Family pub dining is big business; if a venue can satisfy a clientèle range from grannies to newborns then it has potentially struck gold. Many venues specialise in attracting large groups, yet families sometimes pay large sums for lacklustre food whilst herds of cola-fuelled kids run around making a din. But good family pub dining does not have to be like that, and some savvy hostelries know how to deliver a respectable offering. As well as good grub, Ningwood’s Horse and Groom, the Fighting Cocks at Arreton and the Chequers, Rookley to name but three, have all managed to fill this niche particularly well by dint of having a large car park and good children’s play facilities. Similarly Brading’s Bugle has long been a popular Sunday lunch destination for the multi-generational family group, ticking the above boxes admirably.
Tasked with entertaining some friends from abroad with a variety of youngsters in tow, Matt and Cat chose the Bugle. It had been a considerable time since they’d been to this vast pub and a significant factor for them was the draw of the indoor ballpit. M&C like a ballpit as much as the next food reviewers, but of course the crucial question about the Bugle remains: is it just for the kids or is the food also worth having?
The Bugle is a sizeable pub but even so it does get pretty full. On a Sunday afternoon in the height of the season you really will need to get in early to bag a decent table. And depending on your party’s composition – and the weather – this can be important. Outside is where you will want to be if the sun has got its hat on. Adjacent to the big terrace is a wooden play structure on which children of most ages and abilities can play under the watchful eye of their minders. This is a boon when you want to sit and chat after your meal, as the youngsters can safely run off their dinners whilst the adults sip their drinks and gossip. In the winter, by contrast, a seat near the indoor ballpit is highly prized by those with children – or, to be accurate, a seat near enough to keep an eye on the pit, but not so near that one is pelted with balls. Matt and Cat will leave it to the reader to divine their own preferred proximity to these amenities, but suffice to say that at any time careful table choice can significantly improve the Bugle experience.
On the sunny evening that they visited, Matt and Cat and party nabbed a table outside under the shade of the huge eucalyptus tree. The menu included pasta and salad, gourmet burgers, grills and pub favourites. Certain adult main courses came with a free children’s meal, which was an attractive deal even if you’re not on a limited budget. It was such a hot afternoon that the group all had refreshing soft drinks loaded with ice, but the Bugle is a proper pub with a bar and reasonable beer too, plus a pool table if you feel so inclined.
Even though the party had a lively and slightly cynical discussion about the word gourmet used in this context, Matt was delighted to see a long list of ‘gourmet’ burgers. His eye was lured inexorably towards the the Ultimate Stack Burger, a vast 12oz burger with a cheese, bacon and egg topping (£11.45). One of the youngsters was now nearly as tall as his parent and had long outgrown the children’s menu. As if to prove his status among the adults, he selected this – the biggest of burger meals. Matt was slightly glad that he was relieved from the duty of essaying this leviathan. Wanting something spicy he eyed both the chilli burger and Mexican burger. This was an unusually sophisticated level of distinction and Matt wavered over this dilemma for a moment before going Mexican.
Cat had chosen a chicken Caesar salad, a fixture on pub menus so ladies can have a decent meal while pretending they are eating nothing but lettuce. Sufficient Romaine leaves were lurking in it for it to qualify as a salad but the rest was made up of delicious chargrilled chicken strips, garlic croutons plus big shavings of Parmesan. The menu had also promised ‘crispy bacon’ – which turned out to be a generous allowance of more soft rashers than in the average full English. Cat carefully picked out the rings of raw onion then proceeded to push the lot into the hole in her unjustifiably smug face.
The Mexican burger was a better meal than Matt had been expecting. Although the chips were not over-generous in portion size, they were above average in quality. There was a salad garnish so Matt, too, could pretend that he had an eye on healthy eating. The burger was a big success – plenty of meat (apparently locally-sourced), and a substantial dollop of sour cream reinforced with jalapeño chunks. It was neither clever nor original, and Matt enjoyed it very much. As an aside, mention must be made of the teen’s Ultimate Stack Burger. This monster was well-named, and the young man cleaned his plate with pride before reporting a positive verdict on the Bugle’s best burger effort.
Chicken Caesar (large) £9.95
Mexican burger £9.95
After dinner, as predicted, the youngest ones trotted off to play on the adventure playground. The grown-ups sat in the fading light and caught up on each others’ news. Eventually the teenagers got bored of hearing about redundancy, mortgages and expanding waistlines so they sloped away to lark about happily in the play area with their younger friends.
At the Bugle there are no surprises on the menu; nothing too exotic to unsettle the oldsters. However this is not necessarily a bad thing – pub favourites means just that. The service was prompt and friendly, although M&C were there on one the quieter days of the summer so can’t vouch for it at busier times. The Bugle had reasonable prices, including family-friendly offers, and food quality that was superior to that of some nationally-administered chain pubs. Convenient for a family outing or when relatives have braved the Solent and expect to be fed, overall the Bugle is a good choice, particularly for a mixed group.