There are a few things about living on the Isle of Wight so axiomatic that Island residents will be bemused to even hear them discussed. Taxis are one. You never, ever take a taxi on the Island unless someone else is paying. As everyone knows, they are fearfully expensive and inefficient. Well, to be fair they may or may not be expensive and inefficient, but as nobody who lives here has ever been in one it’s hard to say. Quite possibly the Island has the world’s best value taxi firms, but we’d never find out. Isle of Wight Pearl is another. Wildly popular with coach parties, this mysterious building is terra incognita to Islanders. It could be the finest entertainment on earth – or not. We have no idea what goes on in there or why.
So, what else? Food on the ferries. Ah, yes. From early childhood, Island children are told ‘No, you can’t have any sweets/drinks/cakes/chips etc’ as a regular part of their trips on the ferry. This stricture carries on into adulthood. Snacks, maybe, but few Islanders will willingly eat a full meal on the ferry, on the assumption, passed down from father to son, that the food will be of such extraordinarily high price and low quality that the experience might prove fatal.
Recently, Matt and junior reviewers Bill and Jack found themselves travelling homewards with some friends. It came about that the party were eventually in the position of having to put ferry fodder to the test. A long drive back was delayed to such an extent that the only chance of getting on the boat in a timely fashion was to eat dinner on board. Various increasingly unlikely scenarios were devised to attempt to avoid this, but the practicality of arranging pizza delivery in the marshalling-yard having defeated them, Matt and party finally bowed to the inevitable and prepared to be fleeced. Did Red Funnel rise to the occasion, or did the shipboard supper sink without a trace? Read on to find out.
Red Funnel car ferries have christened their on-board canteens “ReFuel, the foodstation”. Alongside this rather strained branding the nauseating green logo really does have the look of a petrol station about it. Why on earth this is considered a style worthy of emulation is difficult to say. So with low expectations Matt, Bill and Jack, the weary travellers, passed this sign and queued up to approach the serveries. As it was getting late in the evening, after what must have been a hellishly busy day, one might have expected the canteen to look rather the worse for wear. But far from it. Chirpy serving staff were standing ready by the gleaming trays, obviously used to facing the dazed and confused across the hotplates.
Chilli and rice £6.50
Steak and ale pie and chips £5.10
Chicken and ham pie and chips £5.10
2 bottles of 7-up £3.00
1 bottle fruit-shoot £1.30
The lads both went for pie and chips, the choices being steak & ale pie or chicken & ham. In the spirit of true reviewers they went for one of each, to make optimal comparisons. Matt was tempted by the beef lasagne, chicken tikka masala, or maybe even fish and chips. All were there ready to be eaten, but Matt picked the one thing that wasn’t: chilli and rice. Despite a long queue the servery staff accommodated the situation well. The ravenous Bill and Jack were waved through, and Matt was asked to wait for a moment whilst some fresh rice was warmed up. This he did, allowing other customers to be served. Before long a pile of hot steaming rice emerged from the hatch behind the servery, and the chilli was added before Matt finally took his dinner and passed along to the till. This kind of transaction was obviously not uncommon, and the way the staff managed to shepherd their customers about politely was impressive – and meant that everyone got served fairly quickly. When Matt arrived to pay there was another good bit of service. The observant young lady at the till had not only noted what Bill and Jack had on their trays, but worked out the price; without prompting associated them with the chap loitering by the chilli dish; let them through without paying; and had Matt’s total bill ready for him as he arrived having dealt with a dozen or so other customers in between. Matt was pleased, and then when he came to pay was even more impressed. The promised pain did not materialise. This was actually not too expensive. Certainly cheaper than a motorway services, for example. Maybe the food would turn out to be palatable, too?
So it transpired. Now, let’s not get carried away here. This was basic food – and maybe the canteen is called ‘ReFuel’ for a reason. These three boys were ravenous, it was late in the evening, with no prospect of any other food whatsoever. So they were hardly the most discerning of customers. But both Bill and Jack were more than pleased with their simple but satisfying pies; and Matt could find no fault with the chilli and rice. It even came garnished with a handful of tortilla chips. Basic food maybe, but it was good enough, and the three diners were pleased with it. One could quibble maybe, with the unannounced 5p charge for every sachet of sauce taken. But actually, despite this, the price overall was pretty reasonable given the convenience.
So, it turns out that poor food on the ferries is just an urban myth. It’s not that bad. And it’s not that expensive, either. And if you do give it a go, why not try a taxi home, too?
Red Funnel, Southampton-East Cowes