There are a few things about living on the Isle of Wight so axiomatic that Island residents will be bemused to even hear them...

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.

ReFuel, the foodstation

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.

Red Funnel food
Matt and boys’ bill
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
Sauces £0.15
Total: £21.15

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?

Chilli and rice

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

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  • Robyn

    4th July 2013 #1 Author

    I travel on Calmac Hebridean ferries & Red Funnel most years. Previously Calmac had the edge on Red Funnel both on price & quality. However Calmac prices have gone up the past 2 years but it looks like RedFunnel are now more reasonable. Meals on both recently I think Red Funnel definitely had the edge. I had fish & chips on Red Funnel and really enjoyed it. Freshly cooked, helpful staff.
    Last Fish & chips on Calmac was definitely on the soggy side and a bit overpriced. I’ll be able to compared cooked breakfast on Red Funnel soon with one I had on CalMac recently

    Reply

  • John & Hilary Woodhouse

    7th March 2012 #2 Author

    As previously reported we regularly partake of fish & chips on the lunch time sailing & will be doing so again this morning. Using our season ticket we get a discount. We think quality for price is just the job – we are not there for fine dining, just honest freshly prepared grub!

    Reply

  • PAUL MULLERY

    6th March 2012 #3 Author

    Years ago Red Funnel food was on the expensive side but lately it isn’t bad value. I have always liked their sausages as they are the only ones I have tried with decent skins instead of the plastic stuff you often find.

    Reply

  • peter jones

    6th March 2012 #4 Author

    I Myself being a fairly Famous person ate aboard the red funnel ferry last week and must say the food was disgusting and there was nothing wholesome about it, staff were friendly but then i suppose they have to be nice?? the food looked dry and off, very outdated and very odd looking

    Reply

  • John Woodhouse

    26th June 2011 #5 Author

    We travel monthly & invariably have lunch which continues to be value for money with friendly service. Last week fish pie had been substituted for fish & was perfectly acceptable. In addition the sauces now appear to be free – Neil please note!

    Matt and Cat respond: that’s excellent news, free sauce! We’ve now tried this food several times since our review, and Red Funnel does seem to be pleasingly consistent in its quality and service.

    Reply

  • Nick Churchill

    2nd June 2011 #6 Author

    As promised…we travelled on the 7.30pm ferry last Friday and decided to eat on the ferry. I have to say that the food was very good, I had Fish, Chips and Beans, Alex, my son, had Sausage roll, chips and beans.

    Both meals were hot, good portion sizes and reasonably priced. Including 2 soft drinks it came to a shade over £13!

    And the lady serving was cheerful and welcoming as well, she didn’t even lose her smile when some bloke barged past looking for coffee and knocked all the cups over! Now that was impressive (and no the ignorant twit didn’t even apologise!)

    Reply

  • roger

    18th May 2011 #7 Author

    i must say we travelled last summer and was shocked how much prices have gone up . moved away 5 yrs ago now live in london seems cheaper here

    Reply

  • Nick Churchill

    18th May 2011 #8 Author

    Suspect we may be eating on the Spton to Cowes run next week so will report back on how the quality has fared then 🙂

    Reply

  • Alexander

    11th February 2010 #9 Author

    Re Fuel is an appropriate name as mentioned in the article. It is ok and convenient but Jamie Oliver would cry at its beigeness…with an Island full of awesome produce I have never seen anything green or organic on display.
    Some decent veg would make the experience much better but then I guess that it would quickly become dry and overcooked under those heat lamps.
    The whole experience is indeed like sitting on a floating motorway service station.
    Its an opportunity missed. But Im sure it is a very profitable venture. Which is a fact of life with catering. The better the food, the smaller the profuit margin unless you have michelin stars. Shame.

    I also agree that selling newspapers on board would go some way to making up for this!

    Top tip: travel at night and the pastries at Steam are reduced to almost nothing. Brilliant with their excellent coffee. Also the tea is much better value at Steam – at Re Fuel you get a dribble for £1.10 but steam does a huge cup for £1.50

    Reply

  • Neil (local)

    1st December 2009 #10 Author

    Free sauce John & Hil!

    Reply

  • John & Hil

    29th November 2009 #11 Author

    We have had several meals on the S’ton to East Cowes ferry.

    I concur with the comments above. The food is good & wholesome, not expensive, and the staff invariably friendly & efficient. What more could one want?

    Reply

  • ACW

    20th August 2009 #12 Author

    Suggest you ‘park’ them in the Sloop for a week next time you are over here!

    Reply

  • Norfolk Nick

    19th August 2009 #13 Author

    No they don’t & its costing me a fortune!

    It’s really annoying when their grandparents keep saying to me how thin the kids look & are they eating enough!

    Reply

  • ACW

    19th August 2009 #14 Author

    Rather interested to learn if Norfolk Nick’s ‘kids’ ever stop eating!

    Reply

  • Norfolk Nick

    19th August 2009 #15 Author

    After an aborted attempt to grab a burger from the SHORESIDE CAFÉ on the beach front at East Cowes (the smell of old grease wafting from the fat stained hotplate just made us all feel rather ill) we decided, that due to the lack of time, the kids would dine on board the ferry.

    I ordered two childrens fish, chips, beans & Robinson Fruit Shoot meals – £4.00 each.

    Not sure if the fish was cod, but it was delicious & the portion size good for a childs meal.

    Will definitely each here again.

    Reply

  • Mark

    12th June 2009 #16 Author

    Often travel to the Island in the early morning with Red Funnel and you can’t beat a full English and their fab Steam Coffee – agree with Wendy all that’s missing is newspapers.

    Reply

  • Bushy

    11th June 2009 #17 Author

    I think you’re being a bit harsh on the local taxis. As regular ‘diners-out’ who like a glass of wine with our grub, we make regular use of taxis on the island, and compared with other places where we have lived or visited they are generally easy to book and reasonably priced. Just try getting a taxi in mid Devon – only one company with two cars serving a 20-mile radius!

    Reply

  • kj

    10th June 2009 #18 Author

    As a fairly regular traveller with the kids, eating on the ferry has become a habit and overall we have been very pleased with the standard and price of the offered wares, even to the point of wandering off menu to have a toasted bacon sandwich which the staff all took in their stride.

    Reply

  • Neil (local)

    1st June 2009 #19 Author

    I partly agree with the above in that the food is ‘reasonable’ but at the price (when you consider the price of your ticket)of say a breakfast (£6.50) should surely include sauce?

    Reply

  • Wendy

    1st June 2009 #20 Author

    Agree with you. I’ve had the hot meals on the E. Cowes to Southampton route often and found the veggie options rather tasty. And the counter service helpful and efficient, too – just as you’ve described.

    I wish they’d start selling newspapers on board again to make the crossing even more civilised.

    Reply