Even on the most unprepossessing of days, visitors to the English seaside will seek out crazy golf and a nice cup of tea. The...

Even on the most unprepossessing of days, visitors to the English seaside will seek out crazy golf and a nice cup of tea.

Puckpool

The Island is well-provided with venues for both of these past-times, and it happened one brisk autumnal afternoon that Matt and Cat set off for one of the foremost: Puckpool Tea Gardens at Puckpool Park near Ryde.

This is how it came about. Matt had hurt his back by lifting a particularly heavy pie or something. After a short course of mind-altering painkillers from the doctor he was well on the way to recovery; enough anyway to take a short spin in the afternoon sun. Cat drove him down to Puckpool where she solicitously walked him around the little park before the pair alighted on the café, ready for a light lunch.
Puckpool Tea Gardens is located in one of the old military buildings associated with the old fort. It’s a spacious, high-ceilinged barn of a place, with a delightful tea-garden overlooking the Solent for the sunnier afternoons. Matt and Cat had a very cheery greeting from the lady behind the counter, who soon indicated that hot food was still available – although as it was getting late, a few items were running low. She ran through the options and then, uncannily, looked Matt in the eye and offered something that was not on the menu: home-made cheesy chilli chips. Uncanny, as this was the very dish that had started this whole reviewing lark off. Matt had not eaten his favourite chilli, cheese and chips since it had been taken off the menu at Sainsbury’s, Newport, and his disappointment had been a major factor in deciding to write that very first review. It was impossible to refuse, and Matt didn’t even bother looking at the rest of the menu. Cat took her more usual considered approach, and ordered an off-menu breakfast variation which the friendly lady was more than happy to accommodate.

The Expansion of Stuff

M & C took their mugs of tea and wandered into the main body of the café. It was a very curious place, and immediately made Matt mindful of the general phenomenon he has christened ‘The Expansion of Stuff’. C. Northcote Parkinson famously postulated that work expands so as to fill the time available. The same is true of stuff – and if you are lucky enough to have a large building or shed you can be sure that unless you are vigilant, by some kind of social osmosis it will become packed to the rafters with large and unwieldy objects that friends, family and passers-by have nowhere else to store. Worse still is when they present said unwieldy objects to you as well-meaning gifts, leaving you, the recipient, under an obligation to keep them long enough not to appear ungrateful. By this means the most tidy and prudent occupier can soon find himself in charge of a teetering mountain of purposeless junk which he is unable to dispose of. There’s no suggestion that the Puckpool Tea Gardens suffers from this problem – indeed, it’s quite possible that the eclectic assemblage of furniture and other objects that fills much of the large tearoom is carefully calculated to give an atmosphere of homely disorder. Regardless, Matt and Cat had no trouble finding a seat where they could overlook the flowerbeds and the crazy golf course. Had they wished to look at a large, empty fish-tank, a pile of chairs or a huge blank TV screen they could have done that too.

Matt and Cat’s bill
Cheesy chilli chips £3.00
Egg on toast £2.50
Extra mushrooms £0.70
2 x tea £1.70

The food, on arrival, looked just right. Matt’s cheesy chilli and chips was, if anything, better than Sainsbury’s effort; with a healthy dollop of what could only be home-made chilli sauce in the middle, and the appropriate layers of cheese and hot chips underneath. It certainly pleased Matt, who washed it down with his mug of tea and declared himself most satisfied. Cat’s breakfast was exactly as she requested, a nice fluffy scrambled egg, a modest pile of freshly fried mushrooms and hot buttered toast – which similarly hit the spot. Café food doesn’t have to be exceptional to be good – sometimes just delivering the right thing well done is exactly what’s required to refresh the diner before they pass on their way. Puckpool Tea Gardens fulfilled this role very well, and Matt and Cat made their slow way out into the sunny afternoon well satisfied.

Disclosure: Matt has a professional involvement in the management of the surrounding park – but is not connected to the management of the tea gardens.

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  • Amanda

    3rd September 2010 #1 Author

    I have eaten at the Puckpool tea gardens on many occasions all year round and have never once been unsatisfied with the food or service I have received. As a great lover of Italian food I was excited to try the stone baked homemade pizzas on offer, I asked for a Hawaiian pizza which was not on the menu the staff were happy to oblige, my friends had a seafood pizza and a spicy meat pizza and they were exceptional. On other occasions I have had the homemade lasagne and fishcakes which are also delicious. I am shocked to read the above review claiming that the food was disappointing and that there were ‘chavs’ watching the TV! What a pointless and judgemental statement to make, can ‘chavs’ not go into cafes to eat and watch TV? I have always found the cafe busy with a variety of different customers eating. And Olivios is an Italian restaurant so if you ‘don’t know why you bother?’ then why bother? Puckpool is a cafe not an Italian restaurant. I have also eaten at Olivios and found the pizzas at Puckpool surprisingly tastier and the staff more helpful. I cannot end my review without adding that this cafe has the best homemade chocolate brownies known to man! They are a must!

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  • D

    9th November 2009 #2 Author

    Further to the comments above I feel I should mention a thing or too about the shambolic state of affairs should you decide to have a proper meal here. I’ve had a chequered relationship with Puckpool Tea Gardens over the years. Not a lot of people know that they also do a pizza delivery service under the name of Pucka Pizzas – unfortunately they provide this as an unusual seasonal service – I’ve never quite managed to work out when they are open and when they’re not – it really does seem to be pot luck and the answerphone doesn’t explain things either. The pizza’s themselves are quite authentically made but not a patch on a pizza from Olivo’s.

    Cr*p.

    It really makes you wonder why you bother! Anyways, one day after a nice late afternoon stroll along Ryde seafront with my wife and baby daughter we decided to pop in, find out if they were offering pizza that day and if so, eat some! First mistake. My wife and I chose our pizzas and I went to the counter to order. Second mistake. They had run out of tomato sauce. Yes – they are open as a pizza restaurant and they had run out the tomato sauce you need on 95% of all pizzas. My thoughts were that surely the chef could cook some but obviously not. Stomach’s grumbling we ordered a bacon and cream pizza which was what it was – a pizza covered in lardy bacon, cream and cheese. My heart could barely cope with the strain on my organs! Alongside this we ordered some garlic bread (not on the menu strangely). Third mistake. The girl at the counter had to go and ask the chef if this was possible – no joke! When it arrived it was a warm cheese and garlic butter filled baguette – an odd way to serve it. Apart from some chavs watching the telly (I wondered what the purpose of that was) there was only one other table of people eating (no surprise). All four of these people ordered steak to be told they could only have one. The other 3 people had fish and chips. So what you’ve got is the strange concept of a restaurant filled with fading beach-goods, a pizza chef who can’t make tomato sauce and has no concept of garlic bread – no food and chavs watching a giant telly. Cr*p.

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