One of the top questions Matt and Cat get asked is ‘Can you recommend a decent Sunday roast?’ You’d think that meatophile Matt would have a list as long as your arm of places where you can get a spectacular platter piled high with roast beef of Old England. However, you’d be wrong. Matt and Cat are so indolent that they usually miss Sunday lunch altogether, preferring instead to sleep in as late as possible – sometimes after a Saturday night to remember. After all, if a Day of Rest is good enough for God…
But as the nights finally draw in and the days of picnic lunches fade into the distant memory of yet another hot summer (thanks, David Thornton), M&C decided to get up early and head to Wootton Bridge to find a roast for, what for them was, breakfast.
You need to plan your strategy for a visit to the Sloop. Matt and Cat turned up one Sunday just after midday. This was a good game plan. There was room in the small car park and, more importantly, room in the pub. If you want the premium seats you need to arrive even earlier – the really early birds had staked their claim on all of the window seats at the back of the pub. Clearly these tables, with their view up the pretty river, were the most popular. Matt and Cat were resigned to grabbing a table a bit further inside, which had a disappointing lack of daylight but was within sight of some ancient and gnarly beams – presumably a remnant of the original inn.
Having staked their seating claim with judicious use of jackets flung over the seats, they trotted down to the business end of the pub – the bar and carvery. In a 2008 review of the Sloop, M&C said that the carvery concept is like ‘school dinners for pensioners’. In this regard, little has changed. The system is simple: you buy your drink plus dinner ticket at the bar, which you swap for the roast of your choosing.
The roast dinners were generously supplied with meat, which was freshly cooked and carved on demand, and that definitely is an advantage. Matt was delighted to be able to help himself to as much pork crackling as he liked. How much did he like? Well, let’s say cracking away through the porky skin was one of the highlights of his meal. Cat was surprised and pleased to get the chance to have half a roast chicken. She’s not a big fan of anything fatty (look away Matt) and a carvery for her usually means turkey breast or salmon fillet if she’s lucky. But here, chicken was her thing.
The veg selection was standard fare. You know the score: green ones, orange ones, roast spuds, mashed spuds and at the Sloop, even chips and baked beans. Cat was crestfallen not to have her favourite cauliflower cheese on the buffet although she had seen it pictured on the menu. As compensation there was a top-notch onion gravy with big chunks of roasted onion bobbing about in it like the half-submerged galleons of the Spanish Armada. There was also a regular thinner gravy, but who wants that? Interestingly, all of the gravy was unexpectedly labelled as vegetarian. Matt pointed this out to Cat with consternation; if all the gravy is veggie-compliant, what happens to the precious meat juices?
2 x Sunday carvery dinners @£7.29
Matt and Cat piled up their plates gleefully and returned to their seats. Pretty much everyone should know what a decent roast meal is like: you’ve got your meat, yorkies and veg. Plus there was battered fish, and you can also request one of the vegetarian dishes, such as the fabulous-sounding nut roast Wellington.
The Sloop did Matt and Cat proud; it was up there with the best carveries they’ve had but, as this is such a generic meal, it’s a pretty narrow field of excellence. Cat was particularly pleased not only by the fact that she had chicken but by its succulence. Matt had pork, but could’ve had any meat combo. He relieved Cat of her Yorkshire pudding and soon both plates were empty, apart from the chicken carcass.
By going on a Sunday, Matt and Cat resigned themselves to paying top price. Top price here, though, was an austerity-friendly £7.29 for a carvery roast and as many trips to the vegetable counter as you can manage. On a weekday the same thing would cost you only £4.39. When M&C first tried the Sloop carvery, the cost was £3.50. At that time, they said rather primly, “at these prices it’s stunning value. So much so that one cannot help but suspect these prices will have to rise in due course, if only to prevent riots in the streets of Wootton.” Well, neither of those have happened. Prices have risen by fifteen pence per year which might as well be nothing. And Wootton remains quiescent, lulled by the unending glare of those hot lamps on hunk after hunk of roast meat.
It seems fair to say that the Sloop is consistently aiming straight between the eyes of the bottom of the market and blasting it with both barrels. It’s friendly and clean, it’s open all day every day, and there’s even a beer garden with a great view. If you don’t mind fighting the crowds, and you’re not bothered about the provenance of your food or any kind of culinary innovation, you will find nowhere on the Island that can beat it.
A shorter version of this review appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on the 14th of November 2014.