Bembridge is a former fishing village with a pretty village centre and some interesting beaches. The Crab and Lobster is one of its most popular pubs; the route to which is a journey which probably illustrates the nature of Bembridge quite well. The would-be diner, following an trail of brown signs, is directed off the bijou High Street, past some impressive Victorian houses and then suddenly into a seemingly endless vista of bungalows, where the route passes row after row of interchangeable blank-faced open-plan single storey dwellings with low-maintenance gardens. If they are are lucky enough to complete this twisty maze, visitors will find themselves going down smaller and smaller roads and tracks, hemmed in by houses, until they feel sure that they must be driving up somebody’s garden path. Finally, the road emerges unexpectedly at the coast, and the Crab and Lobster Inn. Even at moderately busy times, and especially in the summer, this convoluted route gets clagged up with traffic. Much better to park in Bembridge village and stroll along the coast if you can.
Matt and Cat, mindful of the above, took the opportunity to visit early on a weekday evening. Even then, parking was quite tight, but they soon got inside where very friendly staff greeted them and a gas fire was blazing merrily, if ineffectually, in the hearth. The inn is set out entirely for food, with no real public bar area left. The seating areas are comfortable, roomy and characterful. Furthermore, and to Matt and Cat’s profound approval, it is entirely no smoking inside! Outside is a patio area with sea views, but Matt and Cat chose a cosy corner table and studied the comprehensive menu.
“Seafood is our speciality”, the menu proudly boasted, and indeed so it seemed. Plenty of seafood of all types was on offer, and the specials board seemed almost as big as the menu, with some impressive alternatives. The prices for many items were slightly higher than many pubs on the Island, but not beyond what one might expect in a restaurant. The menu was also a little confusing, in that the ‘Lite Bites’ section was priced at a whopping £9.95 per item, whilst the ‘Traditional Pub Favourites’ weighed in at a more respectable £7-8 or so. Not tempted by the fish, Matt selected pork medallions in a creamy sauce, whilst Cat took the opportunity to try one of the good range of vegetarian dishes – a goats cheese tartlet and salad.
The food arrived quickly and was exceptionally well-presented. For Cat, two hot, cheesy goats cheese tartlets sat atop a particularly impressive pile of colourful salad. The tartlet’s filling was a tasty ratatouille-style selection of vegetables, including aubergine, courgette and celery. Although the salad was mountainous, it was also a little monotonous with an over-abundance of that stringy lettuce stuff and not enough of the leafy varieties. Surprisingly, the cucumber had perhaps been waiting around a little longer than it should have, and at that time of the day that’s not a good sign. For once Cat remembered to request no raw onion on her salad and, although there were no onion rings, there was a pile of spring onion. (Perhaps she should have been more specific about what was meant by onion?). However, the dish was served with a nice red pesto dressing and delicious fresh tomatoes.
In a similar way the pork was equally an impressive dish to see – although not a particularly large one – but to Matt’s dismay the accompanying vegetables and potatoes were not as fresh as one might have hoped.
Nevertheless, both meals were very tasty and certainly better than average. The modest size of them also allowed your reviewers to break with tradition and order a dessert. Cat had crème brule, and Matt, on a nostalgic whim, ventured the bread-and-butter pudding. Both were excellent. Matt was pleased to note that neither the pudding nor the custard bore the tell-tales marks of microwaving, being hot but not burnt, and freshly heaped into the dish rather than welded to it.
A very-well known location, and hugely popular, it is hardly any wonder that the prices are on the slightly high side. Given the quality of the menu, excellent service and the delightful venue it’s hard to say that this is overpriced; although perhaps a keener eye in the kitchen to deliver every detail of these delightful meals would really top this place off.
The Crab and Lobster Inn, Bembridge