Fuelled by spontaneity and optimism; we decided to go out for dinner. No table booked, we just winged it, driven by the desire to eat in again after five long months of takeaways followed by a couple of weeks of dining al fresco on rain-lashed patios.
It was a punt but yes, the best pub in Yarbridge – the Yarbridge Inn – had a table and welcomed us like the COVID-19 weary diners we were.
How we’ve missed seeing a friendly face indoors. Even if the waitress’s and ours were half-masked, it was a delight to play at normality.
You can always tell which are our favourite places; they are the ones we eat in when ‘off-duty’. And the Yarbridge Inn is a desirable venue where extremely good and creative pub food is served in a comfortable and friendly environment. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The writing muscle that we use to describe a venue, the snippets of overheard conversation or the unusual ornaments – the sort of doodads that your nan would describe as a ‘conversation piece’ – has withered somewhat. With only our own dining table to eat off, our focus has been solely on what’s-in-the-box, as our months of takeaways rolled along. So please forgive us if we don’t talk about the pub’s garlands of fauxsteria creating a pretty bower, or the gadroon-edged plates with a floral motif.
We started with a ramekin of king prawn gambas. This succulent dish was delightfully garlicky and there were plenty of prawns to share. Delving into the pot we discovered a sparky sauce pimped with whole Isle of Wight cherry tomatoes, which soaked up satisfyingly into our crusty doorstop.
King prawn gambas £8.50
Liver and bacon £11.95
Sea bass fillet £14.95
When he sees liver and bacon on a menu Matt’s eyes stop roaming. Anything further down the bill of fare might as well get its coat and go home. The Yarbridge pan-fried lambs’ liver with crispy bacon and mash was a suitably impressive dish to mark Matt’s return to the indoor table. Rich, satisfying and with an irresistible rising aroma of onions and bacon, the slabs of liver were smothered in a lavish onion gravy so thick as to need chasing with a fork. To have a dish hot enough from the kitchen to need blowing on was a pleasure.
It was a hard call who had the meatier dish – especially as neither of us was really having meat in the traditional sense. Cat’s grilled sea bass fillet was a magnificent specimen; properly chunky and with a distinct fishy flavour unlike, say, soft and gentle cod. Cat swirled a forkful of the white flesh on the plate to coat it in the lemon butter sauce. It was the ideal anointment. The fish was presented recumbent on a bed of Cat’s favourite type of spud; sweet sautéed potatoes, and these were fine examples of the genre. Greens came in the form of watercress, a sometimes under-appreciated peppery vegetable, but again a very welcome garnish to Cat’s dinner. Oh lordy! It was good to be back!
Three dishes down and two pints of Islander ale under Matt’s creaking belt, we decided to go all out and have puddings too.
Our waitress warned us quite sternly that the pavlova came with kiwi fruit as well as the more conventional strawberries. We imagined that perplexed pavlova-lovers of Yarbidge had found this unorthodox addition sufficient to raise their concerns with her in the past – if so, those concerns were misplaced. Kiwi, it transpires, is a perfectly good fruit to place in a pavlova, and if it comes with a sticky home-made meringue and a mountain of chantilly cream, as this one did, nobody in their right mind could do anything but give grateful thanks.
Despite its arrival on our menus a good half-decade ago (or maybe more), salted caramel ain’t going anywhere and, when imagined as popcorn cheesecake, we’re not going to say no. The popcorn was more of a gimmick than an essential part of Cat’s dessert; the cheesecake could easily hold its own. With drizzles of toffee sauce, plus vanilla ice cream tempering the sweet saltiness of the creamy layer, this was a fine end to the meal.
You might say that by reviewing the constantly-reliable Yarbridge Inn we were pushing at an open door. And we’re not ashamed to say that we were, both metaphorically and actually. The pleasure of once again stepping over the threshold of a favourite pub cannot be underestimated. And, with a charming welcome, plus hearty and creative food, the Yarbridge Inn was always going to be one of our first choices for dining in the New Normal.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.