Matt and Cat\'s Isle of Wight Eating Out Guide
Crown Inn, Shorwell Crown Inn, Shorwell
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Crown Inn, Shorwell

There’s nothing we like better than a nice surprise. It’s a treat that never gets old when we wander into some venue anticipating an indifferent meal, and our unambitious expectations are blown away. Perhaps the best example of this in recent years was the tragically short-lived fried-fish wagon of Salty Willy’s Fish Shack, incongruously located in a car park by a derelict nightclub at Fort Street, Sandown. We recall with gratitude those meals we enjoyed once we happened upon this unassuming little van, delighting in the most glorious fresh local fish and the infectious enthusiasm of the staff. Our pleasure was made the keener by our lack of any preconceptions. The joy of discovery is a pure one.

Of course, this cuts both ways. We read recently that our respected competitor, the AA Pub Guide had chosen only three pubs from the Isle of Wight for its 2020 edition: The Taverners, the Seaview Hotel, and The Crown Inn, Shorwell. For the first two we nodded with approval. Solid contenders. And we were excited to see The Crown Inn thrust into an unexpected spotlight. To us, it’s a reasonable pub. We have in the past described it as “uninspiring” and haven’t seen any reason to consider changing our view… until now. Things truly must have taken a turn for the better if the AA’s expert inspectors consider the Crown as a better pub than, say, The Blacksmith’s, Yarbridge Inn, or the Chequers at Rookley. So we were keen to put it to the test.

After a long wait our drinks arrived, and not before we’d overheard the staff attempting to make sense of the table service arrangements. We’d decided to share a starter from the specials board, which featured Cat’s favourite combo: asparagus and poached egg, which was served with crispy parma ham. The tide was almost out on Matt’s pint by the time the asparagus was delivered; it seemed that the delay might have been caused by the stems languishing in boiling water in an attempt to make the stringy ends palatable, causing the rest to pucker and soften. Luckily the perfect poached egg was perched on top, but this was meagre consolation for the undressed spears which managed to be dry, soggy and slightly chewy all at the same time.

Matt and Cat’s bill
Asparagus starter £7.50
Goat curry £15
Crown Burger £15
Total £37.50

Maybe the main courses would sort things out. Cat had boldly ordered one of the more unusual dishes on the ‘Country Classics’ menu, local Kingston goat curry. Chilli-shy Cat first pressed our waitress on the spiciness of the dish. Seriously, she likes curry but will only dabble at the korma end of a menu, the range with none or maybe one chilli icon in an Indian restaurant. Reassured by what she heard, she took the first mouthful like a trouper – only to reach abruptly for her drink. Despite being billed as having “a rich aromatic curry sauce”, rather than the flavour depth of a long-cooked curry this dish was powered by hot spice and little else. The pleasant raisin rice was fluffy and full of fruit, there was plenty of fresh coriander. Indeed the goat meat was generous, lean and tender, but the curry itself was all heat and no flavour, so despite stirring in an extra helping of yoghurt raita, Cat lost interest. Matt ate the remaining half but even he had to admit that it had a real afterburn.

The Crown Burger was the most expensive burger on the menu at a startling £15. Alas, that was the only outstanding thing about it. It came with two beef patties that were smooth and bland, in a brioche that was dry fluff. A slice of the mildest cheese did its best to impart some flavour, but failed. This credit for this goes solely to the little ramekin of chilli sauce, which was unexpectedly good.

At this point, our resolution wavered. Matt murmured – possibly for the first time ever – “I don’t want pudding”. Even more unlikely, Cat agreed. “Me neither. It will likely take ages and probably won’t be worth the wait.” We took a deep breath, paid, and left. Outside, we lingered for a while by the delightful duck pond, where vending machines offered food for dogs, ducks and fish.

We felt we’d been bamboozled. The Crown is actually not a bad pub. If we’d gone in there cold we probably would have concluded – as we did in 2010 – that it was underwhelming, but we’d eat there again. The problem this time was the AA Pub Guide recommendation which had us expecting better. The trappings were there: uniformed cheery staff in branded pinnies of muted hues; thickish napkins laid with nice cutlery; homely and dog-friendly surroundings – and yes, those rather alarming prices – but alas the delivery was just not up to the promise. The Crown Inn has got a lot going for it, but not as much as we had hoped. For the money, we, and the AA, could have done a lot better elsewhere.

This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.

The Crown Inn has got a lot going for it, but not as much as we had hoped.
  • Plenty of outside seating adjacent to pretty stream
  • Homely and dog-friendly venue
  • Local ingredients
  • Disappointing for the price and AA Pub Guide listing

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  • Shorwell local

    14th August 2019 #1 Author

    Totally agree with Matt & Cat, the place has a lot going for it but they’re missing the mark. They big themselves up but just can’t live up to expectations consistently. How can reviews vary so much, something is wrong and I fear it comes from the Managers who can’t take criticism and turn it into 5 stars. I find it strange so many people have taken offence at Matt & Cats review, are these friends of the managers!

    Reply

  • GJ

    6th August 2019 #2 Author

    My wife and I, daughter and her husband, two grandsons and dogs had lunch at The Crown today and our experience was entirely different to your review:
    1. Drinks were served promptly and the beer was in good heart. My son in law is a fan of Timothy Taylor bitter and often finds it has not been kept well. Not so at the Crown.
    2. Three of us had goat curry and none found it too hot, including my wife who does not like fierce curry.
    3. We also had enjoyable deserts and the boys enjoyed their children’s meals.
    4. We did not find it expensive .

    Generally, we were made to feel very welcome, young children, dogs and all.

    So, the AA are right and you ain’t.

    Reply

  • Katy

    29th July 2019 #3 Author

    Completely agree, went there in May and it was not great, everything was a bit overcooked abd oversalted, dry burger, dry chips etc the menu looked lush but didnt deliver on freshness. It honestly all felt a bit reheated! Wonded what the AA team actually ate, perhaps there are some really good dishes, just don’t order the burger… or the chorizo fries

    Reply