The other day Matt and Cat were on the terrace of the Spyglass Inn, in Ventnor.
As they enjoyed the view of the English Channel they pondered how many other pubs could actually boast such an awesome south-facing shore-side position. Think hard folks, because that’s what Matt and Cat did. And, do you know what? They couldn’t think of one pub other than the Spyglass that is within a stone’s throw of the beach on the south side of the Island. Sure the Sun Inn, Hulverstone and Chale’s Wight Mouse both have spectacular views across the heritage coast but you’ll never be bothered by salty spray at either of these rural venues.
The Buddle Inn at Niton Undercliff was only likely candidate. Its website trumpets hopefully that it “boasts unrivalled views of the English channel”. So, to put this to the test, Matt and Cat bowled along there and parked in the little car park which did indeed have pretty good views across the sea. They sat for a few moments and enjoyed this vista, listening to the sound of the waves pestering the shore far below. But after a short stroll down the hill towards the scenic rocks and spectacular lighthouse of St Catherine’s Point, they realised that the Buddle is not that near to the shore really. And in fact, the best view – and it is a good one – is to be had from the Buddle car park, albeit that it was shared with an old camper van and a derelict BMW. So having got the best of the view, Matt and Cat ambled back up to see what the pub’s food was like.
The Buddle is a part of the Character group, a small local chain of pubs which includes the Old Village Inn in Bembridge, of which Matt and Cat think highly. As the name suggests this chain does not seem to be keen on homogenising its properties, and certainly at the Buddle the patina of an old country pub seems to have survived unscathed. Inside it isn’t hard to imagine oneself in what must surely have once been a genuine smugglers’ inn. It is an old, dark, atmospheric and thick-walled building full of little rooms, narrow corridors and steps, with flagstones on the floor and low beams on the ceiling. Matt and Cat settled themselves in a quiet back room that was set out like a comfortable library. Admittedly it didn’t take too close an inspection to discover that the tomes in the ‘library’ were actually printed wallpaper, but the effect was quite pleasing and the room was made cosier by the trompe l’oeil. Through the window they heard the trilling of a blackbird delivering his evening orisons to the slowly-sinking sun.
The menu was satisfyingly hearty, with quite a few things that caught Matt and Cat’s eyes. A prominent vegetarian section tempted Cat towards the way of the legume: she ordered whole aubergine stuffed with cous cous, roasted vegetables and a fresh tomato and tarragon sauce. Matt passed over the attractive lamb’s liver special, the decent-sounding burgers and grills – even a trio of Isle of Wight sausages; until he alighted upon beef bourguignon cooked in red wine and served in a rustic bowl with fried bread croutons. This dish is a rare beast on pub menus, despite being delightfully simple in style, so Matt couldn’t wait to see what the Buddle could do.
Beef bourguignon £12.95
Stuffed aubergine £9.45
Crème brûleé £5.45
Strawberry mess £5.45
In fact, waiting is what proved necessary because the Buddle, although almost empty, didn’t rush the meals out to the hungry diners. This wasn’t too much of a penance, because the pub was quite an enjoyable environment, and for Matt and Cat it had the added frisson of zero mobile phone coverage which meant no whiling away the time with digital distraction. They honed their wit instead by debating the old chestnut – which would you rather fight, a horse-sized duck, or a one hundred duck-sized horses? Matt sipped on his beer (from a fair choice of well-kept real ales) and argued his point. The question was never settled – and indeed, probably never could be – so they concentrated instead on the arrival of the meals.
The stuffed aubergine looked an impressive pile. Not only was it a vegetarian dish but in all likelihood a vegan one. An appetisingly-browned selection of freshly-roasted vegetables supported a whole aubergine, sensibly arranged as two halves split asunder and piled up with cous cous and sauce. The promised tarragon in the tomato sauce was imperceptible and the cous cous had dried to its pre-hydrated state around the edges of the dish but nonetheless it was tasty and very filling. Aubergine can be a tricky fella but Cat’s baked vegetable was delightfully soft and even the skin was pretty melty.
Like the aubergine dish the bourguignon looked good, but was not quite as described. Instead of a rustic bowl the meal came on a regular plate, and instead of fried bread croutons it came with nothing bar the chips which Matt had chosen. But it was generously supplied with very good chunks of tender beef and button mushrooms. For flavour it was a lot closer to a straight beef and mushroom casserole than classic bourguignon – there were no little onions bobbing about and if there were red wine and herbs in the mix, they were subtle indeed. Luckily, despite the unexpected features – or lack of them – this generous portion of simple stew was satisfying eating.
Fortified by the substantial main courses, Matt and Cat asked for the dessert menu. There was a cabinet of tempting-looking puddings, including tiramisu, cheesecake and fudge cake but M&C chose from the regular menu. Eton Mess has rapidly risen from obscurity to become a ubiquitous standard which can nonetheless sometimes be interpreted in unusual ways. On this menu it was coyly described as Strawberry Mess, with ‘fresh Island strawberries where possible’, and freshly whipped cream. Matt obviously chose this dish. Cat, with equal predictability, picked crème brûleé with fresh raspberries.
Strawberry Mess was a kind of deconstructed sundae. One massive strawberry (presumably not a fresh Island one in April) was artfully cut up and nestled alongside the main event. Chunks of meringue were anointed with a sticky sweet strawberry-flavoured sauce that would not be out of place being squeezed out of a plastic bottle in a ice cream van. The freshly whipped cream was also sweetened enthusiastically. It was like a sweet-toothed child’s interpretation of an adult’s dessert. Despite its appearance the whole thing was so cloying that Matt did the unthinkable and left his plate unemptied. Just take a moment friends, to consider this – somebody has made a pudding so sweet that Matt didn’t finish it. If Cat hadn’t seen it with her own eyes she wouldn’t have believed it. Luckily the crème brûleé was more successful, although the burnt top did not give the expected pleasing crack when tapped with her spoon. That aside the taste was excellent, subtle and creamy and punctuated with raspberries.
So, conclusions? Enjoy the sea view from the car park as you arrive, or dine in the little garden if the weather allows. Inside or out the Buddle is a nice place to visit and eat, and Matt and Cat thought it had fair prices for what was not a bad meal, pretty good value all told – albeit occasionally not quite the meal that was described on the menu. On a sunny day the south-facing terrace will be a fabulous place to soak up the rays and enjoy a pint. In the winter the cosy bar has an intimate feel and the food and service were much improved from Matt and Cat’s previous visits.