Matt and Cat\'s Isle of Wight Eating Out Guide
The Windmill Inn is now closed. This is an archive review. Back in 2007, Matt and Cat had an unforgettable meal at The Windmill...

The Windmill Inn is now closed. This is an archive review.

Back in 2007, Matt and Cat had an unforgettable meal at The Windmill Inn in Bembridge.

Gammon sizzler

It was memorable for all the wrong reasons, and it has taken them five years to venture back into the wide doors of the Windmill to see if things have improved. Thankfully, they have; although in all honesty it might have been hard not to.

It would be a cliché to suggest that Bembridge is populated by the legions of the grey. Certainly on the weekday lunchtime that Matt and Cat visited, they did see a disproportionate number of oldies, but the children would have been at school and anyone of working age would have been – well, at work. However, there are still a conspicuous few who mount their mobility scooters or fire up the 1992 Nissan Micra (5,000 miles since new, one careful owner with backless gloves and a Motability grant) and journeying down Bembridge’s gentle decline, end up at the Windmill Inn.

Crab Thermidor

As Matt and Cat strolled back through the hotel’s doors, they were struck not just by the proportion of elderly diners, but by their remarkably advanced age. There was a young family chatting and laughing in the corner, but in fact they were holding court around Gran – who was well into her nineties by the look of her – though clearly hale and hearty and tucking into her Windmill food. Although the regulars gossiping at the bar were of mixed vintage, few of those dining would ever see seventy again. But that’s no biggie; some would say that seventy is the new fifty – just ask sexual tyrannosaurus Sir Tom Jones.

The barman greeted his younger visitors with exactly the right degree of affability. What the rather soulless architecture of the Windmill lacks in atmosphere, the staff seem determined to remedy with their pleasingly interactive approach. It may be that the customers enjoy getting out and having a nice chat – and if so, Matt and Cat approve. They even heard one waitress politely turning down an offer of a drink from an old gentleman in the dining room. Clearly it’s not just the food that makes for an enjoyable lunchtime outing for those exhausted by TV quizzes and car boot-based game shows.

M&C looked over the comprehensive specials board and found it added extra diversity to the regular menu. It also bore promise of ‘sizzler’ meals which, at £6.95, looked like they could be a good deal. Matt’s gammon steak sizzler confirmed that theory. Two sizable chunks of gammon were freshly cooked with the rind pleasingly browned and slightly crispy – a perfect rendition. They were served up on a hot iron skillet on which, as promised, they sizzled merrily. This gimmick was quite the thing a few years ago, and should in Matt’s opinion have remained more popular. Sizzling hot meals are entertaining, and also practical, as the iron pan keeps the meal warm long after a plate would have gone cold. The gammon came with the slightly miserly choice of egg or pineapple – but not both. Matt chose pineapple, and wished he’d had egg as unexpectedly the pineapple ring had been griddled along with the steak and was neatly scorched. Burnt pineapple is not nearly as rewarding as seared meat. Two big fried tomatoes, three onion rings, mushrooms, and some chips completed the meal. The chips were only just passable, but there were plenty of them, and for £6.95 Matt wasn’t complaining at all.

Matt and Cat’s bill
Gammon sizzler £6.95
Crab special £10.50
Drinks £4.10

Cat had what is becoming one of her favourite dishes. First enjoyed at Ventnor Haven, crab and chips is a simple yet delicious alternative to traditional deep-fried seafood and is right on Cat’s radar. The Windmill’s offering was crab with a Thermidor sauce and the choice of vegetables and new potatoes or chips and salad. Cat’s previous experience of salad at the pub was, frankly, woeful so she defiantly ordered it again on the assumption that things could only be better.

The kitchen was pretty efficient and soon delivered; despite a couple of false starts when twice M&C were offered other peoples’ lunches. Cat’s crab Thermidor meal came in a trio of dishes, and she decanted their contents onto her plate enabling a nice mix of the crab and chips. Like its namesake lobster Thermidor, the crabby version was delicious; the sauce had its required perceptible tang of mustard and the rich meat was soft and mercifully shell-free. The waitress was able to answer Cat’s question about its provenance – Bembridge – without needing to return to the kitchen to enquire. It’s an easy win with Matt and Cat when staff actually know what they are dishing up to their punters.

The salad was of more recent origin than before – no sign of slippery lettuce – although it still had some way to go to match the interesting salads of the Quay Arts Café. Standard shredded iceberg was topped with what Cat calls traffic light peppers – red, yellow and green – and the ubiquitous cucumber, tomato and raw onion. Perhaps for some this multi-hued medley may go a long way towards their five-a-day. However, with her delightful crustacean deserving all of her concentration, Cat didn’t spend too long attending to the salad. The chips, like the salad, were pretty standard. None of your fancy triple-cooked micro-pail-served fries but a reasonable pile of golden chips, a perfect substrate for the crab.

Visiting the Windmill on a weekday lunchtime, Matt and Cat were able to enjoy the warming winter sun flood into the conservatory and, after their hearty meals, they had the sudden urge for a nap. To be fair to the Windmill, when Matt and Cat levered themselves out of their chairs and returned to the bar to settle up, they were party to a discussion about a forthcoming gig at the hotel. Younger patrons were talking about a recent live music event with great enthusiasm and it sounded like it had been fun. Clearly the inn is a good village resource; even the parish council has written in support of this “popular facility“.

As they left Matt and Cat nearly fell over an electric scooter parked as close as possible the doors and frankly, this is how is should be. Too many places try to appeal to da yoof but even youngsters need a place that they can take their elders to, and the Windmill has something to offer for all generations. Perhaps even Sir Tom will pop in after his concert at Osborne House?

The Windmill Inn is now closed. This is an archive review.