Archive review: the Wishing Well is now The Isle of Wight Distillery at The Wishing Well, the home of Mermaid Gin.
Matt and Cat first reviewed the Wishing Well in spring 2006 when it had just been taken over by new owners. The earlier review is at the bottom of the page.
Writing their food reviews is hardly an arduous chore. Matt and Cat enjoy eating out and part of the pleasure is chatting during their meal about what they might say about a venue. If a meal is good, they get the benefit of nice food. If a meal is dismal they get the benefit of giving a place a good kicking on this very website. Fortunately, the latter rarely happens. Most Isle of Wight eateries are of a very high standard with only one or two exceptions.
So, when they visited the newly reopened Wishing Well at Pondwell, Matt and Cat jabbered to each other about how they could say it’s newly opened; and how, when chatting to the bar staff they learned that they had just taken on the venture (rather than it being a straight refurbishment). About how the venue had a clean if slightly impersonal interior, with vast picture windows. However, when reading their 2006 review, M and C were stunned to see that was exactly what they had written last time! So what new things can be said about this cavernous roadhouse?
When Matt and Cat tottered over the threshold of the Wishing Well, it had only been re-opened a matter of days and, judging by the number of patrons, it had been sorely missed. The place was pretty full and there was the choice of just two empty tables in the whole place. It’s possible that the diners had been lured by the promise of curry night; certainly there was a lot of naan bread being eaten. Matt, always keen for a good ruby, did not hesitate to order one. However, his interest was piqued when he was asked which curry he wanted from a list of several choices. Usually pub curry night is the equivalent of a carvery: you buy a ticket and then help yourself at a spicy buffet. The Wishing Well avoids this food free-for-all and treats curry, quite rightly, as a dish which needs preparation rather than simply being slopped out by rote. To ensure an equitable test of the food, Cat decided against curry this time, and chose from the regular menu.
Prawn and crayfish curry
plus squash and beer £10.60
Mushroom tagliatelle £8.50
Apple and sultana crumble £4.50
Lemon cheesecake £4.50
Taking their cutlery and sauces to their table in a cute little metal bucket, Matt and Cat settled in next to a group of riotous Londoners. Much merry squawking emanated from this neighbouring table but it was in good jest and livened the place up. A little girl seated with her mother and a friend behind Matt and Cat was having her 10th birthday party.
Despite the pub being pretty full, it wasn’t long before the meals arrived. Matt had chosen prawn and crayfish madras which came with a little bowl of plain rice, scattered with grains of wild rice which gave it a really nice visual effect. A poppadum, naan and a selection of excellent chutneys plus a freshly-prepared onion baghee finished off this surprisingly comprehensive portion of pub curry. Matt thought the curry was a very good meal, significantly better than the standard pub ‘curry nite’ curry, which one suspects normally comes out of a bottle.
Cat had the vegetarian option of mushroom, spinach and toasted pine nut tagliatelle with garlic ciabatta. Again this seemed very freshly prepared; big slices of flat mushrooms lay in a creamy sauce with wilted spinach offering a good colour contrast and vitamin boost. This was a lovely dish, the pine nuts adding a touch of texture – although they didn’t seem to be toasted as promised. Another thing which wasn’t quite as described was the garlic ciabatta – as spectacularly garlicky as the dough-based accompaniment was, it wasn’t ciabatta but an ordinary slice of bread. However, it was tastier than many garlic breads that The Cat has eaten so she was not inclined to make a fuss.
Because the first courses were so nice, Matt and Cat decided to have puddings. Whilst they waited for their sweets to arrive, they were kept entertained by the delivery of a flaming birthday cake to the little girl at the adjacent table and joined in the singing of ‘Happy Birthday’ (although, along with the rest of the pub, they mumbled the bit when it came to singing the name “Happy birthday dear… Thingy…“)
Matt’s apple and sultana crumble was nice and cinnamony and came with a tiny pot of cold vanilla custard that could quite easily have been home-made. Cat’s lemon cheesecake was extraordinary. Those with a high cholesterol level, look away now! This was the thickest, cheesiest cheesecake that Cat had ever eaten. It too seemed to be home-made; the crumbly biscuit base plus the discovery of a real lemon pip reinforced that suspicion. It was so overwhelming that Matt had to assist, which he did with great enthusiasm. Let’s hope that the new owners can keep up this standard of home-cooked and prepared food. The difference is noticeable, and the food in the Wishing Well certainly stands out for it.
So, how to conclude? Well Matt and Cat think that they put it quite succinctly on their last review – with a few amendments. Although the owners and the interior have changed the sentiments still hold true: The food is now distinctly better than regular pub grub, but is still made worthwhile by good and personal service, nice presentation and fresh ingredients. The pub itself is a little bland, but may improve once the new hosts have settled in. The toilets – as in 2006 – still deserve commendation!
Review first published 7th March 2006
The Wishing Well is a conspicuous roadside pub with a huge deck out the back, from which fine views can be had. Matt & Cat visited on a foggy, rainy evening and were thus unable to take enjoyment from the view. Could the Wishing Well provide interest in the winter months?
The place has recently been spruced-up, and the conversation across the bar soon revealed the fact that the hosts had just taken on the free house this very week. Their welcome was friendly, and their two young children augmented the waiting staff with the eagerness of children who have just started something. It’s unlikely they’ll maintain this level of enthusiasm, but for the first week in the job one can hardly fault their commitment.
The pub is very roomy and open, and immaculately clean. It has the atmosphere of a family dining pub with a focus on food; there are many tables and a large no-smoking area. It probably would not be the place for a romantic evening out. That said, there did appear to be a separate lounge with a large fireplace, armchairs and a pool table. Perhaps once the hosts have settled in a bit they might find a way to add some more atmosphere to this pleasant, but somehow uninspiring place. Matt and Cat settled at a window seat to watch the rain lashing on the panes – left only to imagine what a splendid view may be had in the summer.
The menu was simple pub grub, clearly explained and reasonably priced. Matt chose grilled steak and Cat, her favourite – pan fried chicken. Without much delay the meals were served by the landlord. The food was piping hot and all freshly cooked to order. Matt’s steak was excellent, perfectly done and of good quality. The chicken was similarly well-presented. Chips and salad came alongside, but also on offer were vegetables, baked or new potatoes and a selection of steak sauces.
The food is regular pub grub, made worthwhile by good and personal service, nice presentation and fresh ingredients. The pub itself is a little bland, but may improve once the new hosts have settled in. The toilets especially deserve commendation – quite spectacularly sparkling and new.