Pies, eh? The staple of an English diet. Certainly if the success of mainland bakery Greggs is anything to go by. If you haven’t heard, this fast food pastry outlet has marched solidly across England, consuming other smaller bakeries in its path to become the largest bakery chain in the country. And, if you spend your whole life on the Isle of Wight (old Seth Gubber of Cranmore, we’re looking at you), there is no need for you to have heard of Greggs. As the baking behemoth heads further southwards – installing its famous franchise in the Wightlink ferry St Clare – the Island itself still remains Greggs-free.
This lack of national bakeries is not a bad thing. It allows local bakers to grow and flourish, including family-run business Wilkinson’s. According to its website, J. Wilkinson’s classic pies were initially made in their domestic kitchen. Now, a few short years later, the brand has its own premises. The company’s pies are handmade and use local produce where possible. What more reason could we need to visit the pie shop in Sandown?
Wilkinson’s occupies an enviable spot on Sandown’s high street, with views down Pier Street to the pier (natch) and the English Channel beyond. The shop’s counter has been oriented to take advantage of this view and, if you spend your days behind a pie shop counter, you could do worse than have that vista in your eyeline.
The little venue is a hybrid of pie shop and cafe, with a couple of tables for folks to eat their pastries. We were not actually on the look out for lunch as we meandered through Sandown but were irresistibly drawn to the blackboard which boasted ‘redshank pies’. Redshank? Chartered environmentalist Matt was agog! Surely not the protected wetland bird? There can barely be enough meat on one of those spindly-legged things to fill the world’s smallest flan, let alone a pie fit for a trencherman. A simple enquiry of the jolly lady behind the counter at Wilkinson’s soon established that the ‘red shank’ was in fact venison. We’re not sure how local that ingredient is – but it didn’t matter, Matt had it in his sights.
As they had run out of chicken pies, Cat asked for a salmon lattice. Spotting that there was a special soup and pie offer on for a mere £2.50, we both upgraded our pies to include a bowl of homemade oxtail soup. The lady kindly put our pies on plates and brought them and the soup to our table. As our lunches arrived the winter sun peeked out from behind a cloud, illuminating the golden pastry and the pies’ meaty fillings.
The moist and tasty salmon lattice had identifiable flakes of salmon steak and also pieces of spring onion. It was the perfect pie for Cat, who tends to shy away from beefy pies. Matt, for once, had not chosen one of the steak-based fillings and was enjoying his deer pie. It had big chunks of the lean, rich meat, a rich gamey gravy, and was the perfect warmer for a wintery afternoon.
You must have been served soup that has been zapped to spoon-melting hotness, the temperature of the sun? Well, Wilkinson’s oxtail was not that soup. Like Goldilocks, Cat declared the temperature to be not too hot, not too cold, but just right. The soup was thick, tasty and warming; rich and peppery, with an intense flavour. It was a great accompaniment to the pies. As we ate our lunches we heard the Cat Stevens song, ‘Matthew and Son’ on Tony Blackburn’s radio show. Tony Blackburn? What kind of time warp was this? That plus the taste of oxtail soup took Cat back to a bygone age.
Salmon lattice and soup £2.50
Redshank pie and soup £2.50
Pies eaten, we paid up and said our goodbyes. Wilkinson’s has proved to be an excellent addition to Sandown High Street – and amazingly good value too, for such decent, home-made fare and cheerful service. Actress and model Milla Jovovich, a fan of the Greggs and its pasties, said in 2002 that she would be willing to become the “face of Greggs” in a new marketing campaign if the firm approached her. However, no such approach was made. If Wilkinson’s goes global then Matt may emerge from his cloak of anonymity to volunteer to become the face of Wilkinson’s!
- Great pies
- Sea views
- Excellent value
- Basic - but then it's a pie shop