Niton used to have two pubs, the White Lion and the Buddle. After some prevarication the White Lion closed for good, and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst the Crab-Nitoners. Left without a pub in the village itself, drinkers were faced with a steep walk down to the coastal Buddle, or a drive elsewhere – which defeats the object of a pub, if that you can’t really have more than a jar. In 2017 Niton revamped its Post Office and created Joe’s Bar, a quaint little speakeasy that we described as “a resoundingly authentic locals’ country pub“. So Niton had two pubs again, and all was good. But wait, what’s this? In 2019 the White Lion showed signs of life, and by summer the pub was reopened under the proprietorship of the nearby Chequers Inn, Rookley. Now Niton has three pubs – an impressive quota for such a small village.
So, is the new White Lion any good? We thought we’d best find out, and when better than Friday steak night? Right from our arrival in the immaculately-renovated pub, we were taken care of. Even with no booking and some big parties due, we were found a table and told about that night’s featured menu. We didn’t have to queue separately at the bar for drinks (The Sloop, we’re looking at you), nor wait ages for to order once we’d been settled into our chairs. So for service and ambience, the White Lion impressed us before we’d even looked at the menus.
Matt had a starter, and having come with beef in mind, picked salted Ladyacre Farm beef. Strips of fresh, moist salt beef came adorned with some suitable home-made pickles and a burnt butter mayo – a stimulating and unusual starter with impeccable local and home-made credentials.
As we enjoyed our first course a big group of diners entered, who turned out to be from a local sports club. They were welcomed and shown to their big table, dressed for festive fun. Soon enough crackers were pulled and we all enjoyed the cheesy jokes that can only be told under such circumstances. One fine old gent was not a cracker fan, and wouldn’t wear his hat, to the consternation of his fellows. In the end he admitted he was worried about it pulling off his wig.
On this cold night, lamb shoulder lasagne took Cat’s fancy. She wouldn’t normally have such a substantial meal, so was happy to order the small portion. It was pimped up with a full portion of decent chips and a twirl of mixed dressed salad garnish. Despite its modest size, the lasagne was filled with a fair smattering of meaty stuff and had a warm winter coat of cheesy topping. A reasonable example of the genre.
10oz ribeye was Matt’s choice off the huge steak night menu, with a 50oz tomahawk as the biggest he could have had – annotated primly to say that it was designed for sharing. When the ribeye arrived, we got an insight into the story of the meal as the server told us how it had come from Lady Acre Farm just up the road, and that the farmer’s wife worked behind the bar. Sauce was included in the price, and alongside came chips, salad, home-made onion rings and three side dishes: all unusual and enjoyable accompaniments. A spiced slaw was an intriguing kind of coronation salad, a curry hit with sultanas, sweetcorn and red cabbage. A little ramekin of beef chilli made sure that Matt really did have enough beef on his plate (as if there was any doubt); and finally a bowl of sticky coconut rice was a delicious and slightly perplexing finale. Each of these tasty sides could have formed the basis of a great meal on its own, with the amazing rice being the dish of the night.
Salt beef £7.25
Small lamb lasagne £7
10oz ribeye steak £21.50
Chocolate fondant £6
Even though the pub had filled up and the sports party was being served, we were still well attended to. One of the waitresses even scurried over to retrieve a teaspoon Cat had fumbled to the floor; we haven’t seen that sort of attention since we were in the kitchen of a cruise ship.
We both chose warm desserts, deciding against the rather mystical-sounding unicorn ice cream – did it come with an inverted cone perhaps? The dark fondant pudding with salted caramel ice cream oozed its rich warm innards like a chocolatey magma, complemented by the cool sweet and salty ice cream. A good pairing.
Pear and mixed berry crumble was a real winter treat. A big bowl of rich, red blackberry stew was slathered over big poached pears, and the hot home-made custard that Matt enthusiastically poured over it was a runny vanilla cream that soaked enticingly into the crunchy crumble topping.
The White Lion impressed us with its uniformed and attentive staff, who gave us decent service with a bit of patter when required. The venue is nicely appointed and clearly very popular. The food itself was serviceable for a country pub, with some really outstanding and unusual features, like the huge steak options and those amazing side dishes. Niton is now the proud home to three pubs, and the White Lion is offering a brand of pub grub that is distinctly its own.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.