It’s confusing enough that the Island has so many eating-places named The Boathouse.
Matt and Cat know of at least four. Of these, two clearly were once boathouses; one other, with some stretching of the imagination, could have once accommodated some modest vessels. But the fourth – the Boathouse at Puckpool – quite plainly has never entertained a boat in its life, unless it’s a ship in a bottle on the mantelpiece: it’s a solid Victorian pub.
It’s also proven to be a fickle mistress for quite a few owners and managers, changing hands several times in the last few years, sometimes under less-than-favourable circumstances. Matt and Cat have had both good and bad meals there, and comments on previous incarnations suggested similarly mixed experiences. At its nadir, some years ago, the Boathouse was the place that people would just love to gossip about – regularly passing on to Matt and Cat stories of heinous crimes against food that cannot possibly all have been true. Once the reputation of a venue goes that far down, it’s a very long way back. The Boathouse began its return journey to respectability last year with an infusion of sensible cooking and decent service from the Liberty’s team. This year, yet another management team is at the helm and at last, the word on the street seemed to suggest that The Boathouse really had finally settled down. So Matt and Cat set out to see what was going on at Puckpool.
One thing you can say for the Boathouse, they’ve done a nice job doing it up. In fact, that’s the one thing pretty much everyone says about it, so let’s get that over with: it’s quite trendy inside, with lots of clean, muted colours, distressed wood and tealights. M & C swanned into this Sunday-supplement style haven, feeling quite the urban socialites.
Before they’d even selected a table the choice of where to sit was made for them. A couple of their friends were already seated in the restaurant area, and invited Matt and Cat to join them. They’d just placed their order, and the Boathouse gained a mark of approval when the waiter approached (yes, table service in the evenings, no queuing at the bar) and, on being appraised of the situation offered to delay the recently-ordered meals so that the new arrivals could order and eat together with their friends.
With this in mind your reviewers, already catching up on the gossip, had to make the effort to assimilate the menu and large specials board, and get an order in quickly. The menu was an impressive document. Not over-long, it was broken down helpfully into categories including pub favourites, steaks, seafood specialities and vegetarian selection. Not all of it was top price, either – in the ‘smaller appetite’ section diners could order two locally-made sausages with chips and peas for an impressively low £4.95.
Cat zoomed through the menu with unaccustomed determination, before choosing from the specials board. She’s rarely able to resist a tempting chicken dish, and this was no exception to the Rule of the Cat: pan-fried chicken breast with creamed leeks and deep-fried potato skins. Matt was too busy chatting to go over and examine the specials in detail, so he squinted across the room and spotted a perennial favourite: surf ‘n’ turf.
When it arrived there was a sensation: this surf ‘n’ turf comprised an 8oz sirloin plus half a lobster. Yes, half a lobster. Matt was agog, and very pleased. If he’d taken the trouble to read the board attentively he’d have known this de luxe surf ‘n’ turf rendition was coming, but it was all the more impressive for arriving unexpectedly. Another surprise: along with Cat’s chicken breast a massive pile of vegetables and sliced potatoes was served for the diners to share. These didn’t need to be ordered separately, and formed a very commendable addition to the meal – courgette, onion, carrot, cabbage and potato were in plentiful supply.
Matt and Cat’s companions were also very pleased with their meals, respectively trio of locally-made sausages on chef’s special mash; and an awesome-looking orange tilapia on buttered iceberg and crab with an orange and spring onion dressing.
The Boathouse’s relaxed atmosphere was certainly working its magic – Matt and Cat were really enjoying their meals. Cat’s chicken perched for its last time on a stack of potato skins, marooned in a leeky sauce. It was a good and tasty portion, well-presented and generous.
The half-lobster had a modest but delicious supply of meat prepared inside, and a liberal dash of melted garlic butter anointed both meat and shellfish alike. Matt approached the lobster with a little trepidation. It wasn’t through any fear of crustaceans, but rather because his reckless ordering meant that he was painfully aware that he was about to eat a dish priced at £27.95. That’s several weeks pocket-money to say the least, and so Matt was anxious to make the most of it. He needn’t have worried. As soon as he sank his teeth into the steak he knew that all was well. This was a very, very good steak, and with the well-prepared lobster alongside, the surf ‘n’ turf was clearly a winner.
Chicken breast £10.95
Surf and turf £27.95
Lemon tart £4.50
2 x pint ale £6.10
Across the table, the tilapia in orange was going down well, and there was a certain amount of teasing from the man who had ordered a very satisfactory sausage and mash for £8.95 – a third of the price of Matt’s mega-feast.
As the conversation flowed, lubricated by the very good beer, even the generous vegetable allowance wasn’t enough to prevent Matt and Cat ordering puddings to make the most of this delightful evening. Matt ordered marble chocolate cheesecake, and Cat, predictably enough, picked glazed lemon tart with raspberry and strawberry sorbet. The Boathouse didn’t disappoint. Two well-presented desserts arrived, and were undoubtedly home-made as advertised. Matt’s cheesecake was splendidly chocolaty and, unexpectedly – and mercifully – light and fluffy.
Cat, a connoisseur of lemon desserts, was very impressed with her offering. It was spectacularly lemony, and almost induced her to pull her special lemon face as it was so citrusy. The sorbet, too, gets a special mention. Just like the tart was intensely lemon-flavoured, the iced dessert was chock with concentrated raspberries. A flawless end to a very good meal indeed.
Matt and Cat were impressed with their Boathouse experience. Expecting a decent feed in a fairly standard pub, they instead were treated to what perhaps could be an assembly of all the good bits from previous Boathouse experiences. In 2008, the place was beautifully set out, with an ambitious menu, but couldn’t deliver. In 2009, the Liberty’s crew delivered their trademark relaxed atmosphere and friendly service, plus a well-stocked bar. But in the short time they were there, the menu was never going to be anything too exciting. Now, in 2010, it seems as though the Boathouse has well and truly risen from the metaphorical ashes. It’s a place Matt and Cat are very pleased to recommend.