Matt and Cat don’t often get out during weekdays, chained as they are to municipal desks in the heart of the county’s administrative capital.
However, just occasionally, they given a day pass and, on a particularly miserable Tuesday, they were let off their leads to roam the Island’s countryside. This comprehensive outing took in sites from the southeast to the northwest, checking geocaches that they had previously hidden. It’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it…
Anyway, as they headed westward along the Military Road, the clouds parted and, with Mr Blue Sky blasting out of the jalopy’s stereo, they hunted for somewhere to eat. Following a request from iownipper, they aimed for Totland’s Highdown Inn.
Seemingly the only pub for miles around, the Highdown Inn presumably has a regular clientèle as well as the walkers and cyclists that its proprietors actively encourage. Entering the homely bar, Matt and Cat were welcomed by a cheery lady who took their drinks order and proffered menus. There are three areas in the pub in which to eat – the ‘public’ bar, the adjoining lounge and, out the back, a salubrious and carpeted dining room. The lounge bar was already busy with families and couples so Matt and Cat decided to stay with the throng and took their places at a farmhouse-style wooden table in front of the extensive specials boards.
It was difficult to make a choice – there were plenty of seafood dishes including oysters, moules and fresh local crab. The provenance of the food was stated at every opportunity, Rowridge Farm duck, IOW pork, Shorwell beef and local rabbit were all tempting offerings. However, as it was lunchtime and Matt and Cat still had plenty of the day’s work ahead of them, they opted for lighter bites. Cat, deciding she was in need of omega 3, chose smoked salmon and mixed leaves. Matt, also having an oily fish moment, ordered smoked fish platter.
The pub had a real atmosphere, and, whilst clean and tidy, was well-worn and loved. Thankfully nobody has yet knocked all the different rooms into one vast soul-less family eating factory, and the pub still performs a function as a part of the local community. As well as tatty old pictures of local happenings, the walls bear notices and leaflets for jumble sales and sporting fixtures both past and to come. Sometimes it’s worth sparing the inevitable ‘refurbishment’ to keep something of the local distinctiveness that makes a place special. One could easily imagine locals mixing with generations of motorists stopping here for lunch before continuing around this most picturesque part of the Island.
Matt and Cat noticed that a nearby table was positioned in front of what would have been an open fire back in the day. They idly discussed whether the extra seating was worth the removal of what, in winter, would undoubtedly be an added attraction for this comfortable pub. Perhaps, if England had had a proper summer, the venue would have been full, both inside and out and the table would have come into its own. This random speculation was interrupted by the arrival of the ‘fish dishies’.
Cat, a big fan of salad, was looking forward to her mixed leaves and was a bit crestfallen to find that her salad consisted of a big dollop of coleslaw, some slivers of pepper, cucumber and copious amounts of raw onion. Oh, and the leaves. Technically, they were mixed leaves as one tiny leaf of lollo rosso nudged itself next to a single leaf of a different variety. Expecting an interesting heap of foliage, Cat felt this apology for ‘mixed leaves’ did not really live up to its billing. However, it had an interesting granular mustard dressing and the smoked salmon was excellent. A thick slice of pinky fish meat was folded onto the plate, with a segment of fresh lemon and some bread and butter.
Matt’s platter had a similar salad and a very good selection of smoked fish – smoked salmon, smoked mackerel, smoked halibut and avruga caviar, plus a basket of crusty bread. The halibut was an unusual choice; it was tasty and had an enjoyable chewy texture. A slightly more varied salad would have enhanced the dish still further, but it was a pleasing and well-presented lunch.
The Highdown Inn is a characterful and genuine location, set conveniently in a particularly delightful corner of the Island. Matt and particularly Cat might have enjoyed an evening meal at the Highdown Inn even more than their light bites. However, the lunches filled a hole and they were soon off out in the wilds of the West Wight.
Highdown Inn, Totland