If you were to visit East Cowes marina and its Lifeboat Inn by boat, it would be easy to imagine that you were in a cosmopolitan waterside town, wealthy from development money. However, approaching the marina from the east, through streets of red brick terraced houses, past tall factories and finally winding through the tiny cul-de-sacs of a small housing estate with serried Wimpey homes, you might think that East Cowes was a bit, well, mundane.
But despite the fiddly land-based route, reminiscent of that to the Crab and Lobster, Bembridge, the Lifeboat Inn is worth the journey.
Cat had one previous experience of this venue, not long after it first opened and before it was run by the current management. Her over-riding memory was of a tongue-searing lemon sponge pudding so thoroughly nuked that it resembled the nugget of concentrated evil that features at the end of the film ‘Time Bandits‘.
However, that shrivelled sweet was from a different era; Matt and Cat’s experience of the food at the Lifeboat one recent summer evening was far more positive. The pub has undergone a refurbishment since Cat’s last visit. The florid carpet has been replaced by wooden floors, and the flowery walls are now clad in stylish tongue-and-groove in a pleasing muted blue. The exterior of the pub has also been repainted, although if you were to have a seat on the ample terrace you would most likely turn your back on the pub to enjoy the view of the marina and Cowes, across the busy Medina.
The pub’s menu had a very interesting variety of food including a squid and scampi salad, seared lambs liver and Vietnamese five-spice noodles. In addition to these exotics, there were also steak options, pasta and daily specials. Matt was tempted by the seared lambs liver and Cat could not resist the curry of the day – chicken korma.
With barely a moment to eavesdrop on their nearby diners, your reviewers’ meals were delivered. Matt’s grill heralded its own arrival by sizzling excitingly on a piping hot skillet – a tower of meat, mushrooms and onions with an accompanying bowl of ‘shoestring fries’. Matt had been surprised at being asked how he wanted his liver cooked, the other surprise of the dish was the unexpected but welcome seam of bacon nestling under the liver. Cat’s chicken korma was equally well-presented; a generous bowl of creamy looking curry and rice with a separate dish of chutneys and a vertical poppudum, hove into view like a galleon in full sail!
The korma’s thick sauce was very creamy and covered plenty of big lumps of tender chicken. It was topped by a handful of chopped fresh coriander. The rice was fluffy and not at all sticky. And it was delicious. Really, really nice – slightly hotter than one might expect for a mild curry, but that is not a complaint. The poppadum was crispy and the chutneys were tasty and cooling. Excellent!
Matt’s liver and bacon was an perfect rendition of the classic combination. Freshly fried onions partnered battered onion rings to make a splendid counterpoint to a sizzling pile of thick bacon and succulent liver. The shoestring fries would have been even better if they had been real chips with sensible names and proportions, but were perfectly adequate nonetheless.
As soon as Matt had finished his grill, his plates were removed by the attentive waiting staff. As Cat was still eating, this led to a discussion about whether this was diligent service or bordering on rudeness. What do you think? This was a tiny blip in what was a very good eating experience. Pleasant surroundings, delicious and interesting well-cooked food, reasonable prices. Thumbs up!