In the days when holidaymakers flooded to the Island in their droves during the same two weeks in August there were some must-sees on the tourist itinerary: The Needles, Carisbrooke Castle and a thatched cottage. Shanklin Old Village probably topped the straw-roof charts, closely followed by equally picturesque Winkle Street and Godshill.
Godshill has done a great job of drawing in the ‘tea and a wee’ crowd, with its vast coach-friendly car park. As long as there is easily-accessible parking and toilets, people will go to see all sorts of unlikely things – as evidenced by the success of Isle of Wight Pearl and Waltzing Waters. In the middle of this tourist mecca is the Taverners, a low-beamed pub with some local ales, a well-stocked shop of Isle of Wight produce and even its own allotment. Given that people will come to Godshill regardless, it seems a remarkable display of chutzpah. The pub’s unique selling point is its use of local and hyper-local ingredients but punters would happily eat chain-pub nammit, wouldn’t they? With this dichotomy in mind we popped into the Taverners one lunchtime.
The building itself has all the hallmarks of a country pub; quaint crown-glass windows, a fireplace, long wooden bar and dark beams crisscrossing the ceiling. We reckon that the Taverners was the first place we visited that had the now ubiquitous clipboard menu. But, unlike some of those emulators, the menu at the Taverners is changed every day and dated to prove the fact. For emphasis, our lunches featured a lot of ingredients that were absolutely in season.
A glass of home-made elderflower cooler arrived along with a board of soft salt-sparkled focaccia and assorted dips. Cat was soon tucking into the carrot hummus. Textured like its chickpea-based cousin, there the similarity ended. The root vegetable version was so much better than the usual garlicky paste.
Matt somehow managed to resist his regular order at the Taverners – the suet-crust steak and ale pie is really one of the best on the Island. Today, he was feeling a bit more adventurous. A starter of beetroot hummus and home-smoked feta cheese was a revelation. Decorated with flowers and leaves that surely had come from the little garden out the back; the rich, earthy taste of beetroot combined with the strong woody smokiness of the cheese to make an unusual and very successful appetiser. Better still was to come. Pork meatballs is an unusual thing to find on a pub menu. And these are really, really, nothing like the ones they serve in Ikea. These porky balls came in a rich tomato and pepper sauce, mingled with garden chard and broad beans. If you think of broad beans as big, solid things with leathery skins and a floury texture, you’ve never had the young version. Light, delicately flavoured, and electric green in colour, they lifted the simple meatballs to a higher level. If you haven’t re-evaluated the broad beans in your life, you’re missing out.
Labneh, cherry tomatoes, radish £6
Beetroot hummus and smoked feta £6
Flat-iron steak, mash, asparagus £12.95
Pork meatballs, peppers, beans £12.50
Cat’s starter was a homemade labneh. Labneh? Proprietor Roger Serjent was at hand to explain that this was a Greek-style yoghurt cheese, served with tomatoes and radish. The light, summery dish was garnished with fresh fennel strands, giving the whole thing a pleasant sparky taste and texture. Just the thing to warm up Cat’s palate for steak, served sliced with local asparagus, mash and a peperonata. Cat’s keen on beef but usually goes for the finest delicate fillet, so she was pleased to enjoy this more tasty flat-iron cut. It was served rare, and the crimson meat was melt in the mouth. In fact its texture was almost softer than the sparky fresh asparagus spears.
We’re known for our love of food, but three courses for lunch? We declined the tempting-looking desserts, and soon we were again out amongst the clusters of tourists ambling about the old village. How many of them would hit upon the Taverners and enjoy the outstanding local menu? Evidence suggests that quite a few do exactly that.
The pub is at the heart of the Island and famously draws in produce from right across the county; Ben Brown’s asparagus, local rapeseed oil, and the IW Cheese Company cheeses. The presentation of our dishes was as artfully done as any we have eaten in what one might call fine dining establishments, with twiddles of shoots and splashes of colour provided by flower petals. The flavours were well-considered; aniseedy fennel paired with peppery radish and soothed with yoghurt. Although we’ve visited the pub over many years, the kitchen still surprises us with the glorious attention to detail. The prices were certainly more down-to-earth than the high-end hyper-local dishes might have commanded elsewhere too.
Getting a table at the Taverners is not always easy, and even whilst we were there for an early lunch there was a steady stream of customers filling up the venue. Some locals, some visitors, all getting the same interesting and satisfying dining experience that we had. Maybe we underestimate the discernment of our visitors – just because they come in a coach, doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy a top-quality meal when they’re offered one.
This is the full-length version of the review that appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Great local, seasonal menu
- Reliably good food
- Legendary pie
- Often very busy
- Mind your head!