Matt and Cat like going to Shanklin’s Old Village and smugly playing I-Spy with restaurants’ doors, spotting their ‘Recommended by Matt and Cat’ stickers. The excellent Pendleton’s, the Black Cat Thai restaurant and homely Village Inn all sport their green and black badges of recommendation.
With an appointment in the town later that evening, M and C were back in this picture-postcard village on a cold winter evening looking for somewhere new to eat. Clattering down the hill they stumbled into the historic Crab Inn. To be honest, in this thatch-tastic corner of the Island there’s nothing but listed buildings steeped in history. If there was a prize for the quaintest Isle of Wight village, the Old Village, Shanklin would be a serious contender with Godshill snapping closely at its heels. A similar award could be made – to the same places – for the place where you’re most likely to run over a bimbling tourist coming out of a cheesy gift-shoppe. However, M and C weren’t there to admire the architecture, they were there to eat.
Matt and Cat entered with slight trepidation, for the Crab Inn is part of the Greene King chain, along with the distinctly underpar Ryde Castle. Their misgivings were dashed aside by the warmth of the greeting from the barmaid, Fran. She was extremely accommodating; polite, attentive and helpful from the outset. Finding themselves a cosy corner to settle in to the duo studied the menu. This was quite a task, for not only was there a specials board and a standard menu, but also a few pages of loose-leaved stuff, promotions, kids menu, and so on. There was even a bit of introductory text exhorting the visitor to look out for the poem by Keats that is outside on the drinking fountain – yes, the drinking fountain with ‘Longfellow‘ written above it. Still, one nineteenth-century poet is much the same as another when you’re a mainland-based design agency turning out generic menus for 1300 pubs.
To read all the table literature in one sitting might have risked an early demise from starvation. So after some comparisons, and weighing up of alternatives, choices were finally given to the patient Fran. Matt chose Hawaiian chicken stack from the specials board as it sounded intriguing. It was advertised to come with bacon, cheese, pineapple chutney, peas and potato wedges. Cat, typically enough, found the plethora of standard choices overwhelming but found a way to devise what she wanted. She combined a starter of goats cheese filo parcels with side-orders of chips and vegetables, and the Crab accommodated this combination without any trouble.
A few pensioner couples, refugees from the big hotels up the road, wandered in and found tables to sit at. M & C passed the time trying to spot wigs – one old chap with an unfeasibly eye-bothering fringe was a 10/10 dead cert, and his wife had to be a 6/10 odds-on good bet. There’s probably a bonus achievement unlocked for spotting a matching pair of wigs, and this was close, but M & C have yet to get a confirmed sighting.
Soon enough the helpful Fran bustled up with a range of platters and bowls. Matt’s Hawaiian chicken came on an attractive wooden trencher. Cat’s meal was a well-presented leafy mixture, supplemented by side-dishes of chips and steamed veg.
The diners set to work on their suppers. Matt was impressed with the very fresh and hot potato wedges, which were perfect. Still, apart from the meat and some peas, that was all there was – maybe a little salad garnish or even a sprig of parsley might have finished off the presentation a little. He cut into the Hawaiian chicken stack with interest. It was an intriguing, cheese-smothered pile, and the contents soon became apparent. A chicken breast fillet had been hammered flat and grilled, then anointed with a rasher of bacon, some pineapple mush and finally cheese. This sounds appetising – and didn’t look too bad. But whilst it was edible, Matt just couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for it. The pineapple chutney was a syrupy jam-like stuff that did little to impart any pineapple flavour. The chicken and bacon, though fresh, was watery and tasteless; and the cheese was just a greasy morass. Overall it seemed that a fairly well-designed meal, competently prepared, had been let down by indifferent ingredients.
Cat’s goats cheese parcels were a much tastier bet. The tiny packages with their tangy cheese and fig filling were lovely. The salad was nice and fresh and the chunky chips were excellent. The vegetables were a bit watery; parsnip, carrots and, despite being a good source of iron, some anaemic-looking cabbage. Although it was a nice mix of dishes Cat struggled to eke out the three little morsels of filo.
Goats cheese parcel starter £4.25
Side chips £1.99
Side veg £2.29
Hawaiian chicken £9.95
1 pint lemonade £1.95
Lime and water £0.60
The Crab’s a big, rambling pub. Really, if you’ve been to one Greene King pub anywhere then you probably know what to expect. Plenty of tables and basic food that can be – and is – churned out on a production-line when the punters are really packing the place out. For example, the day after this visit, Cat went with some colleagues to The Folly Inn, Whippingham, which is another Greene King pub in a prime location – and found exactly the same menu as the Crab. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it exposes the mass-production of the food, possibly shipped in from some mainland factory. So if you visit the Crab in the high season, you may even get the same food. It’s likely that you won’t get to appreciate the quiet and friendly atmosphere that Matt and Cat enjoyed, but perhaps you will have the same very quick, friendly and efficient service.