Matt and Cat have made several false-starts when attempting to review the food at the Springvale Hotel and Restaurant. Being in their manor, the venue often came up on their radar when thinking about places to eat.
However, when poised on the hotel’s doorstep, there had always been something about the place which made them unable to commit.
The location is superb – right on the Island’s north shore with panoramic views of the Solent; the hotel even publishes a list of ships that you might see when gazing out of its vast windows. The food prices were clearly displayed and they seemed pretty reasonable. So could it be the menu’s contents that put Matt and Cat off? Although there was quite an extensive list of bar snacks and meals, the dinner menu has never been inspiring enough to tempt your reviewers across the threshold. So how were M and C encouraged to eat at Springvale’s most architecturally ornate restaurant?
A blind date with London food blogger Ben Bush and his consort Antonia provided the impetus that M and C needed. Charged with finding somewhere to eat Sunday lunch within walking distance of Seaview, Matt and Cat carried out a reconnaissance visit to the Springvale Hotel the day before the planned eat-up. The Sunday menu had not yet made its way into the external notice board so M and C made their first foray into the sugar almond building to find out some details. This is most definitely an hotel, not merely a restaurant, and so when the postulants arrived in the deserted lobby they found a polite note inviting them to ring the internal telephone to summon assistance. Having done so, there was some remote internal turmoil, and eventually from a side-door emerged a very friendly lady who brought them a copy of the menu and promised that she could rustle up a vegetarian option for Antonia. Having had such a pleasant and enthusiastic welcome, a table was booked for the following day.
The foursome battled through the drizzle to the restaurant on a March-like Sunday, wind whipping Cat’s mullet into a frightwig of Olympic nestiness. As on the previous day the hotel’s reception was unstaffed but the phone summoned the attention of the cheerful staff, who guided the guests into the dining-area.
Soon the bloggers were sat at their table, napkins self-wafted over their laps and with burgundy padded menus at the ready. The set menu had simple but striking choices. Starter: prawn cocktail, melon fan, chicken and mushroom soup; main course, roast beef, roast pork, battered cod; sweet: sherry trifle, strawberry gateau, apricot and apple pie. It didn’t take anyone long to choose and for vegetarian Antonia there was no choice: tomato soup followed by red chutney and goats cheese tartlet. Either all this was an ironic homage to 1970s cooking or it was an extraordinary survival from the age of culinary dinosaurs. Either way it was going to be worth trying.
After ordering their food, Matt and Cat and their new friends enjoyed swapped tales of blogging, surreptitious photography, terrible meals and great ones. They examined the placemats which had the Springvale crest and motto on them “nihil quam optime” which, after a bit of head-scratching, Matt cautiously translated as “nothing but the best”.
The restaurant was pretty busy. There were several groups of pensioners eating in that measured way of people who know they are going to spend the afternoon napping in a draylon recliner. There was also, remarkably, a live tableau of the last supper. A long table was arranged across the room, in the centre of which a beatific clergyman held court with his eleven(ish) companions. He could have been a contender in a Father Ted look-a-like competition.
Cat was delighted that she was on-topic with her skinny flares, platform shoes and wing-collared nylon shirt, for the hotel’s food had a distinctly Abigail’s Party vibe about it. Prawn cocktail, melon fan and sherry trifle belong in the time of maxi dresses and Farrah Fawcett-style lacquered hair flicks. Even The Taverners‘ attempt to ironicise classics of 1970’s cuisine do not stop them being passé.
Melon fan £3.75
Chicken and mushroom soup £3.75
Roast pork £8.00
Roast beef £8.00
Sherry trifle £3.75
Strawberry gateau £3.75
At least when the starters arrived the prawn cocktail was not delivered in a stainless steel bowl. Cat’s melon fan, a roughly hacked pallid fruit fist, was served with a dollop of creamy sorbet. A subtle taste with unimaginative delivery which would have been made more visually arresting if perhaps the melon had been balled, or indeed almost anything added as a garnish. Perhaps a cocktail cherry to continue the retro theme. Better still, this starter should have been archived, along with the prawn cocktail. Matt’s warm and wholesome chicken and mushroom soup seemed to have a touch of Campbell’s about it, although some fresh vegetables had certainly sneaked in somewhere. However, it was a fair portion and he was able to mop it up with Cat’s spare bread roll.
Because both couples were strangers to each other there was plenty of getting-to-know-you talk. This took their minds off the wait for food which was not over-long given the fact that there were only two waitresses responding to the demands of the food hatch and the genteelly querulous demands of the elderly diners.
The main meals were all served with vegetables – carrots, undressed cauliflower and cabbage. The meat plates also came with roasties and the cutest duchess potatoes, like little starchy iced gems. Although Antonia had gone off-menu, she was pretty underwhelmed by her goats cheese tartlet. Again, the food was not bad but the presentation was a bit lacklustre; a thick sauce swamped the tart which she ended up picking at listlessly.
The carnivores fared much better. Cat’s topside of beef was very lean and the gravy was extremely tasty. In fact the gravy-boat was a roaring success; thick seasoned meat juices complete with actual chunks of tender beef were a good lubricant to both the beef and the pork – Matt and Ben vied to drain the little jug. Appropriate relishes accompanied the roasts and a big Yorkshire pudding completed Cat’s platter. Not always a big fan of roast meat, she certainly enjoyed this main course. Matt felt similarly – it was a nostalgic pleasure: the sort of meal you always hoped school dinners could be but never were.
Showing off to the Londoners, Matt and Cat chose puddings. This probably wasn’t a good idea as these turned what was a moderately good, if unimaginative, meal into a poor one. Cat’s sherry trifle was a creamy scarlet dollop; instead of a throat-teasing taste of fortified wine, the alcohol was imperceptible. There was also too much jelly for Cat’s liking. When making this sweet at home, The Cat’s Mother would substitute jelly for more sherry – a much more satisfactory recipe. Even Matt wouldn’t eat it – an almost unprecedented occurrence – so it was cleared off the table barely touched.
The strawberry gateau was more successful, albeit similarly soft and formless. A light sponge cake was embellished with strawberry jam, a single defrosted strawberry, and a good supply of cream. Not unpleasant, but also hardly noticeable.
Having equitably divided the bill, the new pals exited into the wild and windy weather and made farewells. The Londoners to catch the next ferry and Matt and Cat back to Ryde for a post-lunch nap. Perhaps they were the right demographic for the Springvale after all!
If Matt and Cat were running a rest home for gentlefolk, they would employ the chef at the Springvale Hotel. For unchallenging nostalgic food with neither strong taste nor texture and nothing foreign or unexpected, you’ve come to the right place. As the middle-aged Matt and Cat and their youthful friends were the youngest diners in the venue, perhaps the Springvale Hotel and Restaurant pitched its food perfectly. Certainly the place was full, and nobody seemed dissatisfied with what they got. For a peaceful Sunday lunch with no background noise to distract, the Springvale Hotel is vastly superior to any cacophonous family carvery, and priced only a little higher. Nonetheless, it’s probably worth reporting that after a bit more deliberation over the hotel’s Latin motto Antonia – with the advantage of having actually studied Latin at some point – had another, franker – if less literal – suggestion which all four thought fitting: “better than nothing”.
Springvale Hotel and Restaurant, Springvale