The pleasant task of reviewing all of the eateries on the Isle of Wight may never end; what with establishments changing their management and kitchen personnel and with new places opening all the time. In fact, it could almost be described as on a par with painting the the Forth Bridge. However, unlike the myth of painting the Forth Bridge, eating out is not particularly dangerous, is relatively cheap and, Matt and Cat are pleased to report shows no sign of ending…
Correspondent ‘bouncytigger’ has requested a repeat visit to the newly refurbished White Hart in Havenstreet. And, dutiful as ever, Matt and Cat popped in one evening when the notorious Havenstreet roadworks were still in place. At that time the pub’s fresh paint was only a few days old and the smell was a bit overwhelming so, after a swift drink, Matt and Cat left.
However, on a repeat visit one wintry evening, they found the painty pong had certainly gone. Instead the pleasant smell of chips wafted from the kitchen windows onto the car park, and the pub’s interior had the welcoming aroma of a real log fire.
The introduction of the smoking ban has meant the demise of the carcinogenic snug; the pub has been opened out and is now a very pleasant bar. It retains its charming lounge/diner duality by clever use of flooring materials (carpet for the dining area, the original authentic scuffed lino for the public bar). On the night M and C visited, the bar was chock full of punters, weighted down with bags of shopping, having a pre-dinner drink and catching up with old friends. This created a very pleasant and lively atmosphere.
Despite the pub’s obvious division, your reviewers thumbed their noses at convention and sat down to eat in the drinking area of the pub. Matt, having got chilled after a day braving the bitter cold of the beach, wanted to take full advantage of the cosy real log fire, which gently glowed in its charming brick fireplace. Settling down with the glitter-covered menus, Matt and Cat felt comparable glows of homely pub charm.
The menu had a small selection of pub favourites such as fish and chips, lasagne, scampi and jacket potatoes as well as an entire page of food options for Matt and Cat’s vegetarian audience (and for those veggie-types that don’t read this eating out guide). Buying into the Zeitgeist, the White Hart cleverly offers most main meals in smaller portions. There is also a children’s menu (for the under 4s) which did not seem to feature fish fingers or beans! And, as for the specials – there were loads! Plenty of seafood, a rack of lamb, chicken breast topped with cranberry sauce and duck breast with brandy and apricots. For the red meat eaters, there was beef in horseradish and Stilton plus a range of steaks.
Matt’s partiality to cheese veered him towards the beef in horseradish and Stilton and Cat, with memories of a particularly nice piece of meat last time she ate in the White Hart, chose the fillet steak (rare).
Matt’s beef with horseradish and Stilton was a tasty and warming stew. There wasn’t a great deal of horseradish or Stilton detectable but certainly it was a rich sauce, which complemented the well-cooked and lean chunks of braising steak. The portion was modest, and for £9.50 Matt was hoping for a bit more. The dish was redeemed by an unusually good plate of no less than six different types of vegetables, perfectly cooked and not left to shrivel under a hot lamp.
Cat’s steak was first presented to Matthew, on the presumption that only a man would eat such a bloody hunk of cow flesh. Once the dish was correctly positioned in front of Cat, she noted with approval that the steak was pretty big and nicely rare. Half a big mushroom, half a tomato and four onion rings accompanied the meat along with a small helping of over-cooked chips. Wot no peas? Although the meat was pretty good, the chips were overly crunchy and one shot off the plate as Cat tried to impale it on her fork. Still, it all went down the hole, with Matt mopping up the remnants.
Matt still had some thawing to go from his earlier seaside adventures and decided that spotted dick and custard would provide the internal fuel required. Cat joined in the pudding-fest with the tasty sounding rhubarb and ginger crumble. The ‘dick was simple; nice and hot and lubricated with creamy custard. Cat’s crumble was less satisfactory, as it was tepid and not as gingery as she would have liked. Still, Matthew was happy to finish it off.
So, good food – albeit with a few details to work on; prices perhaps a little higher than average; but, with such a lovely homely environment, very good service and cheery clientèle, the newly refurbished White Hart is a jolly nice pub. Particularly now those knackered old seats have been archived. (See original review below).
27 March 2007: The drive through the sleepy village of Havenstreet is a picturesque alternative to the A3054 when going between Ryde and Newport. During Cat’s use of this pleasant route she would observe the new speed limit, enjoy the sight of the newly-laid hedge at the steam railway and whizz past the cows at Coppid Hall Farm.
Somehow, however, the village’s White Hart Inn has hardly entered Cat’s radar. Until now. The pub’s appearance hasn’t changed but for one thing – comical sign boards. Dodging the traffic in Havenstreet’s main road, one cannot help but notice proclamations such as “families with well-behaved parents welcome” and “best pub in the village – 1759”.
Lured by these intriguing yet corny messages, Matt and Cat decided one evening to pull into the pub’s neat gravelled car park, examine the new wooden furniture in the large and inviting garden and make their way into the bar. Much like the Sportsman’s Rest at Porchfield, the White Hart is a pub in the old tradition with its ‘public’ (smoking) bar and its lounge/restaurant (non-smoking). There are rumours of a new landlord – hence the signs outside – although it looks as if the new host’s efforts have not yet included the application of a lick of paint.
Nonetheless, Matt and Cat were greeted and seated themselves in the cosy lounge. It was quaint in an old skool way and in need of a bit of a spruce-up although it is certainly clean. The seat padding in Cat’s chair was completely non-existent, compressed as it must have been by the pressure of decades of punter’s bums. Swapping it for another chair did not give any greater level of comfort so she grinned and bore it, turning her attention to the menu. The standard bill of fare was pretty basic but there were plenty of tasty-sounding meat-based specials and one vegetarian option on the board.
Cat vacillated between beef in red wine and curry of the day (beef or chicken); Matt helped her out by choosing chicken curry for her and a steak for himself. Whilst waiting for their meals, your reviewers gawped at the pub’s memorabilia which included a roll-call of previous landlords, a bill of sale for the pub from 1917 and a cryptic history of the village in a naive gothic script. They also eavesdropped on the neighbouring table and, in moments, learned all they could ever want to know about fishing for bass from a gentleman with a penetrating voice whose fishing tales were enthralling three generations of ladies.
The curry and steak were delivered by the cheerful multi-tasking landlord/barman/waiter (who had, presumably, also written the comic boards outside). Cat’s curry was accompanied by a nice crispy poppadum and a generous helping of fluffy white rice. The curry itself was tomato-based and mild, as promised, with big chunks of succulent chicken. Matt’s steak was rare, as ordered; delicious and tender. The chips and onion rings were pretty good and the mushrooms were nice and fresh. All the food went down well and Cat, not usually a big eater of red meat, declared her taste of Matt’s steak to be sublime!
On clearing the plates, the omnifunctioning landlord asked how the steak was and, on hearing of Matt and Cat’s enjoyment of it, pronounced that it was Isle of Wight meat from a local butcher, and indeed the specials board mentioned this very fact. Most commendable.
So despite the pub’s slightly ‘lived-in’ interior, the food, though not the cheapest, was really very good – once again feeding into the discussion about whether (as in this case) a very nice meal in an average location is better or worse than an average meal in a very nice location. Probably in the case of the White Hart it was the friendly service which tipped the scales and made this a pub to recommend.