How often in films do you hear the phrase, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this“? If Star Wars is anything to go by, far too many.
However, to exhaust the phrase one final time, these were the words that issued from Cat’s lips as she and Matt drove into the grounds of Rookley Country Park. Not the most welcoming of entrances; a bland-looking building with a single sign directing visitors round the back of the structure. M and C with junior reviewers Bill and Jack followed the arrow and eventually found themselves in quite a nice airy bar and dining room. Inside, it was well-appointed, with many comfortable tables and big sofas to lounge on whilst watching the inevitable television. It had the added advantage that you didn’t have to look at the outside, either.
A conservatory and decking had been added to the unprepossessing building to make the most of the rather dismal view – a small former quarry surrounded by mobile homes. However, the welcome from the eager staff was immediate and very friendly, and the meaty aroma of the carvery was enough to make the quartet lick their lips in anticipation. Could this venue overcome its handicap of being positioned by an industrial estate in one of the Island’s less notable villages?
Matt was a bit humpy about the ‘the Isle of Wight’s premier holiday park’ calling itself a country park. Having worked at many such facilities himself he knows what makes a good country park; and a bunch of immature trees on a pitch and putt golf course overlooked by ranks of caravans is not what would normally spring to mind. However, on their meanderings after lunch, Jack and Bill climbed trees, and Matt and Cat did see a robin, a solitary bee, some mallards, two Sarcophagid flies and heard a woodpecker. But never mind this matter of sylvan semantics: what was the food like?
Matt and Cat planned their visit to the Lakeside restaurant (not to be confused with the spectacular Lakeside, Wootton), to coincide with what might be the busy period, i.e. Sunday lunch. There was plenty of room in the spacious lounges for the steady trickle of families, couples and oldsters making the most of the balmy winter’s afternoon to eat a roast dinner. And, on the terrace, a sizeable minority mindful of the smoking ban contaminated the fresh air by puffing away on their roll-ups. The cheerful staff of the Lakeside Restaurant were very efficient and there was no delay either at the bar or when ordering food. Maybe next Sunday lunchtime – Mothering Sunday – they might find themselves a little stretched – but on this normal day there could be no complaints.
Inside all of the tables were nicely laid and, although there were no menus on them as there was no doubt about was was for lunch. To one side was the gleaming dispensary – the operation of which was easily explained to young carvery neophyte Jack as being ‘like school dinners’.
Matt went to the bar to order food and drinks. Being somewhat ‘follicly challenged‘, he was interested to note that all of the staff at Rookley Country Park had a regulation look: young men with bushy hair, smarmed with fistfuls of gel or some other unguent. Still, this did not hamper their impressive customer service abilities and soon Matthew was in possession of four drinks and a ticket for two adult and two kiddie portions of the carvery. Whilst adult portions were on the expensive side by the ultra cost-sensitive standards of carveries – £7.95 – the child’s portions were the opposite, almost half price at £3.95, and only slightly smaller. The chap at the bar confided that he actually would choose a child’s portion himself, and indeed his advice seemed sound as both adults and children were more than satiated by the quantities on offer.
The quartet made their way to the hot counter where they were introduced to the meats of the day – pork, beef, turkey and, unexpectedly, lamb. None of the joints resembled the sort of meaty hunks one might buy in the local butcher; all were regular flesh logs – similar in superficial appearance to kebab meat, but, it transpired, far tastier inside. Matt and Bill both had pork and a chunk of crackling was offered with the slices of pig. Cat’s turkey had a separate piece of fowl skin. Jack had the lamb. They all had a a disc of sausagy stuffing plus Yorkshire puddings which were easily as big as Bill’s head.
There were three sorts of spuds to choose from, roasties, buttered new potatoes and a novelty dish – Marmite coated new potatoes. Cat, mishearing (it’s her age, you know) thought she was being offered Isle of Wight potatoes and took one of the tangy browned tubers. There was plenty of veg – cauliflower cheese, root veg in the form of carrots, swede and parsnips plus cabbage. Staggering back to their table under the weight of their dinners, Matt, Cat, Bill and Jack tucked in.
In all cases the meat was lovely and lean, hot and tasty. The root veg was on the right side of firm and the cabbage was a traditional treat. Cat thought the cauliflower let the side down as it was a bit soggy and the cheese sauce was more of a yellow gesture. Matt disagreed, declaring it to be lovely and rich – possibly as he’d cunningly scooped up a big spoonful of the cheesy sauce from the bottom of the pan.
2 x adult carvery @ £7.95
2 x child carvery @ £3.95
Ice cream £2.50
Rhubarb tart £3.75
Cheese board £4.75
The thing about carveries is that they are aimed at the lowest common denominator. The grub must be able to be eaten by the toothless (tots and their grandparents); be plentiful (to fill up fat blokes in football shirts); and fat-free to satisfy Madonna-wannabe middle aged women squeezed into leggings twenty years to young for them. As a consequence, the carvery experience is always going to be a taste and texture compromise, and in this the Lakeside Restaurant complied.
The chaps having shovelled their food down and Cat having picked demurely at hers, all decided to have pudding. This was where the restaurant really clawed back some overdue Matt and Cat points. Matthew had a plate of three Isle of Wight cheeses; perfectly served at room temperature with a little bunch of fresh grapes, some crackers and a generous dollop of homemade chutney. Jack had chocolate ice cream in a vast chamfered glass vase. Bill enjoyed his strawberry and rhubarb tart with its little ball of sweet maple ice cream. The Cat had a well-presented wedge of blackberry cheesecake with a bright swirl of compote and five blackberries, again served at an agreeable temperature, i.e. not straight out of the fridge.
Having had their fill of the food and found it unexpectedly good, Matt and Cat took their junior charges for a walk around the park to find things to criticise. The boys immediately lunged at the play area; a safe, creative climbing frame with slide and ropes surrounding by rubber matting about a foot thick in case the little darlings should take a tumble. It was even fenced off from the nearby lake, and well positioned so adults can sit comfortably whilst watching. The rest of the ‘park’ was an unappealing shanty town of closely-packed mobile homes, holiday bungalows and fishermen’s tents. Not much country to be had but, without a doubt it was being well used. When the party did finally find a small bit of green grass with a nice country view, they discovered that they were sitting on the putting course.
Finally deciding to leave the joys of Rookley Country Park behind, Matt and Cat agreed that for countryside you could do better almost anywhere on the Island, but both had to confess to being secretly impressed by the restaurant. If you’ve got a big family group and you want a good feed, you’re going to do pretty well here, with very good service, safe outdoor entertainment for the children, local produce and reasonable prices.
Lakeside Restaurant at Rookley Country Park