The Sun Inn first came to Matt and Cat’s attention some years ago when its name was splashed over the local paper. A campaign by concerned locals to prevent the ancient hostelry from being converted to a house was eventually successful, and the pub, closed for some time, reopened in a blaze of publicity. Now, at last, the time has come for Matt and Cat to investigate the rise of the Sun at Hulverstone.
Hulverstone is a tiny hamlet in the heart of the coastal West Wight – prime country for Sunday afternoon touring and grand views of the sea. Matt and Cat were amongst those taking the air one Sunday afternoon, and, passing the Sun Inn, considered stopping there for lunch. The place looked packed out – the large car park was decidedly full – but, helpfully, a signboard clearly indicated that food was served from 12 noon until 9pm, every day. So, for once, tardy Matt and Cat were able to go off for a bracing walk along the shore without worrying about the kitchen closing. After a good poke around on the beach at nearby Fort Victoria Country Park, the pair returned to the Sun Inn to find the Sunday lunch rush over, and the pub quiet and welcoming.
The Sun is a pub of two halves – and that does not just refer to the fine beers they keep. The original old inn, dating back to the 1400s, is still intact and forms a snug and characterful bar area, with a fireplace and comfy seating. Matt and Cat entered the little bar to find it full of atmosphere. A couple of old chaps were garrulously chatting over their pipes in one corner, whilst a young couple gazed soulfully over their untouched drinks in another. The cheery barman welcomed the visitors and confirmed that food was still available. After some debate Matt and Cat decided they would sit elsewhere in the pub to eat, to avoid the pervading miasma of the old fellows’ pipes. On leaving the cosy bar, it seemed as though they had been transported into another pub entirely. In this newer half of the pub, spacious rooms with big windows allowed spectacular views across the English Channel to Dorset. Plenty of dining tables and the usual slightly soul-less paraphernalia of a family dining pub gave a very contrasting feel. Added to this were generic floral prints, interspersed with the inevitable ceramic straw boater and miscellaneous leather horse-tackery on the walls, and some rather penetrating 1980s piped music. To the strains of the Phil Collins dirge ‘Groovy Kind of Love’, Matt and Cat took their seats.
The menu (available online if you care to look) consisted of pub grub staples, including burgers, jacket potatoes, and an impressive grill section. Prominent was a commendable credit for local produce, with the locally produced faggots getting special mention.
More unusual was the substantial specials board, which had quite a few interesting and inviting choices on it. Matt chose from this range griddled pork steak with port sauce and cashews. Cat, after vacillating desperately between the Sunday roast lamb or a chicken burger, uncharacteristically went for the burger from the standard menu.
The splendid views kept your reviewers entertained whilst the food was prepared. On delivery it proved to be – perhaps in imitation of the pub – a meal of two halves. Matt was delighted with his pork steak. A small but beautifully presented tasty and tender cut, with a sliver of crispy fat on the outside, the meat was complemented by a generous sprinkling of toasted cashew nuts which made a novel and very enjoyable taste combination. The port sauce was scant and quite subtle, keeping the food moist without drowning the delicate flavour of the main elements. It was served with a small but diverse bowl of vegetables, and some rather ordinary chips which did not manage to compromise Matt’s enjoyment of an unexpectedly good dish.
Cat, by contrast, found her chicken burger uninspiring. A small but fresh salad – with no raw onion – and the same nondescript chips went alongside a standard sesame bun which contained two processed chicken burgers in batter. Hoping for a chicken breast in the bun, Cat was rather crestfallen to be presented with this. The salad was nice, with a liberal sprinkling of cress – one of Cat’s favourites – but, as soon as the meal was placed in front of her she knew she should’ve had the roast lamb after all. Just to make matters worse, the plate the dinner was served on bore subtle traces of a previous meal. Admittedly the price of the burger and chips was less than the pork, but the contrast between the quality of the two meals was striking and surprising.
When the time came to settle up and leave the comfortable hostelry, Matt and Cat were entertained by a misprint on their receipt:
The Sun Inn proved to be an enjoyable pub in many ways. If you were to average out a splendid meal with a pretty mediocre one, you’d probably end up concluding that the Sun was a good enough place to eat. The pub is in a great location with spectacular views and plenty of outside seating for more clement days. It is obviously a very popular venue for the Sunday lunch crowd and the menu advises booking a table for a meal at this busy time. The staff clearly can produce excellent food at good prices; perhaps if they could make their standards more consistent they’ll really be able to shine.
The Sun Inn at Hulverstone