Shanklin is a town of two halves; the touristy Old Village with its picture-postcard thatches and tea shoppes and the more utilitarian Regent Street/High Street conglomeration.
On the northern approaches there are a few hotels and the occasional peripheral eatery and it was at this outer edge that Matt and Cat found themselves one Saturday tea time.
Banging on the locked door of Saffrons to no avail, Matt and Cat loped up the road to the Plough and Barleycorn, tempted by its proclamations of ‘great food’ and, because they had a nipper in tow – junior reviewer Bill – the promise of ‘family dining’. Stepping up to the entrance, Cat was again was faced with a locked door. Determined to eat something somewhere, she and the two chaps tried the side entrance with more success. At the bar a cheery fellow greeted the trio and advised them that food was, indeed, available. Hopefully they would have success this time…
The three of them had built up quite an appetite fossil hunting at the foot of Culver and Redcliff. Matt had taken on the role of Health and Safety monitor, shooing his charges away from the cliff’s base as tiny pebbles trickled down its sheer face, dislodged by birds. Amongst the smooth stones and crumbling bits of chalk, Cat had found a giant ammonite and Bill had carried this vast fossil back to Yaverland, alternating arms as he went. After this productive adventure they all deserved a hearty tea.
Having never been in the Plough and Barleycorn before its new owners took charge, it is not possible for Matt and Cat to say how it has changed, if at all. The building looked quite old from the outside and there were a few hints to Shanklin’s past inside, including a nice selection of postcards but otherwise it was a little bland, albeit new and clean, looking like it had just been refurbished. For those who enjoy family dining there were identified areas in the pub specifically for families and also, for the less kiddie-inclined, child-free zones. Matt and Cat didn’t notice this segregation until they had sat with teenager Bill in the adult-only area. However, he promised not to yell, throw food or run screaming around the other diners so they stayed put without any hard stares.
Steak & ale pie £4.95
Chicken & mushroom pie £4.95
Surf & turf £9.95
The Plough and Barleycorn has a small menu with some pub grub standards: pie and chips, various steaks, lasagne and a couple of curries. Cat chose chicken and mushroom pie and chips, Matt ordered surf and turf and Bill requested steak and ale pie and chips. Cat was advised of a twenty minute wait as she ordered the food but they were in no hurry. Somehow, a wait seems so much more acceptable when you’ve been warned about it.
They sat and listened to the piped muzak and the squealing and banging from the family room. They chatted about the geology of the Isle of Wight and the concept of the ‘sleepover’, a phenomenon not invented when Cat was a a lass. Bill talked of high scores. Normally at this point a bit of eavesdropping provides material for M & C to insert into reviews, but not this time. The five occupants at the other table stared into space; they must have had a busy day.
The Plough and Barleycorn is making a stab at the family pub market, and this is quite courageous given that it has hardly any car park and requires diners to walk 100 metres or so to get to the front door – anathema to many of today’s car-bound families. It would be good for it to succeed, although it’s a bit early to say if it will. Look out for a drift downmarket if it starts turning into a sports bar or vertical-drinking establishment in the off-season – but at present there is little sign of either.
The food arrived. The pies were both served with chips and mixed vegetables. Cat’s chicken and mushroom pie had a nice home-made look about it and was really chock full o’ meat. The mushrooms, too, were clearly identifiable, not just a mushy gesture. It tasted good too. The chips were nice and chunky and, because the dish was served with gravy there was no need for Cat’s favoured twin chip lubricants of ketchup and mayonnaise.
Bill reported similarly satisfactory pie-pleasure on the steak-and-ale front, and his pie came with some decent chunks of meat in it and plenty of gravy. Matt’s surf and turf was a meal with two aspects, as the name might suggest. Five little breaded scampi fragments just about made up the surf contingent, but were very much outshone by an excellent bit of rump steak, although it wasn’t quite as rare as requested.
All meals were eaten with pleasure: this was a decent, pub feed. The Plough and Barleycorn was unremarkable, but satisfactory. The basic pie meals were very good value, and this is the area where the Plough and Barleycorn will probably always do well. The footsore geologists were soon refreshed and ready to set off for more adventures.