! Now that’s an amenity which obviously the previous Boathouse had considered optional. Matt was pleased with this improvement.
Secondly, the menu. This document was short and to the point, but was supplemented by a specials sheet which Cat managed to retrieve by making enquiries in the restaurant. In the ‘Starters and Light Bites’ section was a familiar array of signature dishes from the Black Sheep‘s highly praised tapas selection. Promising. The mains was a very short selection of safe bets: not surprising for a venue that’s just finding its feet. However an impressive seafood platter for two was on the specials list. Cat, who loves fish but hates bones, decided that she could take the risk and ordered sea bass with chips. Matt, also feeling like a change, ordered chicken wrapped in bacon.
Waiting for the meals, your reviewers enjoyed the pub-like atmosphere and, as usual, took the opportunity to observe their fellow diners. Deck-shoes and open-necked shirts abounded as respectable DFL gents revelled in the freedom to walk the streets of Seaview without socks or ties. A mixed group of middle-aged folk provided the flapping ears of Matt and Cat with some juicy aural titbits including this gem which wafted across the room with no context, “I distinctly like the mob cap but there’s not enough bosom on that one”. This was followed by a banshee-like shriek, causing The Cat to involuntarily wave her cutlery and blaspheme, and the rest of the venue to fall silent. It turned out to be a sneeze from a cagoule-clad patron. Despite the interjections it was all terribly good-natured and certainly felt like a busy and welcoming place.
The meals arrived with polite service, again having encouraging overtones of the Black Sheep Bar. Both dishes were similar, with the meat coming with salad and chips. Cat nibbled gingerly through her tasty sea bass, and although she did manage to extract the tiniest bone, declared it to be well worth it. Her chips pleased her less, as although they were hot they looked like the tail end of the batch, and perhaps not quite up to the standard of the rest of the meal. The aromatic salad dressing put Cat in mind of a childhood flavour – memories of Sunday lunch at Granny’s – but she was unable to recall exactly what it was. Matt’s chicken was also well-received. An enjoyable home-made bread sauce sauce complemented the chicken and bacon combo, and the whole thing rested on some fresh baby spinach to make an agreeable melange of tastes and textures. Simple but effective.
The cheerful waitress, clearing away the plates, enquired about pudding. Cat immediately protested that there was no way, possibly, that she could force in the smallest mouthful. No, not even under sufferance. Really, not a thing. Matt, by comparison, showed no such discretion and made straight for the home-made bread-and-butter pudding with clotted cream. Yes, friends, clotted cream. Nobody asks ‘cream, ice-cream or custard?’ here because clotted cream says it all. Even the name strikes fear into the arteries. Have no doubt: it’s delicious, and if you eat enough of it you’ll probably end up clotted yourself. But if you’re going to have home-made bread-and-butter pudding then in all honesty you may as well have clotted cream too. So that’s what Matt did.
As the dessert menu was being taken away Cat’s eye was caught by a phrase that she’d missed during her vigorous if unconvincing protestations of repletion. Hot chocolate brownie? With vanilla ice cream? Suddenly she was just as eager as Matt, and so at the last minute this previously overstuffed damsel managed to convince herself that she might just fit in a little tiny speck of melted chocolate and ice cream.
Chicken wrapped in bacon £10.00
Sea bass £12.00
2 x desserts £7.00
When the puddings arrived Matt couldn’t help but chuckle – the bread-and-butter pud and cream was dainty and refined portion; whereas the chocolate brownie and ice-cream filled a massive glass chalice that Cat needed two hands just to lift. Hot melted chocolate and syrupy brownie mix melted deliciously with the ice-cream, and even gave off steam as the hot and cold mixed together. Cat set to with a big spoon and eyes as wide as saucers. Matt was also impressed, but more by the quality presentation of what is, after all, the classic nursery pudding. A sprig of redcurrants lay nonchalantly on the soft bread, and a honey glaze was drizzled across the plate, making the clotted cream glisten invitingly. For once, traditional roles were reversed. Whilst Cat disappeared behind her vast goblet of chocolate, Matt politely picked through this splendid creation. Neither were disappointed. In fact, both agreed that the pleasant but workaday main courses were outshone by these magnificent desserts, which lifted a decent meal to the realms of a very good one. Had they essayed a starter – and assuming these were the same creations they had raved over at the Black Sheep – doubtless they would have been even more pleased.
So it’s a good first report for the phoenix-like Boathouse. Frankly, to reopen an establishment as big and prestigious as this in the middle of the season takes some doing. A less-than-perfect reputation inherited from the previous management probably didn’t help either. But despite all this the Boathouse is now a place where one can go with confidence and enjoy a decent meal, or just a quiet pint. Recommended.
The Boathouse in July 2009 reopened under different management. The review below, written in May 2008, refers to the previous establishment.
There has been much written on this website about the value of location. Without a doubt, the experience of eating unprepossessing food is enhanced by a spectacular view. On sunny days on the Island, seafront eateries with impressive aspects such as the Spyglass and the Baywatch on the Beach are full to bursting as patrons take in glorious scenes of sun, sea and sailors.
In times past, the Battery Hotel, between Ryde and Seaview, bucked this enterprising trend. Despite its enviable situation on a popular seafront promenade, the pub seemed to understate to the point of neglect its location, location, location. A novelty concrete Captain Mainwaring and Dad’s Army platoon in the garden did their best to lure in the punters… but it was all too little too late. The Battery closed, and its passing was hardly noted.
In 2008, The Battery emerged from its scaffolding cocoon as the latest of four different Island venues cleverly called The Boathouse. Hearing on these pages that this pub’s new owners previously owned Shanklin’s The Bank, Matt and Cat were keen to pay a visit…
The tired old pub has been replaced by a breezy, sailing-themed up-market eating destination: perhaps, rather than the Ryde plebeians, the new place is intended for the ‘down from London’ golden folk in Seaview.
The makeover of the exterior of the venue has been carried out meticulously. The walls are painted a restful blue and some are even clad in nautical weatherboarding. The party-sized Captain’s Room is a particularly fine piece of interior design; nautical heroes gaze down at the beautifully laid table from their gilded frames.
After getting their drinks at the bar (Matt was astonished to find that four pumps of real ale had been drunk dry!), your reviewers waited to be seated. And what a stroke of luck, the ‘best table in the house’ was free. Sure enough, the table’s position did not disappoint, being adjacent to French doors which offered a clear view of the Solent and No Man’s Land fort.
When it came to the prices, these were surely pushing at the upper end of the casual diner’s budget. One fish dish was merely marked ‘market price’: presumably meaning that if you need to ask, you can’t afford it. The starters ranged from mackerel fillet on toast with horseradish dressed salad (£4.50) to a purse-puckering £6.50 for seared sea scallops, pea cress salad, black pudding and pancetta. However, Matt and Cat were so stunned by this awesome venue that they were willing to give the Boathouse a good go. If they could deliver a meal as well as they could refurbish a pub then this just might be one of the finest eateries on the Island.
Butternut squash, red onion and crottin goats cheese tart (£12) or the char-grilled chicken breast tagliatelle (£13.50) would normally have caught Cat’s eye, but tonight was fillet steak night. Cat managed to not bat an eyelid and requested the most expensive dish she had ever ordered: fillet of island beef, wild mushrooms, truffle mash and herb butter (£19.95). “Good choice”, endorsed the waitress. Matt chose rib eye of Shorewell (sic) beef and mash (£14.95). Both elected to have the steak rare. On the menu, neither dish mentioned vegetables and, on enquiry, M and C discovered that there were none to be had.
The curiously spelt menus were taken away, and in a surprising lapse of service, the wine menu and glasses were left behind, cluttering the table throughout the meal. Matt and Cat decided that, as The Boathouse offered itself as an expensive upmarket sophisticated venue it would be judged as such. Small matters of etiquette that would be overlooked in your average pub might count against it here.
Tapping their toes along to the prehistoric soft-rock classic ‘(I’ve Been Through the Desert on) A Horse with No Name‘, Matt and Cat mused on their fellow patrons. Where had these people come from? Well-to-do, deck shoes, open-necked shirts… perhaps they were all visitors? Or maybe Islanders scrubbed up beyond recognition for a posh night out – even Cat had dragged a comb through her nest-like mane.
Ah, dinner. Big plates with small portions were delivered with a flourish. Whatever the views on quantity, the presentation of the food was very pleasing. Both Matt and Cat’s plates had patties of mashed potato topped with the steaks which were in turn surmounted with warmed vine tomatoes. Both plates also had mushrooms – a single large flat mushroom for Matt, and wild mushrooms for Cat. A knob of speciality butter was to finish both dishes; Matt’s had the surprisingly understated anchovy butter and Cat’s herb butter must have melted for there was no sign of it.
Staff buzzed about the place with a deferential, even humble, attitude. Matt and Cat were visited by each and every one of them: there were three, one arriving before the first mouthfuls were even chewed. Yes, the meals were alright. Really they were. No, honestly, they were fine. Both steaks were a lot closer to medium than rare but, as they couldn’t be sent back to be cooked less, both were eaten with good grace and much smacking of chops. Matt’s was a splendidly tasty treat, seared but tender. A really well-presented reminder of why locally-sourced meat is worth the extra effort. The mash and tomatoes complemented the meat, and the dish worked extremely well. However, Matt was pretty hungry, and once he’d polished his plate, he wasn’t entirely replete. At these prices it shouldn’t be necessary to have a starter; perhaps it would have been appropriate to offer some complimentary rolls or olives beforehand?
Because Matt was still hungry, they decided to give the puddings a try. Cat’s waistline protested as her brain yelled out for rhubarb and grenadine crumble and clotted cream. But it was the implausible-sounding chocolate soup which won the day. Proclaiming itself as valhrona (sic) chocolate soup with ginger ice cream and chocolate wafer, Cat had to ask the waiter what valhrona was. He hadn’t a clue, and had to ask the chef. It turned out to be Valrhona – a brand of chocolate. The fact that the Boathouse hadn’t even spelt the brand name right did little to dispel the suspicion that the menu was designed more to impress than to inform.
Matthew played safe with sticky toffee pudding, clotted cream and butterscotch; although there may have been a moment when his choice could have gone the way of white chocolate and raspberry panna cotta.
The puddings arrived without cutlery so, while it was being brought, Cat stared open-mouthed at the chocolate soup. The bowl contained a spectacular amount of incredible-smelling steaming liquid chocolate. It was certainly delicious but there was just so much of it. It was the sort of pudding a man would make for a woman. Women like shoes, George Clooney and chocolate, right? If women like chocolate, imagine how pleased they would be to have an entire chocolate fountain’s worth in one bowl. A much smaller amount of the soup with some fresh strawberries or tiny sponge cakes would’ve been less intense; it was a week’s worth of calories in one dish! Cat attempted to cleanse her palate with the ginger ice cream. Which turned out to be vanilla. There was no sign of the chocolate wafer either, which was probably for the best as Cat was well and truly sick of chocolate by now. There were three mandarin segments to take the edge off, but – horrors – they had somehow become contaminated with onion. A category error with the chopping boards in the kitchen presumably.
Matthew gamely offered some of his pudding. Cat took a spoonful, wondering what had happened to his promised clotted cream. From a great start, this was suddenly all going rather badly. Ironically, at the very moment they were required, the ever-present waiting staff had all cleared off. Eventually Cat managed to flag down a passing gauche young chap and made her complaint about the ice cream and the oniony mandarin. “I’ll go and find out” he said, then disappeared into the kitchen for some time. What he had gone to discover was unclear but he came back and offered Cat a second portion of the chocolate soup. She declined. Nothing else was offered but, on request, The Boathouse took the cost of the dessert off the meal.
This was only the second time in 184 reviews that Matt and Cat have felt that their meals have failed to reach their expectations to such a degree that they complained on the spot (here’s the first). At The Boathouse, although apologies were forthcoming and concessions allowed, Matt and Cat had the impression that the staff, though polite, didn’t really know what to do about it.
Fillet steak £19.95
Rib-eye beef £14.50
Puddings – free
There was then no offer of coffee, further drinks or the bill. Matt and Cat peered out of the window at the twinkling lights of Portsmouth until eventually they decided to find the till, pay and just leave.
The Boathouse is like the curate’s egg – good in parts. The delightful interior and decent main course more than made up for the inexperienced staff and the mis-spellings on the menu. What appeared on the plates was never quite what was ordered, and eventually the accumulation of these minor hiccups did have an impact on the dining experience. But this place is only a few weeks open – perhaps it was all teething troubles?
As Matt and Cat left, they saw to their delight the Home Guard, still on duty in the garden with a new coat of paint. Although things hadn’t gone quite according to plan, they distinctly heard the advice of Corporal Jones, “Don’t panic!”
This is an archive review of a previous incarnation of The Boathouse. For the current review go here.