It was way back in 2005 when Matt and Cat first reviewed Whippingham’s Folly Inn. Entreaties to revisit prompted this 2010 update. The original review is below.
Matt and Cat were very impressed by the Folly, back in the day. It was a regular lunchtime haunt of theirs and they were never disappointed by the location, food or service. However, reports that things were Not Quite Right had made their way down the intertubes; and, as luck would have it, Cat and some gal-pals from work were looking for a venue to eat, drink and make mischief. Clutching two-for-one vouchers in their eager mitts, Cat and three friends rendezvoused at this waterfront watering hole.
If a packed car park is an indicator of a quality venue then The Folly Inn must rank as one of the finest places on the Isle of Wight. Even on this damp mid-week mid-winter evening there was barely room for a modestly-sized car. It was ‘one in, one out’ but soon a space became available. As she approached the door, Cat noted a welcoming blackboard with confidently chalked picture of the pub. Scratching her nesty mane, she knew she’d seen that somewhere before. Why of course, it was the day before outside Shanklin’s Crab Inn. Closer inspection revealed the tell-tale Greene King livery; The Cat looked forward to comparing these sibling venues.
Trotting into the warm and crowded bar, Cat and friends scanned the venue for a table. For a moment it wasn’t looking good as those which weren’t occupied had ‘reserved’ signs on them. However, there were a couple free, one with the previous occupants’ plates waiting to be cleared away and a nice empty one under a retina-burning spotlight in the middle of the room. It was the most unflattering lighting this side of an operating theatre and Cat, for one, found herself leaning out of its punishing glare whenever there was a rare lull in the conversation.
It’s a good job that Cat and her pals didn’t have to make any proper decisions as they fussed and procrastinated over the menu, which was identical to the Shanklin branch. There were a few differences to be had on the specials board; no sign of the goats cheese filo parcels but there was a tempting-sounding tomato and basil soup. However, it was the two-for-one offer that had lured them to the pub so Cat and friends chose from the list of mains, which included quite a variety of dishes: fish, meat and even a vegetarian curry. Cat was keen to have chicken and considered the roasted farm-assured chicken breast on a bacon, leek and field mushroom risotto. She was curious about the rather nebulous ‘farm-assured’ tag. What did this mean exactly? A quick online search did not elicit any firm definition. This term, although similar in name to the Assured Chicken Production (ACP) initiative, was not labelled clearly enough for the avoidance of doubt. Cat chose the other poultry dish, chicken in red wine and Portobello mushroom sauce with new potatoes.
It was here The Folly really started to lose points as Cat was required to pay extra for vegetables. The lady at the till seemed embarrassed to point this fact out and said that there was nothing they could do to change the set up of the meals. This was where the pub’s franchise roots were clearly on display. Admittedly Cat was allowed to exchange her new potatoes for chips but there was no sign of veg without further payment. What had promised to be a reasonably priced meal, even without the two-for-one offer, suddenly did not seem such good value.
Although the service was friendly and the atmosphere jolly, if a little scrutinised under the bright lighting, Cat couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for her bowl of chicken bits. It was moderately tasty, if a bit salty, and the basin of veg included a good mix of peas and root vegetables but the food was not a patch on the previous incarnation of the pub. One of her colleagues had the butternut squash, spinach, lentil and spicy coconut curry but this was also reported to be a bit underwhelming. However, the hake and salad looked great and the grilled field mushroom with Shropshire blue cheese and salad which the gang had shared as a starter was very tasty.
The most interesting aspect about The Folly was, as busy as it had been at 7pm, by 9pm it was almost empty. From being a drinking and eating pub, its character had changed into a conveyor-belt eatery and everyone had cleared off once their cutlery clattered to a halt. However, Cat and her colleagues were in for the long haul and were soon the only customers. Some rather conspicuous sweeping-up started at about 10pm and at 10.30pm the barmaid had her coat on and thumped her handbag on a nearby table. Realising that they had overstayed their welcome, the quartet left.
The Isle of Wight’s Greene King franchises are a mixed bunch. Enough has been said about the Ryde Castle; The Crab Inn had the most exemplary service and The Folly is in a great location. However, in all three cases, the food could be better but it’s possible that the managers don’t have much control over what they serve. Because of the bad lighting and the mass-produced food, Matt and Cat felt compelled to downgrade The Folly from ‘we love’ to ‘we like’.
First review dated 10 November 2005
Like many waterfront taverns, the Folly Inn attracts a crowd of yachting types throughout the year – excessively so in the summer; presumably the sailors are attracted by the adjacent moorings and the excellent food and beer.
Matt and Cat are not afraid to join in the summer throng as there are plenty of tables outside and the food is worth the (short) wait. In the winter the bar is cosy and welcoming with a real fire roaring away.
The menu changes regularly and is very reasonably priced. The food really is excellent and there is a great variety. You vegetarians will not have to suffer the tedium of cheese omelettes – try the spinach parcels with a balsamic glaze. For the omnivores there is plenty to choose, from Aberdeen Angus in red wine to chicken baked with a dusting of garlic and paprika. The puddings are of unusually high quality too, and this is one location where Matt and Cat usually break from tradition and have a dessert. The traditional rhubarb crumble and custard is sublime (and, unlike the pubgrub chains, not microwaved).
A wilfully characterful feature is the table names – each table is named after a boat. No doubt this was not deliberately designed to confuse the customer, but it can embarrass them into saying things like “I’m sitting on the Lively Lady of Cowes”. Luckily, the bar staff are wise to this game and there is a chart of the tables pinned up next to the till, where you can mutely point at your location if you are too slow to have memorised your table name, or, indeed, if you can’t pronounce it. Look out for Matt and Cat’s favourite table, “Boss Cat”!
A great place for an intimate winter meal or a sunny lunchtime snack with a spectacular view of the Medina estuary.
The Folly, Whippingham