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....

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.

Highdown Inn, Totland

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.

Smoked salmon and mixed leaves

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.

Expecting an interesting heap of foliage, Cat felt this apology for ‘mixed leaves’ did not really live up to its billing.
Smoked fish platter

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

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  • Robin Hull

    11th September 2010 #1 Author

    Having a child with special needs (Down’s syndrome) it is often very difficult finding a restaurant that she likes. I am pleased to say that The Highdown Inn is one of those places. We visited 0n 20.08.10.

    A great little pub with a terrific selection of lunchtime food (we arrived at 1pm). The landlord (I’m guessing?) went out of his to please our daughter (Holly) and came up with a great meal for her. Cheryl had the over-filled crab sandwich (which was delicious) and I had the wonderful smoked mackerel with fresh horseradish.

    The place was packed with out-of-towners and no one, that I could see, was made to feel like an extra from American Werewolf.

    The beer and cider was also fabulous!

    A great little find and a must for anyone with over-fussy kids!

    Reply

  • James P

    27th February 2010 #2 Author

    I’ve just stumbled on this, thanks to the landlord’s bizarre comments. He might like to know that he has certainly influenced this member of the masses.

    If he reacts like that to a favourable review, I hate to think what would happen if you gave him a bad one!

    Reply

  • Wendy

    23rd September 2008 #3 Author

    As I don’t know whether it’s the proprieter or a regular being huffy, I’d happily try Highdown if I was out that way (the food certainly looks nicer than what you’d get at the Needles Pleasure Park!). Keep up the good work, Matt and Cat!

    Reply

  • Ian

    23rd September 2008 #4 Author

    Nice one David: where do Matt and Cat get off, “going to pubs” and “having an opinion on the food”? It’s just NOT BRITISH! 😉

    I agree with KJ: if David Flanders represents Highdown, then I’ll avoid it – why visit a pub for the pretty decent food when mein host might be touchy, charmless and unwelcoming. (And so much for the Highdown’s own “eye for detail”: they currently mis-spell “availibilities” and “compliment” on their web site.)

    If I want a grumpy landlord, I’ll go to The Crown – it’s closer.

    Reply

  • kj

    22nd September 2008 #5 Author

    I think you need to re-read the comments…they actually liked your premises and had a very few negative points and ranked it in the catagory ‘we like’.

    Their review would certainly make me want to try the pub, Your heavy handed respose put paid to that

    Reply

  • David Flanders

    22nd September 2008 #6 Author

    It is a sad state of affairs in this modern age that anybody can become a food critic with the power to influence the masses. It is an even sadder state of affairs that two people with little or no knowledge of the culinary arts choose to do so.The term “charlatan” comes to mind.

    I would reccommend not giving up your day jobs too quickly. Carry on needlessly wasting government money,and ruining the Island

    As well as the food Matt and Cat point to the furnishings and to a boarded up fireplace, failing to notice the six foot fireplace slap bang in the middle of the bar, and lo and behold a neatly stacked pile of logs ready to burn in the winter.
    As a food critic a pre-requisite is having a refined palate and an eye for detail. Sadly Mat and Cat seem to have neither of these. I would recommend not giving up your day jobs too quickly. Carry on needlessly wasting government money,and ruining the Island in your jobs at the municipality.

    Reply

  • ghostmoth

    16th September 2008 #7 Author

    A long time ago when I lived in the West Wight, my friends and I dubbed the Highdown Inn “The Slaughtered Lamb” from the classic horror film An American Werewolf in London. As you stepped through the door all conversation stopped as the locals turned to stare at you – very disconcerting!

    Reply