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