Matt and Cat have made several visits to the Island’ most westerly café. Read their latest thoughts on the place below. Earlier review and comments follow that.
Having had a successful – and educational – day out at Hampshire’s most southerly fortification, Hurst Castle, Matt and Cat decided visit the Island’s most westerly fort the following day. Lady Luck was smiling down on the intrepid pair as the kiosk at Alum Bay car park was unstaffed – which meant more money for refreshments.
Although there’s no public vehicle access to the Needles Old Battery, the 20-minute walk is mostly on level ground. For those unable to manage the walk, there is also a bus. Matt and Cat’s walk to the Battery offered fantastic views of the geological wonder that is the coloured cliffs at Alum Bay and, as it started out as a clear day, they could also see the New Forest and Dorset beyond, and of course Hurst Castle. Rabbits bounded fearlessly about on the chalk grassland, sometimes perilously close to the cliff edge. Above them seagulls and jackdaws soared in the rising thermals.
Having paid the entrance fee, Matt and Cat dutifully strolled around the Old Battery’s exhibitions. However, these are not fusty and unimaginative; the National Trust has done an excellent job of the interpretation at this property. The atmospheric cartoons really bring the place to life and there were a couple of new exhibits which stimulated the senses with both sound and smells! Cat poked about in every room and chamber and both she and Matt squeezed their way down the spiral staircase and descended the windy, winding tunnel to the searchlight emplacement with its unrivalled view of the Needles stacks.
Veg & mozzarella baguette £3.95
Ham and salad baguette £3.55
Cakes x2 £3.60
Tea x2 £2.55
One thing visitors should know about this spot is that it’s very windy. Yes, every day. So when you go, avoid wide-brimmed hats and take your coat even if there’s a heatwave when you start off. The warm weather that Matt and Cat had enjoyed moved on just as they finished exploring the property. By now the wind was whipping up and, appetites whetted, Mat and Cat climbed the steps to the tea room. This little café occupies an observation tower where binoculars and a weather station have been thoughtfully provided.
Although the menu was not extensive, everything was made on the premises. The menu was enhanced from the last time they visited: there was a soup, baguette and cake of the month as well as a daily menu. Alas the much-enjoyed ‘Battery Pie’ from Matt and Cat’s first visit was no longer for sale; they had enjoyed this on-topic austerity food. Cat chose the baguette of the month with its distinctly modern mozzarella and roasted vegetables filling. Matthew had ham and salad baguette.
Perching on the window-side stools, Matt and Cat watched the rain coming in. It lashed at the thick windows; not quite obscuring their view of the Needles however Dorset had by now disappeared. This really was an exceptional view. The former coastguard lookout is quite small and the National Trust has done well in cramming it with seats. If you go there on a busy day you’ll probably find it pretty hard to get in. There are also a few outdoor seats – if you don’t mind being troubled with the wind. To get the optimum experience by eating your lunch in the eyrie position up in the lookout tower, plan your visit for a quieter time.
As the garrulous lady who served them explained, the meals were made on site, to order, and so were perfectly fresh on arrival. Cat’s mozzarella was warm and filling; the vegetables had a nice char-grilled taste to them and the cheese was joyously stringy. Matt was delighted with the copious filling of fresh-cut ham that spilt enticingly out of his baguette – this was certainly a cut above the average.
To wash down their lunches Matt and Cat had tea – and, being in a National Trust property they expected a good cup of tea and were not disappointed. Hot water was not supplied in a jug, but, even better, could be obtained on demand along with extra milk if required. There were no little UHT cartons. None. Not one.
So, feeling as though they were onto a pretty good thing here, M & C elected to sample the home-made cakes which were piled enticingly on the counter. Matt chomped his way through the scrummy millionaire’s shortbread and Cat couldn’t resist the lemon drizzle cake.
So, after four years, how did the Needles Battery tea-room fare? Actually, pretty well. This really is one of the most interesting and enjoyable tea-rooms on the Island. It has a location that is beyond comparison, and also serves up top quality local food and drink with the most delightful service.
Review below published on 14th January 2006
A warm and friendly welcome awaits the intrepid walker at the Needles Old Battery Tea Shop. The Tea Shop is usually only accessible, on foot, to those who have paid to enter the National Trust-owned Old Battery. However, on winter weekends the Old Battery is open between 11:00am and 3:00pm for free (note, this was written in 2006, might not apply in other years), although the Tea Shop is the only indoor facility available.
Matt and Cat hiked to the Old Battery on a mild January afternoon where, in the Tea Shop, they enjoyed a refreshing cup of tea and light refreshments. The promised ‘light lunches’ were perhaps a little overstated – do not go there expecting more than a nice warm snack. However, for a waypoint on a bracing walk you would be hard pressed to beat it.
The tiny tea-room is at the top of a wartime signal station and decorated with ‘Dig for Victory’ posters and the like. Appropriately, Cat’s ‘Battery Pie’ was 1940s-style fare of corned beef topped with mashed potato in a pastry case, served with beans. It was lovely. Matt’s sausage bap was less exotic but just as warming. Delicious home-made cakes were to follow. Although the menu at the Needles Old Battery Tea Shop is pretty limited, the views certainly are not; as well as a spectacular view of the eponymous Needles rocks the vista extends from Purbeck in Dorset to the New Forest in Hampshire – and binoculars on chains are available.
The Old Battery is steeped in history and is certainly worth the hike. As for the Tea Shop, although very small and up a steep flight of stairs it is clean and basic and the staff were very chatty. Well, you would be if you were stuck in a room on the western-most point on the Isle of Wight all day!