Godshill’s one of those places like Shanklin Old Village, that seems to have just been created for the pleasure of tourists. Chocolate-box cottages filled with fudge, scones and trinkets line a twisty road as summer tourists spill onto the carriageway in giddy abandon.
But what about in winter? Apart from the hilarity of Godshilla, the Island’s tea room capital is pretty quiet. We know because we went there. The road was empty and nobody bimbled into the path of our car. And then we went to the car park. It was rammed. Stuffed with cars, not a space to be had until we were practically back out the other side of the village. Clearly plenty of people were aware that there is more to Godshill than the daytime attractions of the Old Smithy and the awesome Model Village. And we were there to find out what it was.
The Taverners is, of course, an established draw, with its hyperlocal produce, creative presentation and on-trend clipboard menu. But we went weren’t going there this evening. No, on the recommendation of Tweeter Charrbinks, we crossed the road to the manorial Griffin.
Built in the style of the re-purposed Rumpus Mansion at Blackgang Chine, the Griffin is an imposing presence in Godshill’s main street. And clearly this is where the bulk of people were. Entering from the deathly quiet street, we were astonished by the bustle and noise. The place was almost exclusively filled with large parties; families and friends celebrating various birthdays and other excuses for a get-together with a nosh up. This is one of the Griffin’s strengths; it’s clearly a venue large enough to facilitate big groups of people. Having taken our own seats we watched throughout the evening as tables were pushed together banqueting style, then separated for smaller groups. This ebb and flow of furniture was carried out with good grace by the staff, all of whom seemed to be genuinely friendly and attentive.
The menu itself was full of the usual pub grub standards: chips, jacket spuds, and an extensive grill selection including a lot of “Isle of Wight 100% beef burger, made by our butcher here on the Island” burgers – with rather curious Isle of Wight names like ‘snobber’ and ‘jobber’. The specials board offered a few additional dishes but it was basically a redo of the printed menu. What was not so typical was the smaller appetite range; a concept bound to light up Cat’s eyes. Unsurprisingly she hasn’t the capacity for the same size food mountain that is necessary to fuel her six-feet-four dining companion. The other advantage to the lighter bites menu is that it’s more affordable and leaves room for pudding. A veritable win.
Matt and one of our companions shared a bottle of rioja plus some very nice pear cider. Needing something to wash down, they chose what was billed as a Tex-Mex sharing platter. A passing waitress offered to bring some side plates to give the fellas some semblance of civility rather than let them pick their baked starters straight from their charger. This level of service was admirably maintained throughout, at a time when the pub was probably at its most stressy.
The sharing platter looked like the chef had gone to Iceland, and we don’t mean the country. The dish bore a melange of indistinct breaded shapes that had neither taste or texture to recommend them. The Tex-Mex theme was hard to discern – were those rubbery doughballs maybe some reference to the spaghetti western? The mozzarella and jalapeno bites were the only item that might genuinely claim some Mexican influence. For the rest, embrocation with salsa and BBQ sauce had to suffice. At nearly a tenner this was disappointing stuff.
Plates cleared, the mains soon arrived. Having been underwhelmed by the generic starter, Matt was hoping that his ‘Billy Biter’ blue-cheese burger would be all that it promised: 100% beef, eh? What could possibly go wrong? The burger arrived, as expected, in a floured bap. It looked limp and flat, and indeed the bun underneath was in places so thin as to be almost undetectable. And the meat itself? Slim, textureless and unremarkable. The smear of cheese on top did nothing to improve matters.This was the kind of burger one would grudgingly accept in a flimsy paper napkin from a tattooed oaf in a burger van on a wet afternoon during a Sunday league football match. If the chips had been any good, they might have redeemed it somewhat – but the question never arose.
So what of Cat’s dinner? Having forgone the starter she went straight in with her main. And, if this was the smaller appetite fish pie then she’d hate to see the regular sized one! It’s hard to mess up a fish pie – why, even kitchen-dodger Cat herself has been known to rustle up a decent one. Having tipped the pie out of its dish, Cat was pleased to see cod, salmon and not regular prawns but king prawns. The seafood snuggled in a thick creamy sauce under a cheese-topped mash. It was delicious and had a very agreeable texture. Sometimes fish pie can be scaldingly hot and the fish cooked to the point of liquefaction; in the Griffin version the mash’s cheesy layer was pleasingly crispy and the seafood in identifiable chunks. The accompanying vegetables were a revelation too; steamy and with a good bite. Top marks for the pie then.
Tex Mex sharing platter £9.95
Billy Biter burger £8.75
Fish pie £7.50
Belgian waffle & fudge ice cream £3.95
Chocolate brownie sundae FREE*
We had puddings too. Matt’s meal was somewhat redeemed by his waffle with toffee ice cream and Cat had more than she could manage with her chocolate brownie sundae. And, bargain hunters, as we had a main course priced over £9.95 one pudding was free! The Griffin was clearly pandering to its demographic.
The staff busied themselves clearing the tables following the departure of the last big group. Suddenly the place revealed its pub origins, whereas before it had come across as a vast feeding hall for multi-generational diners. And this was its strength as well as its weakness. Yes, if you’re serving babies and old people and everyone in between, you probably don’t need to clutter your menu with fussy unfamiliar dishes that are unlikely to be chosen. Keep it simple is a good maxim for this type of venue. However, the risk is that by catering to everyone, you please no-one. It’s not inevitable; places like the Fighting Cocks have shown that really is possible to deliver good quality locally-sourced pub food to the family market.
The Griffin is making progress here with its personable service and family-friendly menu. The fish pie and our friend’s sweet and sour vegetables with noodles were enjoyable and of a decent quality. But Matt’s starter and burger were nowhere near good enough. Maybe that doesn’t matter if you’re in the market of piling it high and selling it cheap. But maybe it should. It’s a bit of an old school approach and one that won’t have the Taverners quaking in its boots. Judging by the busy car park and the crowds in the pub, the Griffin has found a niche – if it can only step up a gear in the food quality, it might corner the family pub grub market in Godshill.
This is the full-length version of a review that was first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Really friendly service
- Good value
- Small portions option
- Food of variable quality
- Basic menu