Shops in Cowes – and indeed people – seem to be divided into two broad groupings. Either impossibly chic and inaccessible; or quaint to the point of impracticality. Both have their merits, but Matt and Cat undoubtedly tend to favour the fanciful when faced with the choice.
So with that in mind it is perhaps no surprise that when strolling through Cowes one afternoon, Matt and Cat stopped for a late lunch at the Watch House Barn in Bath Road. Quite a few other places to eat had already put up the shutters, but the Watch House still looked warm and welcoming. As M & C stood outside peering vaguely at the menu, any last traces of indecision were eliminated when they looked in to see a working model train chugging around the eatery. That definitely counts as quaint. So in they went, and took their seats underneath the whooshing wheels of the constantly circling locomotives.
Inside, the Watch House is a temple to tea-shoppe twee. Apart from the train – the track for which was inexplicably festooned with Christmas lights and artificial fir – the walls were dotted with little shelves and nick-nacks. Tiffany lampshades hung from the ceiling, and behind the well-stocked cake counter the crockery and cutlery was neatly arrayed on the shelves in farmhouse-kitchen style. Service at the Watch House was friendly and prompt. What’s more, despite the lateness of the afternoon a quick enquiry of the waitress confirmed that hot food was still being served. Matt and Cat had a look through the padded, embossed menus. On offer was the usual tea shop and café fare, with light snacks (including burgers, chips and the impressive-sounding devilled whitebait and buck rarebit); as well as more substantial meals such as roast duck, rainbow trout and home-made steak and kidney pie. Matt went for the advertised daily special, which was a highly reasonable £5.95 meal deal of braised scrumpy pork hock followed by lemon sponge pudding and custard. Cat, not entirely ready for a cooked lunch, defaulted to her favourite cream tea.
Now, pork hock is an unusual cut of meat to be served in a café, but one that seemed appropriate in the splendidly old-fashioned locale. On arrival, it was obvious that the eccentricity of the place extended to the food also – as well as a roast potatoes and veg, the joint came accompanied by pasta. Nothing wrong with pasta, mind you. Nothing wrong at all. No. And when, later, the proprietress came round to clear the plates, she was at pains to ask whether that pasta had pleased her guests – which it had. It was an experiment, she said, which they were trying that day. Perhaps she felt it necessary to explain that, in case the diners formed a suspicion that the kitchen had run out of something at that late stage in the afternoon, and substituted pasta at the last moment. Matt ate his pasta with pleasure, and enjoyed the meaty hock joint.
Cat was delighted with her cream tea. In a café with such a splendid cake display she expected some good scones, and was not disappointed. Two moist, fresh and tasty scones were undoubtedly the highlight of the meal.
Perhaps if Matt’s special meal hadn’t come with pudding, your reviewers would have had a go at that array of cakes. As it was, Cat was replete with scone and cream, and Matt was looking forward to lemon sponge pudding and custard. When it arrived, he was slightly less impressed. The decent-sized bit of sponge actually appeared to be a slice of lemon cake, complete with icing. Maybe Matt was getting something from the cake-stand after all. But an unexpected development was the custard – it was arguably the runniest custard that could still be called custard. Any runnier and it might have come into the category of lemon squash. Still, it tasted good enough, and was warm. Matt ate the sponge with pleasure, but was obliged to leave the majority of the custard – perhaps he should have asked for a straw.
Matt and Cat can’t fault the welcome and the enjoyable eating environment at the Watch House Barn. A good, traditional café and tea shop that manages to stand out from the herd with its determined quirkiness. And maybe next time, there will be a chance to eat some of those cakes!