With its thatched cottages, a model village, an olde-worlde smithy, a 15th-century church and an artisan chocolate shop, could there be any place on the British Isles more twee than Godshill?
The Isle of Wight is, in itself, rather dinky, so to find ourselves walking around a miniature version of it is slightly mind- warping. Mr M and I are on the island for a weekend break involving very little sight-seeing and a great deal of eating and drinking. The north coast of the island can keep its Osborne House and Riviera chic, we're sticking with the south coast's gastropubs and farm cafés.
Conscious that it would be embarrassing only to have some memories of empty plates, we've come to Godshill, but a turn around the church (surprisingly inspiring), cottages (manicured almost to death) and souvenir shops (tacky, of course) has left us in need of nourishment. It's been at least an hour since the last scone.
We repair to The Taverners, the least-touristy of the many tea-rooms and cafés along Godshill's small but densely populated high street. Cyclists are slaking their thirst with pints of cider outside and there's a butcher/deli attached to the side of the cream-painted pub, an idea I wholeheartedly endorse. Who wouldn't want to buy some gourmet sausages, some homemade ketchup and a crusty loaf for a late-night snack after a few jars?
Alas, the interior of the pub has some design howlers. Antique Singer sewing machine? Check. Horse brasses? Check. Kilner jars of dried chick peas and pasta? Er, check. But those aside, there's clearly an élan and attention to detail about the place that bodes well. Each table has chunky cutlery wrapped in a classic linen tea towel, and candles in old tin cans. It's rustic without losing usefulness.
My food decision is influenced by a faintly garish but laudable map on the front wall. It shows how far each piece of produce has travelled to get into the pub's kitchen. The pork, for instance, is from 620 yards away; the crab 8.7 miles. A note on the menu states that produce is bought daily and cooked to order. Hence there are no big surprises but some dishes which, if done properly, sound very promising indeed.
I go for island-smoked salmon with warm potato bread and chive cream cheese (£5.25), while Mr M starts with home-made chicken-liver pâté. In deference to the IoW's farmers, we then order homemade pork-offal faggots with leek mash and cabbage (£10.50) and 12-hour braised Briddlesford veal shin with root vegetables (£12.50). Nothing there that arrived on a freight plane.
The salmon's meltingly soft with a kick of smoky heat, and the potato bread is dense and moreish. I help myself to a slab of the pâté but the smoothness I love is, in this instance, almost overwhelming. There's also, it must be said, nothing model about the portion size.
I get sudden food envy of our neighbour, who's just received a prawn sandwich. On a wooden board, crusty white slices are perfectly matched with a jumble of plump seafood. That's what a pub lunch is supposed to be. I begin to wonder if I'll make it through the mains.
Nevertheless, although I have to leave some of the almost-black, glossy shin of veal that falls on to my fork, I can't bear to not do it justice. You can't fake slow-cooked meat, and this is the real deal. The hefty clump of swede purée on the side does an admirable job of mopping up the cooking juices, too. Under the tea-towel napkin, I loosen my belt. Thank goodness I don't fancy the faggots (which are, apparently, earthy and delicious).
Who'd order pud in a pub? Especially with a fancy chocolatier down the road? Um, two lardy tourists from the mainland, that's who. We feign restraint by sharing a warm pear and almond tart with vanilla ice-cream – it's slightly underpowered and where stodge turns from a good to a bad thing. Meanwhile, our neighbour takes delivery of a lemon-meringue pie that stands a good six inches tall.
Perhaps we'll have to come back to Godshill having not spent the preceding two days stuffing our faces. It may not be troubling the Michelin inspectors anytime soon, but The Taverners makes me wish I lived in a thatched cottage on the Isle of Wight. If only the portions were closer to model-village size.
Scores: 1-9 stay home and cook, 10-11 needs help, 12 ok, 13 pleasant enough, 14 good, 15 very good, 16 capable of greatness, 17 special, can't wait to go back, 18 highly honourable, 19 unique and memorable, 20 as good as it gets
The Taverners, High Street, Godshill, Isle of Wight, tel: 01983 840 707
About £35 for three-course lunch for two with drinks. Lunch and dinner, daily. Lunch only, Sunday
More village pubs
The Ship Inn Church Lane, Levington, near Ipswich, tel: 01473 659 573
A pub that always has an interesting and exciting menu, the Ship inspires impressively consistent feedback, all of which tends to confirm that its only drawback is its popularity
Star & Garter
East Dean West Sussex, tel: 01243 811 318
A fabulous gastropub in a beautiful village. The Star & Garter specialises in seafood, with photos of Goodwood, both horses and motors, setting the tone
19 The Green, Lund, North Yorkshire, tel: 01377 217 294
The best pub food in this part of Yorkshire – this village boozer is an all-round crowd-pleaser
Reviews extracted from 'Harden's London and UK Restaurant Guides 2010' www.hardens.comReuse content