Update: Matt and Cat revisited the Pilot Boat Inn in 2010. Had their opinion of this friendly pub changed? Read the original review below this update.
For a change of scene, Matt and Cat decided to cast their net wider than their usual haunts for a Monday evening supper. For once deciding to try something out of their Ryde comfort zone, they headed west to Bembridge and the twinkling lights of the Pilot Boat Inn.
Last time they went to this distinctive establishment, M and C were verily impressed with the excellent food and friendly service. And, so it seemed, were plenty of other people as the restaurant was packed and some of the dishes had even sold out. This time however, there was no need for the reviewing duo to worry about being squeezed out as the bar was undeservedly empty, apart from a few supping locals.
Peering at the range of specials and then at the bar menu, then back and forth between the two, Cat was surprised to see two different prices for the same food. This anomaly was quickly explained by the friendly and patient barmaid. Apparently on Monday night all specials are the purse-charming price of £6.50. A decent choice of dishes was available including locally-caught skate wing with parsley butter sauce, mash, greens and cherry tomatoes, and spiced Moroccan lamb with cous-cous. It was the fillet steak that caught Cat’s eye; would it be a nouvelle cuisine-style gesture of microscopic proportions or a decent-sized meal? Who on earth wouldn’t wrest open their tightly-snapped clasp for such a bargain price? Certainly not The Cat, whose tiny leopard-print purse was already agape. Matthew decided to choose from the standard menu. Although tempted by the Isle of Wight pork sausage, mash, veg and gravy he decided to default to the Pilot Boat burger with salsa.
Pilot Boat burger £8.95
8oz fillet steak £6.50
Stilton sauce £1.50
Chocolate torte £3.95
1pt London Pride £2.90
2 x coffee £2.80
Last time that Matt and Cat went to the Pilot Boat Inn it was still legal to smoke indoors. What a pleasure it was not to have to endure the suicidal puffings of the fag-chuggers. The restaurant was nice and clean, like its air, and M and C settled at a table by the side entrance, delighted to see their ‘recommended by Matt and Cat’ sticker in pride of place on the door.
As all of the dishes are cooked to order there was a bit of a wait for Matt and Cat’s meals but nothing that a bit of idle speculation about the impending Hantsweb Awards couldn’t fill. And it was certainly worth the wait. Cat was amazed by her steak; it may have been a budget price but it was not a meagre portion. A vast slab of the finest meat – chargrilled to perfection – was served with a massive pile of steak-cut chips and accompanying salad. No pitiful garnish, this was a fully-fledged foliage-fest: mixed peppers, leaves, tomatoes and cucumber dressed with honey and mustard. A schooner of melted Stilton came alongside and there was plenty for both Matt and Cat to smother their meals in this delicious tangy cheese sauce.
Matthew’s burger was good and meaty; it came in a nice fresh wholemeal bun, and half a plateful of skinny fries. The salsa had fresh tomato in it, suggesting that it wasn’t straight out of the jar. Like Cat’s dish, it came with a generous salad and was overall a superior burger.
Although M and C had decided to clear off after they had guzzled down their meals, the canny barmaid offered them the puddings board ‘just to look at’. Cat made protestations of having reached her capacity but Matthew had spotted white chocolate torte on the little blackboard and didn’t take any persuading. Along with two coffees, this dessert rounded off an excellent meal. The delightfully sweet torte was outstanding and enhanced with chunks of white chocolate. Cat burst out laughing when she saw the beatific smile on her companion’s face as he shovelled in the sweet. This particular expression of Matt’s is usually reserved for an undefeated high score on Team Fortress II or overindulgence at a particularly fine cheeseboard.
Satisfyingly the standards at the Pilot Boat Inn have not diminished in the three years since M and C’s first visit. The comments made by this website’s visitors give consistently positive feedback about this great venue. Matt and Cat do not intend to leave it so long next time. Definitely recommended and upgraded to ‘we love’!
Original review posted 7 May 2007
The Pilot Boat Inn is a very distinctive building from outside, looking, oddly enough, rather like a boat. Converted in this whimsical way in 1935, it now stands prominently on the end of the causeway that leads over scenic Bembridge Harbour to nearby St Helens.
One warm evening, Matt and Cat drew up the little unmade road that the Pilot Boat sits in. Parking with a little difficulty, they nevertheless soon found their way to the side door of this intriguing-looking pub. Once inside they had to negotiate their way through a rather tortuous path: up steps, through parked buggies and around the well-packed tables of the diners within. The porthole design of the windows has had the effect of limiting the view of, and daylight from, the outside world, making the pub feel a bit like a gloomy barn inside, despite great effort obviously having been expended on the stylish interior.
Oddly, one end of the pub was jammed to bursting point with dining families, whilst the large bar area was deserted. It soon became obvious why when Matt and Cat reached the bar and found that the no smoking area was the busy end of the pub, whilst the sizeable smoking part, occupied by one man making the most of his legal right to smoke indoors (until 1 July) was obviously not favoured by the diners. With a little manoeuvring, M & C secured a small table at the edge of the smoke-free exclusion zone and studied the menu. It turned out that it was an evening for special offers, and there were some mouth-watering specials for a paltry £6 each, including steak! M & C eagerly selected from this line only to pretty quickly discover that the specials are strictly limited in number; all were sold out despite it being quite early in the evening. But frankly, for £6, you can’t complain. Perhaps that was why it was so busy, as all the locals come come in early to get the specials.
After some further analysis of the more normally-priced items on the main menu Matt selected the Pilot Boat Burger, without any particularly high expectations, and Cat uncharacteristically eschewed chicken and went for a vegetarian tagliatelle dish with seasonal asparagus, spinach, mushrooms and parmesan.
When the meals arrived both were impressed by the well-presented and appetising-looking food. Cat’s tagliatelle was excellent, its exceptionally creamy sauce a rich medium for the fresh vegetables. Generous shavings of parmesan cheese added a tang to the dish and it made for a delicious, if artery-busting, meal.
Matt was bowled over by one of the best burgers he had ever eaten. Expecting generic burger and chips, and feeling a little resentful of the £9 price tag (having been lured by the £6 specials), he was expecting little. How wrong he was.
A huge, home-made juicy burger nestled in a fresh wholemeal bap, smelling delightful. Fragrant red onion pieces were inside, giving a rich onion flavour without any of the nasty after-taste that cheap burgers with onion are prone to. Having chosen Stilton from the wide choice of sauces, Matt was delighted to see that this turned out to be a decent slice of real Stilton, which was perfectly melted and oozed enticingly from the bun. Plenty of standard chips and a hearty salad complemented this masterpiece. If the chips had been home-made it would have truly been the epitome of what a burger could be. As it was, it was well worth the £9.
This quirky-looking venue is actually a pretty good food pub on the inside. Matt and Cat were surprised and delighted by the excellent food, and the Pilot Boat is recommended. Perhaps next time they will get there in time to see if the £6 specials are as good!