It’s grand, it’s old, it’s the Duke of York. And it’s even half way up a hill.
Cowes has a rich variety of eating-houses spread along its wandering High Street, but if one continues southwards into the territory of boatyards and terraced houses stuffed with glamorous young digital professionals, a wholesome-looking town pub comes into view: the Duke of York. This Victorian hotel probably once provided ale and lodgings for stevedores and sailmakers. It now attracts yachties from the nearby Cowes Marina, as well as itinerant food reviewers. Matt was invited to this Cowes pub for a meeting of the Wightbook book club, and so he popped along early to see if the food was any good, for once leaving Cat to dine elsewhere.
The pub is a comfy hostelry inside, with more than a hint of an old hotel lounge; saggy sofas are scattered around, and there is an air of amiable untidiness. Yacht-related junk is affixed to the walls and even the ceiling in the traditional manner – and there is the mast of some historic vessel stretching along the bar. In short, this place still retains some genuine character and charm. The barman greeted Matt heartily, who soon was sat at a big scrubbed table, sipping at a pint of Doom Bar: a beer which appears to be the ale of the moment, popping up in cellars across the Island.
The Duke of York’s menu bore a reasonable pub grub spread, but Matt spent little time reading it, as his mind was set on fish and chips. Cod, chips and peas was on the menu, and so that’s what he ordered. When it arrived, Matt was impressed. A large bit of cod, mounted on about half a pound of peas, and chips plentiful enough to require a separate bowl. What’s more, this fish was freshly fried. By the sizzling batter and tongue-searing temperature it had literally come straight from the frier. This made for a delicious, crispy outside, with delicate soft insides coating the piping hot, moist fish. Bravely breaking from pub food tradition, there were no hunks of iceberg and wilting cucumber – who needs salad when you have so many peas? Top marks – this was better than expected.
By now the Wightbook delegates were trickling in, and taking their seats around the big table, books held eagerly in their hands. Each one doubtless was brimming with insights into this month’s tome: The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. But Matt hadn’t even got his book out, despite arriving early. The cod and chips was far too engaging – the debunking of religion had to take a back seat for a little longer.
Cod and chips £9.95
Pint of Doom Bar £3.50
As the night’s debate livened up, the locals propping up the bar lent a wry ear to the earnest meanderings of the book clubbers. The pub does have a TV on the wall permanently tuned to what is presumably the “All sailing, all of the time” channel, so it’s not hard to imagine what the usual topic of conversation might be in the Duke of York. It probably isn’t the origins of spirituality, anyway.
Half way through the evening Matt decided to wet his whistle, and unusually asked for a tomato juice with Worcester sauce, as he was driving back alone so wasn’t going to overdo the Doom Bar. The Duke of York did an excellent job, providing not only the prescribed ingredients but also plenty of ice, tabasco and freshly crushed black pepper. Once more an unexpectedly good result.
Eventually the book club concluded and the Wightbook friends drifted off into the night. Matt drove home satisfied – an enjoyable evening’s debate, but also another really good place to eat identified. Perhaps he will tempt Cat back with him to try it again.
The Duke of York, Cowes