Food review: The Island House, Wolverhampton
Vegetarians look away now! The Island House is a carnivore’s heaven. Leigh Sanders takes his family there for a delicious midweek dinner. . .
I walked in to the living room and took one look at my girlfriend.
A teacher, fresh back at work after the six-week break, she already had the look on her face that told me she felt like she’d never been away from the classroom.
We had already spent one evening together this week which consisted of me helping her organise her stationery while she marked books and planned lessons.
It was the easiest decision, made out of a mixture of laziness (on my part), tiredness (on hers).
“Right, I’ve booked a table. We’re going to The Island House,” I said.
So 45 minutes later, along with my girlfriend’s mum, we piled into the car and to the dulcet tones of Queens Of The Stone Age, forward we ventured.
Around a mile, if that. Yes, I know, we could have walked. But, having asked if we should walk, I was met by the kind of stare usually reserved for Victoria Beckham when questioned about her solo music career.
From the outside, The Island House looks warm and inviting, clean and comfortable. There’s the added bonus of having the takeaway section at the front of the property. With people coming and going from both here and from the restaurant inside there’s a constant stream of footfall. We would have worried if there wasn’t. Early signs were good.
Inside is equally clean and fairly comfy. Tables are well-spaced. You feel part of the experience without having a grizzly child staring you down from a foot away. There are two main seating areas around an old bar.
This adds to the atmosphere as rather than having one mass of laughing friends and clanging cutlery the noise pollution is broken down into more manageable chunks.Which brings us on to the food.
We had friendly staff serving us throughout the evening. There were plenty of smiles and they didn’t huff and sigh when requests were made. We all know young waiting staff would rather be somewhere else than working – but these guys didn’t make that obvious.
If we were to be picky, the timing was slow. Given this was midweek and there were plenty of empty tables the effort to clear away used plates left a lot to be desired. But, again, the politeness made up for this.
However, what I would say is that if you’re a vegetarian steer clear. This is not a criticism, they just specialise in meat and fish dishes. Your options will be limited.
For carnivores though this is paradise. A large specials menu added to the choice; in some cases the meat or fish was the same as on the main menu but with different sides and sauces. It felt almost customisable, which is a nice change in a modern world of strict, templated menus geared at profit margins.
Already my girlfriend’s mood has lifted as her eyes glided down the menu. Options were debated, changed, debated and changed again. The stresses of teaching melted as she focussed on choosing what to eat.
We opted for the baked Camembert sharer served with a mixture of baby rustic breads and red onion jam to start.
All three breads were lovely, ranging from a soft, croissant-like offering to the grainier farmhouse texture of another.
The warm cheese oozed when you dunked your dipper of choice, cuddling the bread invitingly as you lifted it back out to lift it to your mouth. The jam added a sweet kick to the savoury party.
Her mum chose a selection of barbecue pork ribs that came with French toast. The toast was a little soggy, but the perfectly cooked ribs just slid off the bone. Enjoyment levels on that side of the table were high.
The portions were well sized – particularly the ribs. We felt satisfied without worrying about whether we’d manage our main course dishes.
A large range of lagers from across Europe are available to wash the meat down with – it’s nice to see they’re keeping their public house heritage alive and well.
But the mains are where the evening started to slip a little.
Two of us were lucky. My girlfriend picked off the specials menu – a minted lamb burger packed with salad and two rashers of crisp bacon, accompanied by fat, skin-on chips, crispy onion rings, a pot of coleslaw and mustard mayonnaise.
The smiles and laughs were flowing now. The burger was greeted with a chorus of ‘ooohs’ and ‘mmms’ that told us it was to taste although, with how stacked, she had to ‘deconstruct’ it and tackle it in more manageable chunks.
The sweet and tangy coleslaw disappeared within minutes – with some help from the rest of us – and her chips were cooked just to her liking.
I had an eight ounce sirloin steak which I slathered in a thick and creamy peppercorn sauce. Its sharp flavour had enough of a kick without overpowering all else. The sauce was also the ideal dip for the skin-on chips.
The onion rings were crispy yet soft inside, they broke almost immediately on the lips. It was a nice change to the often heavy, damp and greasy fare served up in some places.
The steak itself was juicy and flavoursome – not too fatty – and went perfectly with the sauce.
Just one problem . . . it wasn’t my steak.
My girlfriend’s mum had also selected the same steak, but without sauce. She had also requested it be cooked more well done than mine.
But the chef had put the sauce on the wrong plate. Yet, judging how pink the inside of her cut was, it is very doubtful it would have satisfied me as I like mine cooked ‘medium’.
She pointed this out and they offered to cook it further for her, yet when it returned it was almost as pink as before. Giving up, she settled for her side portions but it proved an unsatisfactory meal out for her.
Luckily, after she showed the type of negotiating powers that would get Lord Sugar jumping out of his seat on The Apprentice, the manager for the night agreed to remove the offending item from our bill.
And we were left to with desserts to hammer home the success of Operation Turn That Frown Upside Down. The jokes and tales had been flowing from my side. And it was unclear whether the tears of laughter from my companions were with me or at my expense. It didn’t matter though. We had succeeded.
I chose the raspberry bakewell with custard. The portion was a little small compared to some places offering puds for the same price but it was gorgeously sweet and smothered in thick, creamy custard.
The other half had a tiramisu and declared it ‘as good as she had tasted in Italy’. The cream on the top was firm but sweet and she liked the mixtures of flavours.
And, luckily, her mum also enjoyed her serving of chocolate fudge cake with marshmallows, meringue bites and a serving of cream. Dinner wasn’t such a disaster for her after all.
Unfortunately, the bar staff let themselves down a bit by ignoring our empty plates and bill requests. They seeminly prefered to spend time looking at photographs on the manager’s phone. But their reactions suggested they were lovely snaps, if that makes any difference.
We eventually paid up and went off into the night. After I mistook a well-known coffee brand advertised outside for a hotel chain our beleaguered teacher was now beside herself with laughter and leaning on us for support.
So we can officially say mission accomplished. Both with our cheering up skills and a (mostly) delightful meal.