Winter draws on, as they say. Back in the distant past, the Isle of Wight practically rolled up the pavements in autumn. The holiday season was bookended by Easter and October half-term; outside of these months was the hinter-winterland of grey skies and a sluggish anticipation of the return of the sun.
Not any more though. These days official tourism body Visit Isle of Wight is championing what are called in the trade the ‘shoulder months’. Traditionally some of the more touristy venues would close for the winter while their owners spent their hard-earned in sunnier climes. However there is a hardier lot in town who realise the value of the out-of-season dollar. This is great news for residents; it means that we have a choice of places at which to pop out for a nice cuppa before it gets dark at four o’clock.
One of our favourite places to visit in winter is Quarr Abbey Tea Garden. Naturally it’s quite the summer draw – a fabulous place to take the family for a light lunch and interaction with the abbey’s very free-range chickens. But don’t dismiss its winter appeal.
For a start, Quarr Abbey is on the newly-upgraded Newport to Ryde cycle track. This path runs pretty much parallel to the coast and makes a pleasant walk or ride from either end. We took a stroll from Ryde, past the pier, through the golf course and underneath the saucy statue at Holy Cross Church Binstead. Finally our walk took us past the house that was on Grand Designs, the ruins of the old abbey and into the new abbey tea garden. For casual walkers like us it’s quite the delightful stroll. Dog owners among you may be familiar with this route, and may also already know that Quarr Abbey Tea Garden is pooch-friendly.
In the summer the tea garden is quite the sun-trap but, if you want more privacy than on the lawn, there are little arbours in which you can sit. We managed to get there at the tail-end of the warm autumn days, but in the winter the cafe is pretty cosy with its wood-burning stove.
At first glance the menu seems to be pretty standard; light lunches of sarnies, soup and home-made cakes. Matt nabbed a table in the sun while Cat popped into the wooden cafe and gave the order at the counter. The abbey has a few specials including sandwich of the day, but you have to be quick to get a look in for that.
Out in the garden Matt had made a friend of one of the cheeky chickens, plus a robin, which at one point perched on the back of Cat’s chair whistling for crumbs. The garden was pretty full; children chased the chickens, dogs begged for scraps and, at the table next door, a girl was making a hen leap for crusts. The bird stretched its scraggy neck towards the tantalisingly out-of-reach morsel then jumped and pecked, to the delight of the girl and Cat, who laughed as she watched this ridiculous performance.
When the sarnies arrived, plus the china teapot with all the trimmings, we briefly considered feeding our lunches to the voracious birds, but decided that they seemed well-catered for.
Cat had tuna mayonnaise. To be honest, it would be hard to go wrong with this classic filling and Quarr didn’t disappoint. Cat’s choice of thick white sliced was suitably soft and spongy, with plenty of moist filling. Matt had BLT in seeded bread. The bacon was plentiful and warm; the sliced bread was fresh and thick. It hit the spot.
Both sarnies were served with a handful of ready salted crisps and a small salad of mixed leaves, red onion and sweet cherry tomatoes. Neither of us care for raw onion but we soon found a home for it. The patient chicken by Cat’s side finally got something worth waiting for, as we fed it pieces of the onion, which it snaffled up. If only we had some sage too!
We finished off our lunch with a pot of tea. This was an excellent cuppa as God intended (or at least the monks), but it’s amazing how many other places fail to make tea in the correct English way. Yes, there is always a place for a bag in a cup, however leaves OUTSIDE of the pot with a load of waffle about exact timings is too pretentious and makes for a lousy cuppa. And yes, we have been served it like that.
Sandwiches and tea for two £14.60
Sandwiches eaten, tea drunk and chicken departed to beg at another table once our plates were empty, we reflected on our lunch at Quarr Abbey. This peaceful garden and cafe has really found its place in the countryside tea gardens oeuvre. Plenty of parking, decent toilets and accessible facilities make it ideal for families of mixed generations. Being on a popular walking and cycling route should keep the visitors coming in winter too.
As we left we went to see the pigs in the old orchard next door. Matt speculated about how local the bacon in his sandwich was and Cat wondered how long it would be until chicken would be on the menu…
This is the full-length version of the review that first appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Secluded venue - with free parking
- Freshly-made food to order and plenty of cakes
- Lovely garden in a fabulous setting
- Dogs welcome
- Sometimes run out of specials