Well, you asked for it, and here it is… Matt and Cat on Tour! Despite having recently written their three hundredth review, M and C haven’t quite eaten the Island dry.
However, for a Bank Holiday treat, and to give the Isle of Wight’s restaurants time to replenish, they have gone to the Other Side. Lincoln, in fact. The eateries of this historic town, with its cobbled streets, mediaeval buildings and spectacular cathedral, have come under Matt and Cat’s amateur scrutiny. How will the Isle of Wight’s restaurants compare to those of the fens?
As residents and visitors to the Island will know, it’s darned hilly. East Anglia on the other hand is as flat as Keira Knightley’s chest. Matt and Cat approached Lincoln from the south and, having driven across miles of fenland with only the occasional undulation, the beautiful city appeared like a mirage. The Norman cathedral is visible for miles, set as it is on top of the region’s only decent hill. All of the guide books warned of steep inclines and vertiginous paths but to Matt and Cat, used to bimbling up Ryde’s Union Street, Lincoln’s hill was not a particularly strenuous climb.
Having lunched at the ubiquitous Greggs – ubiquitous except on the Isle of Wight – M&C decided to continued the pastry-based meal theme by eating at Brown’s Pie Shop. This place came highly recommended by various magazines and pamphlets, and the windows were almost obscured by the array of award stickers apparently commending Brown’s as the finest place to eat in all sorts of categories every year since the Norman conquest.
Set within the city’s Roman walls, this quaint little restaurant was housed in a building purporting to be an old cobbler’s shop dating back to at least the fifteenth century. Having only arrived in the city a few hours earlier, Matt and Cat hadn’t made reservations but were seated in the venue’s vaulted cellar. This stark little room was actually quite pleasant, despite being windowless and stone-walled, although Matt nearly brained himself as he descended the extremely low-roofed stairs.
Lamb pie £11.50
Lincoln red fillet £23.95
As well as the eponymous pies, there was also a good range of steaks and other predominately meat-based dishes. This was a little unexpected: surely a pie shop should sell mostly pies? Cat was determined to stay on topic and ordered lamb pie with rosemary and redcurrant. Matthew flicked away the pie menu when he saw what an excellent range of steaks was available and chose the most expensive single dish this website has ever subsidised – fillet of Lincoln red beef stuffed with local Poachers cheese and rolled in lemon pepper.
By now the little cellar had become populated with students; five girls with side-swept hairdos and a single chap. They twittered on about one of their number’s impending nuptials. On discussing the wedding breakfast menu the affianced declared, “My granddad Horace won’t be in the same room as beef”, and of the couple’s apparently legally-binding pledges she proclaimed, “The registrar keeps a record of your vows, you know, so if your husband says he will be faithful and he’s not, the courts look at the vows and that can be grounds for divorce”. Then the bride-to-be confided that she had got some ideas for her wedding – including her unique vows – from the internet. As an appetiser Matt and Cat had been given some bread and butter which they jammed in their mouths to help suppress the giggles at this eavesdropping gold mine.
With impressive dexterity the waitress brought Matt and Cat’s meals down the titchy staircase. Cat’s lamb pie was not, as expected, a short-crust affair with a pastry base and lid but more like lamb stew in a ceramic pot with a puff pastry hat. It was none the worse for this variation but not what Cat would call a pie. However, the meat was exquisite; lean and tender, it fell apart at the lightest prod of Cat’s questing fork. The puffy hat was delightfully buttery and the pie’s gravy was surprisingly thin but very tasty; sweet but with a hint of rosemary. Three well-cooked roast potatoes came alongside with a bowl of vegetables for M and C to share.
Matt’s Lincoln red fillet steak was very nice; a really good and flavoursome piece of meat. The cheese was inserted into the meat, and went with it very well although there was not as much of either meat or cheese as Matt would have liked. For such a high price he was expecting an impressive dish, and whilst the meat itself was superb, the context was less so. The sauce was unremarkable and the lemon pepper was subtle to the point of non-existence. As well as the sauce’s flavour, also missing were his potatoes, and with the quite thin sauce there was definitely a need for some carbohydrates to mop it up. Unfortunately, down in the cellar, service was almost unobtainable but Matt managed to nab a plate-carrying waitress as she passed by en route to another table. She soon returned with a bowl of hot roasted potatoes, which improved the fillet meal no end.
Although their dishes were good winter fare, Matt and Cat still managed to squeeze in a pudding to share. A rich chocolate torte was ordered with a dollop of toffee ice cream. Finished with a squiggle of strawberry purée and a quartet of soft fruits, this dense tart was excellent and the ice cream helped ease it on its way down M and C’s gaping throats. Washed down with some excellent coffee it was a great way to end the meal.
Blinking out into the daylight, Matt and Cat peered at the pie shop’s numerous Tastes of Lincolnshire awards. The mainly locally-provenanced food was actually pretty good although expensive, and the service not was attentive as it should have been at these prices. And frankly, with a name and reputation like this one expects the acme of pies. In England, a pie should look like a pie, which means that it is made of pastry and the contents are cooked inside it. Those ceramic stewpots covered in puff are acceptable for a pub or café, but of this place the Island duo expected more.
As Matt and Cat wandered up to the nearby castle square they mused on which venue the restaurant could be twinned with back home. They couldn’t think of any high street eatery on the Isle of Wight within this price bracket or any that regularly had Wellington on the menu. So, in the absence of a direct comparison, think Godshill’s Taverners. In a cave. With a puff pastry hat.
Brown’s Pie Shop, Lincoln