Back when he was a nipper living at the vicarage in Sandown, Matt’s grandparents would come and stay for Easter – an important time in his family’s calendar. While the vicar and his wife busied themselves with preparing the church for its most important service, Matt’s grandad would take him and his sisters to Browns. There they would be treated to a round of golf and an ice cream – thrilling stuff in the 1970s (who needs term-time Disneyland, eh?).
Forty years hence, it may be the twenty-teens (or whatever we’re referring to this decade as) but it doesn’t mean that we’re any nearer taking our holidays in a drone hotel or getting our arses to Mars. In fact, on a sunny weekend in April we went to Sandown and recreated that very activity that Matt and his granddad so enjoyed. It seems that the challenge of multi-generational pitch and putt is still quite the draw.
Browns golf course was opened in about 1922 and was spectacularly popular. It has undergone various changes since those heady days, but it still has a couple of surprisingly tough courses. The distinctive clubhouse has managed to cling on and is still busy with happy visitors despite the dereliction of the now rather inaptly-named Grand Hotel nearby.
We had a friendly game of pitch and putt; well, not entirely friendly as the loser had to buy the winner lunch. Matt staged a spectacular comeback after Cat’s early lead and so it was her shout when we returned to the little Clubhouse Cafe.
The cafe at Browns is a gloriously light affair, with vast windows and a glass roof. We recalled that it had been quite hot when we last reviewed the place in 2007 but today the patio doors were open and the room was nicely aerated. However, what was even nicer was the view from the benches on the edge of the green, so we gave our order and sat outside in the early spring sun.
Browns menu is several pages of sarnies, hot plates, children’s dishes and even separate Bembridge crab and gluten-free categories. There was also a section entitled ‘Browns Homemade Goodness’ from which the dishes were made “with love”. Sounds irresistible! Matt thought he’d have the five bean chilli, served with a baguette.
There was some confusion at the till as the staff got to grips with the buttons or something. While this was going on a chap made the pot of tea for two. As the button-pressing got more urgent he came over to help and soon the temporarily-abandoned teapot overflowed with water from the urn’s tap. He made another pot and the till issues were eventually resolved. During this merry dance, we can only assume that he forgot to put a second teabag in the pot as, when we came to pour it – despite some vigorous mashing – it only dribbled out the weakest potion.
The five-bean chilli was, technically, as advertised: but really one could all too easily imagine that this was just a tin of precooked beans and a tin of chopped tomato, heated with a token seasoning of chilli con carne. The acid tang of tomato and the solid beans didn’t impress Matt much, but he ate it. We’re hardly the best people to give culinary tips but even we thought that if this dish had been left to simmer for a bit it would have been nicer.
Cat’s lunch was a better bet. Her caramelised onion chutney and goats cheese white bread toastie was lovely, warm and not too crunchy. Nor was it greasy, which can be an unfortunate (surely fortunate – Matt) side effect of a toasted sandwich, if made 1970s style. The garnish just about escaped being a similarly seventies flashback as, bringing it up to date among the bits of iceberg, were some twiddly-edged leaf fragments, plus a bisected cherry tomato. A handful of tortilla chips finished the dish. Tasty as the butty was it seemed a tad pricy at £7 (£7.50 if it was in a ciabatta).
Goats cheese and chutney toastie £7
Chilli and baguette £6
Large teapot £3.20
More tea 2 @ £1.50
Cake 2 @ £2.20
Determined to give the cafe a second shot at producing a decent cuppa Cat went back to the counter and bought a couple of the home-made cakes, with a cup of tea to go with each. This time there was no teapot at all, just a bag in a china cup. It’s just about acceptable to have a bag in a mug but, by the time Cat had carried the afters back outside, the tea was pretty stewed. Where the first tea course had been as weak as your nan trying to open a jar of mustard, this second cup was as stewed as Oliver Reed in the Aspel green room.
Still, if there is one thing Browns does well it is cake. And the cakes were good. The coffee slice had a decent flavour and the sponge was soft, indicating it had not been sat about. Matt was delighted with the vanilla sprinkles slice – perhaps he was swayed by the very family-friendly atmosphere, combined with his memories of golfing with grandad.
So Browns food was a bit hit and miss, with the cake a very definite hit. Normally we’d let the prices speak for themselves but, as this is a joint aimed at families – with its children’s menu and colouring books – it’s worth noting that the kid’s menu is priced at £3 across the board, making the cost for a whole family a little more palatable than the grown-ups’ price. Of course the real star of the show is the setting. The tables on the sea side of the venue have their own appeal but, at the back, you have that great view across the golf course to the levels and then Brading Down in the distance. And, if you are lucky (as we were) you might see a lion or two sunning themselves on the rocks at the adjacent zoo.
- Historic pitch and putt course is loads of fun
- Excellent cakes
- Wonderful setting and views
- Tea was not really up to standard
- Hit-and-miss lunches