Following a flurry of contrasting comments from their readers, Matt and Cat decided to revisit the Sportsman’s Rest to see if they’d made a mistake. The original review from December 2006 is at the bottom of the page.
February 2009 review
Could it be possible that Matt and Cat have reviewed everywhere on the Island? Thankfully, far from it. There are plenty of new and hopefully exciting places that M and C can turn their attention to. Also, in the course of writing this eating out guide, it’s sometimes necessary to revisit a venue. If, for example, an eatery was particularly dismal, Matt and Cat might have another meal there to see if things have improved. In the case of the Sportsman’s Rest, a range of alarmingly vitriolic remarks arrived on the blog, leading your reviewers to wonder, was their enthusiastic review justified or were readers’ comments that included the words ‘vile’, ‘poor’ and ‘salty’ nearer the mark? It was time for Matt and Cat to have another look…
The last time your intrepid reviewers visited the Sportsman’s Rest they were extremely happy with the venue, the service and particularly the food. It was pub grub with a pinch of charm. Decent food served in a homely environment with just enough touches of olde worlde appeal to make it stand out from conveyor belt hostelries.
Luckily for Matt and Cat they landed by chance at the Sportsman’s Rest on steak night. Result! Once again entering the cosy bar they were greeted by a cheery lady who happily passed the time of day with them whilst their eyes roamed across the chalked menu. Matt, instantly distracted by the cask ale (noted from the review of 2006), ordered a pint of Bombardier which, at £2.70 for a glass of the nutty nectar drawn straight from the barrel, was excellent value.
Fillet steak £12.95
Mixed grill £12.95
The steak night fare was prominently displayed, touted as Island meat from Hamiltons Fine Foods. Like Matt with the real ale, once Cat’s eyes had alighted on the word ‘fillet’ she knew she need look no further for her choice of supper – fillet steak it was. Matt, with his moustache soaked in Bedfordshire brew, asked about the meat quotient of the mixed grill. A rather vague list of fleshy fare was listed, which included sausage, lamb chop, egg, mushrooms and some other stuff. Another cheery lady emerged from the kitchen to join the debate, and after a quick chat with the chef established the full extent of the ‘other stuff’ – gammon, rump steak, chips, peas and tomatoes. Matt was determined to rise to the challenge once the barmaid mischievously told him that a 97-year-old lady had gamely had a go at the platter and managed to gnaw her way through a considerable amount of it. “Is that the 97 year old woman you had to carry out?” wagged a cheeky bar-side winker, to chuckles from the locals.
In a little booth near the fire, Matt and Cat listened to some middle aged ladies boasting of driving within the speed limit but moaning about codgers that insist on motoring well below. There was talk of overtaking on perilously straight roads at speeds reaching 45 mph in national speed limit zones. Those crazy silver speeders, eh?
M and C also listened to yet more nasal whining from Phil Collins. Why, they mused, is it always Phil Collins in pubs? Surely not out of any desire to hear his music? They concluded that some artists must have a discounted fee for the Performing Rights Society. Also that their music was possibly piped from some central broadcaster into pubs and restaurants across the land or, with the technological tool of t’internet – maybe the world! Is it also conceivable that some people genuinely like drivel like Sussudio?
Soon, the dinners arrived. Just as before, Matt was transported back to Hampshire pubs of his youth by the sight of chips in a basket. Like the prawn cocktail, this retro-fodder will soon be making an ironic comeback. In the Sportsman’s Rest the chip-wicker was holding its own, like a boy who steadfastly wears flares in 1984.
As for the food, it was lovely. Cat’s fillet steak was fantastically tender, just bloody enough and with no gristly bits. Mushrooms, tomatoes, peas and chips were also excellent – a good pub meal.
Matt’s mixed grill was good: basic pub food served well. The individual pieces of meat were small but, because there were a lot of them, collectively they made for a decent-sized meal. The egg was just the right side of snotty. Thankfully for the bar staff there was no danger of Matt either not clearing his plate or needing to be carried outside!
Once the meal was eaten the plates were cleared promptly. Although tempted by some homely-sounding puddings, (including Christmas pud!) M and C decided to go back out into the winter’s night, their tummies full of meat and a satisfactory glow. Despite a change of management the Sportsman’s seemed as good as it ever was, if not better. It would seem that once again Matt and Cat disagree with the naysayers when it comes to the food in this delightful country pub. Who’s right? Perhaps you should go and make your own mind up. Comments please!
Review from 1 December 2006
The Sportsman’s Rest nestles in the tiny village of Porchfield; a quiet, heavily wooded part of the Island a little way away from the main tourist areas. It’s small, and it is a rare delight. For this reason Matt and Cat are almost tempted, for the first time ever, to really criticise the place simply for the pleasure of keeping it to themselves. But don’t worry, readers, they’ll tell you the truth as ever.
In the summer the pub gets packed and booking is advisable, particularly on Sunday lunchtimes. But on a dark and windy night Matt and Cat took their chances and drew up at the welcoming lights of the Sportsman’s after splashing through dark lanes and past ancient hedgerows. If you’re going here for the first time you’d be best to take a map, as unlike most of the Island, this is somewhere where you can easily get lost.
Entering the place there is immediately the comforting familiar feeling of an old country pub – a public bar on one side featuring a few locals chatting over their pints, with a small, snug lounge bar on the other. The landlady greeted Matt and Cat in a very friendly way, and a few moments of idle chat made them feel most welcome.
The menu was good, solid pub grub at reasonable prices. Once seated on a settle by the side of the fireplace, Matt chose traditional liver and bacon, and Cat ventured gammon steak with egg and chips. Matt also sampled the real ales kept in casks behind the bar, which proved to be excellent, and a real enhancement to the meal.
The food came swiftly and was very good indeed. Generous servings all round were complemented by very freshly cooked vegetables in the traditional style. No raw onion was in sight as Matt enjoyed swede, cabbage, carrot, and cauliflower cheese, all with gravy – good wholesome accompaniments to the sublime liver. He also wished he’d chosen mash from the extensive potato choice as he felt the chef would’ve made an excellent job of what can sometimes be lumpy and unpleasant.
Cat’s huge gammon steak topped with a most perfectly cooked fried egg was served with a modest salad, peas and plenty of chips. So enamoured were Matt and Cat of the food, they even ordered a dessert – the irresistible mulled fruit crumble with three scoops of vanilla ice cream.
The Sportsman’s Rest is a hidden gem, and different from many Island pubs. It was, as Cat remarked ‘like a little bit of rural Hampshire’. It was a real pub with genuine old tongue-and-groove on the walls, a dresser for the cutlery, a proper bar and centuries of unrefurbished character. The atmosphere is something quite special and evoked in both Matt and Cat all the best memories of pubs from bygone years. Commendably, the food was more than equal to the location and service – the Sportsman’s Rest is unreservedly recommended.