The fortunes of Nettlestone’s Roadside Inn have been up and down like a bride’s nightie. Matt and Cat first visited in 2007 and, after...

The fortunes of Nettlestone’s Roadside Inn have been up and down like a bride’s nightie. Matt and Cat first visited in 2007 and, after hearing that things had changed, took another look in June 2010. You can read what they concluded here. The original review from October 2007 is below.

June 2010

Asparagus and bacon

Matt and Cat were delighted when they first visited the Roadside Inn. This big pub offered an intimate and friendly dining experience, with excellent home-made food. However, Matt and Cat are always attentive to the comments that appear beneath their reviews, and noticed from those same comments that the pub has undergone several changes of personnel. One commenter even suggested that the pub’s review should be downgraded from Matt and Cat’s prestigious ‘we love’ category. Is Bushy right to demand a recount? Matt and Cat went to find out for themselves.

Fish and chips

When they first went to the Roadside Inn, Matt and Cat were enticed through the door by its cosy charm and roaring fire – very welcome on that blustery night. Their latest visit was at the height of the summer and the windows still had a warm glow, this time from the rays of the setting sun. This solar incandescence lit up the pub and Matt and Cat enjoyed its warmth as they entered the bar.

New potatoes

The place was busy with a noisy group drinking and chatting; celebrating one of their number’s birthday. It seemed that none of the lively informality of 2007 had gone. However, once Matt and Cat had given their food order at the bar and were seated with their drinks, this gabbling gaggle left leaving M&C to enjoy the buzz of the vuvuzelas from the TV. This sound, which will be forever associated with the 2010 World Cup, was at times drowned out by intermittent rock music; the bar speakers were playing a curious stop-start medley that sounded like Norman Collier DJing Aerosmith, with epilepsy.

Matt and Cat’s bill
Isle of Wight beer-battered fish: £5.50
Asparagus in cream sauce: £6.95
Golden syrup pudding: £3.50
Drinks: £4.55
Total: £20.50
Golden syrup sponge pudding

It was while sat at the table reading the menu that Matt and Cat discovered that the Roadside Inn is associated with Ryde’s King Lud. This made sense, and actually, there are clear similarities between the two pubs.

With a moderate amount of delay, punctuated by the monotonous stadium horns and the occasional fragmented blast of rock, Matt and Cat’s dinners arrived. Laid carefully on the table mats with a flourish both dishes looked pretty good at first glance, illuminated by the evening sun. From the ‘summer menu’, Matt chose Isle of Wight beer-battered fish and chips with peas. Cat’s choice was from the specials board: bacon-wrapped asparagus in cream sauce on lettuce with new potatoes.

Matt’s fish and chips was a classic dish that could have been served up, unchanged, at a Little Chef in 1975. A pile of peas; good, piping-hot chips, and a wedge of lemon. It was an enjoyable meal – at a very reasonable price – but didn’t seem to be what was advertised as it neither seemed beery nor looked like it was locally produced.

Cat’s dinner was an attractive dish with plenty of greenery. However, her first stab at the asparagus was met with some resistance. The woody stalk could not be cut with a knife so Cat doubted that her teeth would penetrate the stringy shoots. Further up the stem the vegetable was soft and pleasant and she pushed the cream-soaked tip into her eager mouth. The bacon, although a bit flaccid-looking and with more fat on it than she cared for, was tasty. The bed of lettuce was an unusual touch. It could have so easily gone wrong; lettuce does not like to be warmed. Often on the application of heat it will go soggy and unmanageable – like Matt’s hair in the rain. The lettuce at the Roadside Inn was made of sterner stuff and maintained its shape, texture and flavour throughout the meal.

Which leads us on the new potatoes. Just look at them. They put Cat in mind of the effects of time on GMTV’s ‘Dishy’ Doctor Hilary Jones. Starting off young and fresh, pert and tasty, time has rendered both the TV medic and the potatoes grizzled and grey, with loose and wrinkled skin. Dr Hilary has years left in him but the potatoes should have been retired long before they were served up to Cat. So disappointed was she by the state of the spuds that she made a comment to the barman when he collected the plates. He made no reply, just took the potato-burdened plate away. “Still,” consoled Matt with a hint of sarcasm, once the barman was out of earshot, “At least you got a nice apology”.

It always amazes Matt and Cat that there is a strange breed of people who choose to do front-facing jobs, like running a pub, yet hesitate when it comes to speaking with their customers. A case in point was at the St Helens Restaurant. The service was ok but, particularly as they were the only customers, M&C found the waiter unengaging to the point of diffidence. Similarly, the barman at the Roadside Inn had nothing to say about Cat’s comment on the woeful potatoes. Not even “What do you expect for a fiver?”. It would have been so easy for a simple acknowledgement and maybe an offer of something else to make Cat happy. But as it was, the poor potato experience was made all the worse by the lack of response.

Matt, rosy with nostalgia about the excellent puddings that they had eaten on their first visit decided to give the Roadside Inn the chance to redeem itself. He ordered Golden Syrup sponge with custard and another half of Yates’ to help it on its way. The pudding came in its own little ceramic bowl, which needed to be inverted before eating (Matt managed this with a little difficulty as it was scorchingly hot). A small jug of very good custard went alongside. Matt had no reason to believe that the pud wasn’t home-made this time, and even Cat nibbled on a spoonful of what turned out to be a decent dessert. A creditable recovery for the Roadside, although only a faint echo of the magnificent sweets of 2007.

The sentiment behind the Roadside Inn is laudable: a sociable community pub in a great little village with a well-stocked bar, good beer and rock-bottom prices. However, Matt and Cat’s interest lies in the pub’s food which, along with the service, was flawed. With a bit of attention to detail – perhaps some fresher ingredients and a bit of staff training – this pub could tempt visitors from outside the village.

Note: This review has been edited since its original publication to improve clarity. As we say in our FAQ, we only rate a venue on how good it is as a place to eat. We no longer rank the Roadside Inn as ‘we don’t like’, preferring to reserve judgement.

Review from October 2007

Steak at the Roadside Inn

After a particularly poor meal out earlier in the week Matt and Cat were feeling disillusioned. Was all this eating out malarkey worth it? Should they just go home and have a Pot Noodle like everyone else? With such maudlin thoughts running through their minds they decided to strike out more or less at random, and give the Island’s eating-places a chance to redeem themselves.

In such a mood they rolled up on a blustery and rainy evening at The Roadside Inn, Nettlestone – expecting little. By the time they left, they were reeling with delight at one of the best pub dining experiences they have enjoyed this year. Read on to discover how their heavy hearts were lifted.

Here was the first positive thing for your reviewers: a chalk-board outside the Roadside Inn proclaimed that Tuesday night was steak night, and the offer of the day was two rump steak meals for £12. With Cat’s new-found enthusiasm for tearing at bloody flesh with her bare teeth such an offer was irresistible. In went Matt and Cat, still thinking of a fairly tired suburban pub. They were pleasantly surprised by what they found. Fresh, clean and spacious but still clearly a characterful pub, with a pool table and proper bar complete with gossiping locals, the Roadside Inn is laid out with a big lounge area and small separate restaurant. Matt and Cat peered vaguely into the restaurant and were admiring the well-set out tables with linen cloths, candles and plenty of room, when a friendly waitress arrived, greeted and seated them, whilst taking a drinks order. No ‘remember your table number’ here: this was proper waitress service.

Already decided on their rump steak special, Matt and Cat took only a cursory glance at the immaculately-presented menus. Plenty of interesting meals were there as well as old favourites. With the wide range of specials, meals on offer included chorizo carbonara, sea bass, chicken supreme, and rabbit stew. What’s more, the prices were pretty reasonable. But the siren call of steak was irresistible – and at £6 per head, almost impossible to refuse. Two rare steaks were ordered, and almost immediately delivered. Cat said, awestruck “That’s as fast as the Hong Kong Express!” – a byword for uncannily quick service.

The steaks looked great and were a decent size, seared and piping hot with just the perfect juicy content inside. As the cuts were thin this was about as rare as they could be.

That's a rare rump steak

That’s a perfect rare rump steak

The delicious aroma of freshly-cooked meat arose, tempered by the sweetness of a pile of real deep-fried onion rings. Almost everywhere diners are offered the frozen processed variety, so it was a true and rare delight to enjoy some proper home-made onion rings that really tasted of onions. Cooked just enough to go sweet but not soggy, the onion rings were perfect complement to the meat. Big, fresh grilled tomatoes garnished with dried parsley, button mushrooms fried in butter, a modest scattering of freshly cooked chips, and some rather tasteless but otherwise blameless peas completed the dish. Matt and Cat dug in, both really enjoying this simple but decently-executed meal.

The atmosphere was enjoyably informal, with the lively buzz of the pub nearby, but service at the Roadside Inn was impressively professional for such a modest pub. Two different waitresses kept an eye on the diners, never intrusive, but always there at the right time. Fresh drinks were offered at a suitable moment, and at one point the jolly landlord passed amongst the diners and shared a few words with each table.

Feeling well fed, but with change in their pockets from such a good deal, Matt and Cat unusually decided to go for dessert. At an astonishing £3.25 these too were a steal. Rejecting the curiously-named chocolate junkyard, Matt chose cream slice. Cat went for Italian trifle.

Dessert at the Roadside Inn

The attentive waitress was more than happy to describe each dish in great detail, and when the desserts arrived it was obvious why: these home-made delights would not have disgraced the grandest restaurant – where they would have been on offer for twice the price. A towering slice of alcohol-soaked sponge formed the heart of Cat’s Italian trifle, encased in a crisp shell of the freshest meringue. Matt’s cream slice was bursting with fresh cream and fruit jam, sandwiched in light and crispy puff pastry topped with sweet fondant icing. Absolutely delightful. Seldom does any pub or restaurant excel itself on the dessert course, the temptation so often being to expend all the creative effort on the starters, a little less on the main course, and then buy in some old frozen stuff for any stragglers who still insist on eating a third course. Somebody talented in the Roadside Inn’s kitchen obviously disagrees with this approach and takes great pride in these home-made dessert marvels.

Your replete reviewers, aglow with satisfaction, were reluctant to bring the experience to an end so elected to have coffee in the main bar, where they could relax amongst the chatting drinkers. Already they were idly reflecting on when they might return, and who they might bring along. When they finally strolled out into the wet night, the cheery farewell of the landlord ringing in their ears, their earlier damp spirits were wholly banished and their faith in the good food of the Island fully restored by the wonderful Roadside Inn.
The Roadside Inn, Nettlestone