Cat was born in Essex. Not quite within the sound of Bow Bells, but surely it makes her more of a Cockney than Sussex lad Matt?
Yet it’s been a while since she cavorted in the streets of Dagenham – Cat is now a confirmed Wightophile. But they say that you can’t take Essex out of the girl so Cat, in an attempt to introduce Matt to a bit of estuary culture, took him by the hand and led him on a mystery tour which started with a walk along Ryde seafront. There they admired the expanse of flat sands, home to a variety of edible shellfish, including the saucy-looking razor clam.
Onwards they went to Ryde Esplanade station. Here they could have swerved northwards and caught a ferry then a train to Rainham and purchased a punnet of cockles from a chirpy street vendor. But there is more to East End cliché than salty molluscs and pearly royalty.
Instead Matt and Cat climbed aboard the ex-London tube train and enjoyed a rattling journey southwards to Sandown station. By now Matt was seriously intrigued. The seaside town was his childhood home but he has no memories of eating winkles and jellied eels in the vicarage. These days one could be forgiven for imagining that Sandown’s eating-out firmament is illuminated only by the singular but impossibly bright magnificence of the constant stream of celebrities and government ministers enjoying the facilities of Rapanui‘s eponymous coffee shop. But far from it. Sandown still has plenty else to offer, and in 2012 the new café at Sandown railway station was awarded an impressive third prize in the national Community Rail Awards Best Station/Train Retail Awards. So suddenly, the reason for Matt and Cat’s culinary journey became clear. As the metaphorical steam from the engine cleared away, they spotted the sign for refreshments and Matt finally knew he’d been brought to the Larder and Pie House.
From the platform side the café was clearly marked with a satisfyingly vintage ‘REFRESHMENTS’ sign – and a traditional hatch to serve to travellers on their way to far-flung Shanklin. Inside was a busy café, thronged with sixth-formers from the nearby Sandown Bay Academy. Matt and Cat met some fellow travellers from their Dining Club who’d agreed to join them at this review.
Settling down at a table, they were too busy chatting to order food straight away but it wasn’t long before their thoughts turned to the business of pies. There wasn’t a single menu as such, but a range of offerings handwritten on posters and boards around the place which required a degree of unravelling. Matt, in keeping with the day’s Cockney theme, chose the London Special which, Cat was informed when she went to order, was also available as a double. With a nod from across the room from Matt, his lunch was supersized. Cat chose the Wessex Special – plump chicken breast braised in a creamy sauce, served in a butter pastry with mash and gravy with a cup of tea for both.
London special (double) £7
Nammet pie £5
2 x tea @ £1.30
Back at the table M&C and friends watched the never-ending stream of youngsters come and go from the station and the street. With its coffee, sweets and cake plus WiFi, the teenagers clearly chose a good place to spend their free periods. All the coming and going did make the place a tad draughty but, in the warmer summer months (here’s hoping) it should provide a pleasant cooling breeze.
After a while the chef herself emerged from the kitchen and asked Cat to make a late substitution as the chicken pie was unavailable. It was suggested that she try nammet pie. Her Essex adventure ended at this point; you probably can’t get more Oile of Woight than nammet pie. This stimulated a discussion about the origins of the word ‘nammet’. Did it mean ‘no meat’? Or perhaps ‘noon-meat’? Fortunately in this case, it meant both as Cat was happy to accept the vegetarian version of this local delicacy.
The pies were delivered with mash and accompanying boats of gravy for Cat and liquor for Matt. Liquor is a thick sauce made with parsley, and traditionally with water kept from the preparation of stewed eels. The Larder served up the eel-less variety. Cat’s flat nammet pie, with its pasty-style crimped rim, was tangy; full of carrots and leeks. The gravy helped keep the meal warm and it was satisfyingly hearty and unsurprisingly filling.
Matt’s brace of pies was served upside-down in the traditional style, allowing the crisp crusts to be saved until last. The pies were described as ‘using local best mince’, and certainly there was plenty of meat in them. The copious hot liquor was deliciously parsley-flavoured, and gently solidified as it cooled. It was a substantial and enjoyable meal.
The Larder and Pie House is doing remarkably well in this unusual location, and it certainly is a good thing to see Sandown Station being used so positively. As perhaps befits a busy railway eatery the place is a bit basic. The menu could be a bit clearer; there is a profusion of chalk and white boards, all with something different scribbled on them, yet Cat’s nammet pie was not even on any the lists she saw. However, there were some comfy chairs and a friendly vibe about the place and it was surprisingly lively for a winter weekday. If it was just a regular café the place wouldn’t have much to distinguish it. However, with its pie USP, it evolves from a transport café to an interesting venue.