It’s grand, it’s old, it’s the Duke of York. And it’s even half way up a hill.
A few steps away from the lively town-centre pubs of Cowes High Street is the Duke of York. A family-run venue, this pub has a convivial atmosphere, and is very much a locals’ hang-out. When we arrived for dinner we threaded our way through regulars at the bar, some guy setting up for a musicians’ open mic night, a few random dogs, and a range of fishing nets and other nauticalia which was festooned from the ceiling.
We were shown to a comfy table and drinks were brought over by the cheerful and attentive staff. Soon enough starters were with us. The garlic mushrooms were freshly-cooked and with real garlic, not those nasty deep-fried things. Sticky chicken was an unusual item on the Duke’s menu, which is focussed on home-made comfort food. This hint of Asian fusion turned out to be hot, tasty chicken nuggets with a very palatable soy, ginger and honey glaze.
Being in a pub, Matt was pleased to test out the beer on offer, and as the staff were happy to bring it to the table, and keep doing so, this proved to be quite a feature of the meal. When the open mic night got going some of the friends on our table volunteered to step up and do a number or two – luckily by that point Matt had not had enough beer to join in.
The main courses are famously generous here. When we visited in 2011 we described the cod and chips as “impressive, mounted on about half a pound of peas“. Eleven years later we decided to keep to the seafood theme, and chose the home made luxury crab cakes. This drew murmurs of approval from our waitress, who confided that these were handmade by the landlady, and very popular. Containing real Isle of Wight crab, the delicacies were a far cry from the sad potato discs that often masquerade as crab cakes. Rich brown and white crab was mixed with actual chunks of claw-meat, and maybe a smattering of potato. There were two cakes, served with sweet chilli sauce, a light salad and chips, and these made a respectably-sized meal that we found just as impressive as the famous cod and chips.
Garlic mushrooms £5.95
Sticky chicken £7.95
12oz rump steak £19.95
Peppercorn sauce £2.50
Crab cakes £18.95
Bread and butter pudding £5.95
The 12oz rump steak was a similarly well-proportioned piece of meat. Nobody was in danger of going home hungry here. Fried mushrooms, grilled tomato and battered onion rings were the classic accompaniments, and a peppercorn sauce was the irresistible extra touch. Chips and salad came alongside – yes, that same salad we had seen three times before but no matter. This steak was perfectly done, seared but full of moistness. A pub standard done as it should be.
We couldn’t resist dessert and chose homemade bread and butter pudding with custard from the waggishly-titled PUDZ menu. Like everything else we ate that evening, this was exactly as you would hope. Hot, fresh, home made and extremely satisfying.
If you enjoy straightforward food done well, you will not be disappointed by the Duke of York. If you are seeking a seven-course tasting menu or artisan bread served on a heated trowel, you’d probably be better off looking elsewhere. We know also that the Sunday roast and breakfasts at the Duke of York are very popular, and no wonder with this combination of friendly local atmosphere and generous proportions. This cosy and distinctive pub is well worth a visit.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.