The population of Bembridge may double during the summer months as second-home-owners descend on the village to go sailing, catch up with their metropolitan friends who are DFL (Down From London) and eat out in the local bars and restaurants.
One of these eateries, Fulton’s Chop House, seemed to have closed down before Matt and Cat got the chance to eat there – despite several attempts. They’ve been more successful elsewhere in Bembridge: the Pilot Boat has some excellent food and the Crab and Lobster is in a fantastic spot.
So far, so seaside. But what about the permanent residents? Does the village roll up its pavements once the summer season is at an end? Fortunately, Bembridge has an indigenous, albeit elderly, population all year round and one autumn evening Matt and Cat were able to immerse themselves in its culture at the Windmill Inn.
The Windmill is a massive hotel which has developed a thriving restaurant sideline. From the boards outside, Matt and Cat noted that the hotel has a daily carvery, a sure draw for price-conscious oldsters. On entering the capacious hotel from its big car park, M and C were impressed with its high ceilings and vast bar/diner. In fact it was slightly overwhelming; several locals chatted at the bar whilst your reviewers wandered around the rambling establishment waiting to be seated. However, it proved not to be that sort of place and they found themselves a table without any input from the staff.
The regular menu has a good range of food, which is perhaps to be expected from a hotel. Liver and bacon vie for your attention along with roast lamb, hickory-roast chicken and scampi. There is a small but interesting vegetarian selection. Also, like its sister pub, the Horse and Groom, there are options for those with smaller appetites, children and babies. The menu prominently featured OAP portions, OAP prices, and OAP specials. Perhaps a pattern was emerging here.
Matthew toyed with the idea of liver and bacon before settling on the roast half shoulder of lamb with mash and roast gravy. Cat, keen for steak, swerved off at the very last moment and chose goat’s cheese and vegetable tart with fresh salad and crusty bread from the vegetarian selection. Waiting to order from the very friendly barman, Matt noticed a large commercial calendar on the bar-room wall, not from the local drayman but from a ‘Hygiene and Nursing Supplies Specialist’. That’s Bembridge for you.
Perhaps because it was early evening, Matt and Cat’s fellow diners were all elderly, garrulously concerned with medical conditions – or both. In the time between ordering and receipt of food, Matt and Cat eavesdropped on the indiscreet miracles of modern medicine at neighbouring tables. An elderly couple were entertaining a still more elderly lady visitor and catching up on the gossip. “Since I had that operation,” declaimed a well-upholstered lady, “I’ve been in constant pain every time I eat.” Sympathy was soon forthcoming. “I had an op myself,” hollered the man unabashedly to his hard-of-hearing companion. “Sometimes I get this pain… right in my a**e.” It seemed unlikely that this was a metaphor. What splendid dinner-time talk.
Thankfully, the food’s arrival gave a welcome distraction from tales of gall bladders, singing legs and sleepless nights.
Matthew’s roast lamb looked pretty good. A sizable portion of meat was covered with a rich gravy on a pile of mash, and came with an interesting-looking side-dish of fresh vegetables. These proved to be delicious and absolutely fresh, even including some unusual seasonal root vegetable chips. If Matt had known what was to follow he’d probably have spent a little longer enjoying them, for after that it was almost all downhill. Probing the lamb soon revealed that the showy exterior was the best of it – inside it was a sorry affair. Instead of crispy roasted skin parting to reveal the flavoursome fat of a good roast lamb, the top of the meat was a soggy mess, with watery grey fat slumped desolately over the leaner meat below. No herbs or garlic were detectable – this meat was unadorned. At least it was soft – perhaps for all those OAP chewers. It fell apart on the fork, with no hint of the texture or pink colour that well-roast lamb has. The Windmill for some reason had apparantly boiled this bit of meat to within an ace of inedibility. Although it was a decent size and must once have had the potential to be a really good meal, this was some time ago. Grey, tasteless hunks of meat lurked mournfully amongst the gristle, and, most bizarre of all, the rich and oddly orange-coloured gravy sauce that covered the meat seemed to have a distinct flavour of BBQ sauce – could it perhaps, have got muddled with the ‘hickory-roast chicken’? Matt invited Cat to try his gravy, to confirm this culinary clanger. Sadly she concurred – this lamb was served with smoked sauce. For nearly £11 Matt expected a lot better.
First impressions of the goat’s cheese tartlet were good. Two big disks of cheese slowly melted atop a diamond-shaped puff pastry flan filled with peppers, tomatoes and other vegetables. Unfortunately the same could not be said for the salad. What appeared to be a pretty small helping of what was billed as ‘fresh salad’ was made even smaller when Cat discovered and removed browning leaves stashed under a pile of sliced iceberg lettuce. Why hide them? Do they imagine that diners will not look underneath? At least one could praise their honesty and frankness if they put the mouldering relics right on top for all to see.
This poor array of old salad was not quite down to the level of the sad offerings at the Lazy Cow, but it was not good – and in one important respect it actually fell well below the standards of the Lazy Cow, who at least apologised when the problem was identified. When the Windmill waitress came to clear the plates, although she did not ask how the food was Cat decided to be proactive and, gesticulating at the rejected lettuce, said politely, “Some of the salad was a bit elderly, but I managed to pick out the good bits”. The waitress just said, “Oh good” and wandered off. There was an awkward moment of silence. Cat sat open mouthed.
Matt and Cat wasted no time on desserts and coffees, and were relieved to get out and leave the Windmill behind. Perhaps The Windmill had an off night. Perhaps, as it was Monday, they had some leftovers from a busy Sunday carvery. Perhaps they just find the very old are happy to eat poor food and pay well for it. Whatever the reason, Matt and Cat were disappointed, and can’t find any reason to recommend The Windmill to anyone.
Windmill Inn, Bembridge