Plenty of pubs and restaurants on the Island have a seaside location. Some even have views of the sea and fishy dishes on their menus. But how many of these places actually take fish from their local fishermen?
Some do for sure, but few can be so very closely associated with fishing as the Fisherman’s Cottage, Shanklin. Sitting on the terrace, diners can only see the sea by peering over the small flotilla of fishing boats pulled up on the beach, where fish have been landed for generations. And these are not quaint little tourist boats either, they actually do go fishing down there, and sometimes it’s that very fish which appears on the Fisherman’s Cottage menu.
No stroll through the old village of Shanklin would be complete without a visit to Shanklin Chine, ideally in the evening to enjoy the wonderful illuminations. Playing grockles, Matt and Cat chose the only dry evening of summer 2010 and descended the winding coastal chink to the pub on the beach below.
Matt and Cat met some friends who had wisely bagged a table out on the terrace. In summer parents can sip their drinks here while kids play on the beach below. This pub is a summertime venue, so much so that, like the Chine, it closes in the winter season. But it’s not just for sunny days; the pub’s interior is characterful and cosy, so even in inclement weather the Fisherman’s Cottage is in one of the most enviable locations on the Island.
The menu contained well-described and tempting pub stuff, with plenty of fish and seafood. Indoors a sizeable blackboard bore a range of specials, and it was from here that M & C made their selection. Cat was unable to resist the sea bass fillet on chive mash with fresh vegetables and vermouth sauce. Matt took advice from his fellow-diner, a veteran of this pub and a chap with an appetite to rival his. Recommended was the chunky steak pie with garden peas, chips and ‘real gravy’. Matt didn’t take much persuading.
The pub was buzzing with several big groups, and more arriving all the time. Matt and Cat saw a few parties turn up and fail to find a seat: so they’d definitely advise booking if you want to be sure of getting a table. Luckily they had no such concerns, and safe in a comfy seat with a view across the beach soon fell to chatting with their companions whilst waiting for the dinner to arrive.
The business end of Matt’s classic pie and chip supper was a hearty pub pie. What’s more, it actually was a slice of pie, complete with pastry. Apologists for the pseudo-pies that some places serve in a ceramic dish with a puff-pastry hat simply don’t appreciate the uncomplicated joy of cutting into a pastry crust, or the taste of pastry that’s actually been cooked with meat juices seeping into it. The Fisherman’s Cottage pie was a splendid example of the genre at its best: absolutely packed with good meat, it was a faultless slice of old-fashioned pleasure. The chips were standard, the peas the same, and the ‘real gravy’, to be honest, tasted disappointingly like real Bisto. But in the shadow of the excellent pie, none of this dented Matt’s enthusiasm and, pint in hand, he consumed his dinner with relish.
Sea bass fillet £14.95
Chunky steak pie £9.95
Treacle sponge £6.95
Blueberry cheesecake £6.95
Total: £38.80 (exc. drinks)
Cat’s sea bass was a marked contrast to the solid, traditional pie. The tender and boneless fillet, draped languidly across a bed of fluffy mash, was consorted by a selection of well-presented cooked vegetables. The vermouth sauce was a fantastic compliment to the lightly flavoured fish. Tangy without being overpowering, it was a nutty, spicy, creamy concoction that mere words cannot do justice. Showing considerable restraint, Cat left some for Matt as it was too good to keep for herself. He agreed with her; it was lovely.
Earlier, when Cat had gone indoors to order the food, her eye had been caught by the desserts on the specials board. Mindful of these, she’d saved a bit of room for a second course, and so a treacle sponge and custard was ordered for Matt, and blueberry cheesecake for Cat.
Like the main course, the dessert was full of contrasts. Matt’s treacle sponge was a simple slab of sponge awash in a vast vat of custard. Cat’s blueberry cheesecake proved to be an unexpectedly complex dish in presentation. The puddings also differed in the eating. Cat was impressed with the cheesecake, and loved the thin slice of candied pineapple that came with it. It was a sophisticated way to present the cheesecake, which in turn was very enjoyable. Matt was not so pleased with the treacle sponge, which was spongy, certainly, but had little of that delicious sticky goo for which the treacle sponge aficionado loves to delve. Equally disappointing was the custard, which certainly came in a generous quantity, but seemed sadly insubstantial, watery even.
As well-fed protagonists Matt and Cat wended their way way up the beautiful floodlit meandering paths of the Chine, they ruminated on the price of their dinner. Frankly, Matt and Cat thought that the food was bit a bit on the pricey side. Or rather, half of it was. Cat’s sea bass fillet and blueberry cheesecake would not have disgraced a fine restaurant, and the price was not at all excessive for that. Matt’s pie and pudding was of an altogether more proletariat character – not a bad thing in itself, but normally a pub sponge pudding does not cost nearly £7. So Matt and Cat deliver a mixed verdict on their supper. Overall it was good, but it was characterised by some high and low points. However the lovely venue and even lovelier way to approach it without doubt make this a pub worth a visit any summer.