NB: The Crab and Lobster has now been sold. This review refers to Summer 2008 but probably doesn’t apply now.
The Isle of Wight is a great place to live. How people can say it’s boring is beyond the meagre wit of Matt and Cat as, apart from their full-time jobs at the municipal sweatshop and the burden of eating out several times a week, they always manage to fill the remaining time with the Island’s finest entertainment.
Alas for nostalgia bird Cat, the summer end-of-the-pier shows have all but faded away – along with the piers, some of which have fallen into disrepair or even the sea! However, some of those old summer season troupers can still be seen if you know where to look, and have about £20’s worth of enthusiasm.
A typically British August evening – buffeting wind and horizontal rain – did not deter Matt and Cat from seeing the legend that is… Jimmy Tarbuck (ask your mother) at Ventnor’s revived Winter Gardens. They took a pre-show dinner at the Crab and Lobster Tap.
Having misunderstood the start time for Tarby’s entrance, M and C realised they only had about 45 minutes to find a venue, order food, eat, sigh, pat their full bellies contentedly and get to the Winter Gardens in time for curtain up. Panting their way uphill they aimed for the Crab and Lobster Tap, reputed to be the oldest tavern in Ventnor. Enquiries at the bar established that food could be had, and quickly too, so Matt, Cat and friend took their places in The Stable restaurant at the rear of the pub.
A single chalkboard proclaimed the daily menu, including starters and sweets. Hurriedly scanning the selection, Cat’s eyes fell upon chicken supreme with tarragon sauce, new potatoes and vegetables. Matt chose steak and mushroom pie – perfect for a summer’s evening like this one. Their friend played ‘Credit Crunch’ and opted for a purse-friendly garlic mushroom starter. The waitress understood the urgency of the order and reassured her guests that she would deliver the food in time.
Finally taking off their winter coats, your reviewers were able to have a look around the venue. Whitewashed stone walls and a flagstone floor provided a rustic backdrop to what was a very tidy dining room, although clearly one that wore its stableblock heritage on its sleeve – the kitchen was a simple screened area in one corner of the room. All of the tables were laid, candles flickered and the cutlery twinkled. The blaxploitation classics piped into the room were slightly anomalous and, although quite loud, did not quite drown out the chime of the microwaves from behind the wallpapered divide. Observing the wrinkled nose, Cat’s friend pointed out the paradox – you can’t ask for your food to be served quickly and then mutter about ping cuisine.
Bread rolls arrived – a nice touch and not the norm for standard pub grub – followed swiftly, as promised, by the main course. Cat’s chicken supreme was very tasty – a nice creamy, yet tangy sauce covered two succulent chicken breasts. New potatoes and a good range of vegetables – peas, courgettes and carrots – livened up the beige-coloured dish. Matt, having sampled a nugget of the chicken, was not convinced that the chicken had been allowed to percolate in a casserole, as the recipe dictates, but agreed that it was a jolly nice sauce.
Chicken supreme £8.95
Steak and mushroom pie £8.95
Matt’s steak and mushroom pie was only a pie in the very loosest sense of the word. A dollop of rich meat filling had been sitting on the plate long enough to dry off slightly, and on top was a jauntily-balanced airy puff of pastry to symbolise the ‘lid’ of the ‘pie’. But just as Matt was forming a supercilious pie-related sneer, the first mouthful of the pie met his lips… and all was forgiven. It really was delicious, and served up so very promptly that it would have been the most merciless of reviewers who could bring themselves to criticise this very enjoyable meal. Adding to the pleasure was a splendid plate of very fresh and piping hot veg – La Scala and Lugley’s take note, this veg was rightly included in the very reasonable price and didn’t need to be ordered separately. Carrots, peas and a few slices of courgettes were lightly dusted with herbs and butter, serving ideally to complement the tasty pie and accompanying potatoes dauphinoise.
The cheery waitress, now busy as many other diners were filtering into the little restaurant, nevertheless brought the bill across promptly and saw her happy guests off. Matt and Cat turned downhill once more, and readied themselves for their evening’s entertainment. They arrived in good time, well fed and pleased with having discovered another great value and characterful dining-place in Ventnor. A white-haired Jimmy Tarbuck tottered onto the stage and cried “Hello Ventnor… oh, glad I wasn’t in Cowes…” A great laugh went up. The rest is another story.