Never promise a child something you may not be able to deliver.

It’s a hard lesson to learn and a revelation that hit me like a tonne of bricks just minutes after my family got off the Manxman.

‘Can we go and see the robot, Dion?,’ my four-year-old nephew Ffranci asked me excitedly.

My mind snapped back to a vague conversation I had with him over Christmas, the last time I was visiting him in Wales.

Upset at the fact that I was leaving to return to the island after the festive season, I had tried to reassure him with a little pep talk.

‘Don’t worry, Ffranci; you can come and visit me soon,’ I said.

‘And when you do, we can go and see the robot waiter.’

I was, of course, referring to the famous automated staff member that puts in shifts at the 1886 bar and grill in the heart of Douglas.

For any readers that haven’t yet seen our programmatic pal, visit the venue on any given weekend, and you’re likely to find them darting between tables, delivering dishes to hungry customers on the floor.

But that’s what worried me.

Machines are great, but, like most things, they can sometimes fail.

The robot in action
The robot in action (Media Isle of Man)

And that notion left me worried that my family’s four-hour start-to-finish trip to the Isle of Man had been all for nothing because, as many parents can attest, once a child gets fixated on something, it’s very difficult to get them to think about anything else.

Ever the optimist, though, I was confident that fate would smile on my endeavours on this occasion.

Flash-forward to Saturday (my family arrived on the island for a surprise visit on a Thursday), and I headed down to the Strand Street venue to check on the robot’s condition.

‘Yes, he’s working today,’ said the nice bloke behind the bar.

Perfect, I thought to myself.

Filled with an unaccustomed sense of smugness, I bought a pint, took a pew, and waited for my family to arrive.

And despite being just after noon on a miserable January Saturday, 1886 was pretty packed.

One arm of the slightly u-shaped first floor was occupied by what seemed to be a bunch of party revelers (it is a bar after all). 

The rest of the seats were taken up by a variety of different customers, chatting, eating, drinking, watching sports, and generally making the most of a free Saturday.

Ten minutes later, the rest of the Jones clan arrived: my dad, mom, sister, nephew, and baby niece (my brother-in-law had been appointed as the off-island dog sitter to facilitate their visit).

We spent what seemed to be an age perusing the menu, and there’s one simple reason for that: there’s so much choice.

The War and Peace-style tome boasted everything from seafood and salads to sides and sauces spanning all types of cuisine—Asian, Indian, Italian, you name it!

There’s even a whole section on macaroni and cheese.

The 'build your own fajita'
The 'build your own fajita' (Media Isle of Man)

After collating all the family’s choices, I headed to the bar to put in our order and, just to be sure, checked one final time on the status of the robot, emphasising the fact that we had a chirping child in tow who’d been watching Star Wars on repeat since he’d heard about the fabled robot.

We were reassured that 1886’s electronic waiter had clocked in for duty.

But 30 minutes later, a glitch appeared in the matrix, and a woman came idling over to our table carrying some of our dishes.

At that moment, two thoughts popped into my head:

1) The Isle of Man was making some incredible advances in technology, and the waitress in front of me was, in fact, a cyborg.

2) or there was something wrong with the robot.

The pork belly at 1886
The pork belly at 1886 (Media Isle of Man)

‘Yeah, it’s not working at the moment,’ said the waitress as she politely put the dishes down on the table.

Ffranci, my nephew, aimed a quizzical look in my direction.

Luckily, as his first language is Welsh, I was able to gloss over the waitress’ comments.

‘She’s said it’s sleeping at the moment, but he’ll be here soon.’ I said, simultaneously praying to the robot gods for some sort of miracle.

Hell really has no fury like a disappointed child!

Thankfully, the machine overlords seemed to have answered the call, as less than a couple of minutes later, a black and white rectangular tower manufactured to look like a cat came rolling out of the kitchen.

It danced and whirled in front of our table, sending my little nephew into screams of delight.

The steak baguette at 1886
The steak baguette at 1886 (Media Isle of Man)

The kind waitress even invited him to rub the robot’s plastic ‘ear’, which he dutifully did, a movement that prompted a human-like smile to appear on the machine’s LCD screen.

And just like that, the day was saved, and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. (Again, parents and guardians will sympathise; there really is nothing worse than a disappointed child.).

Don’t get me wrong, the robot was great and all, but, to be honest, it’s a bit of a distraction because the real star of the show in 1886 is the food.

Our party of four adults all ordered from the standard bar menu, and between us, we had a pretty decent sample of the range.

Dad was more than happy with his pick of the pork belly.

The katsu curry at 1886
The katsu curry at 1886 (Media Isle of Man)

Cooked to perfection with a thick layer of crackling, it came with vegetables, and all were doused in a rich peppercorn sauce.  

My mum plumped for the katsu chicken curry.

This Japanese dish consists of a hefty chicken coated in crispy panko, served on a bed of jasmine rice, and smothered in a fragrant katsu curry sauce.

Both my parents were incredibly happy with their picks, so much so that they wouldn’t let me try any of theirs for’review’ purposes, so I guess we’ll have to take their word for it.

Unable to decide, my sister and I opted to chop and change by splitting a steak baguette and a ‘build your own’ fajita.

The soft baguette was filled with chunky strips of sirloin and came with melted cheese, grilled mushrooms, cooked red onions, and peppercorn sauce.

My nephew Ffranci absolutely loved the robot
My nephew Ffranci absolutely loved the robot (Media Isle of Man)

Choosing from an array of potential fillings for the fajita, we decided on the siracha-seasoned chicken fillet, which came with soft flour tortillas with little silver dishes of spicy salsa, smashed avocado, grated cheese, sour cream, and sauteed vegetables.

Plates were cleaned, and I was pleased I agreed to the dish-splitting arrangement. Those fajitas are definitely something to write home about. Even Ffranci finished his plate of chicken gujons and chips, and anyone who’s spent any time with a four-year-old will know that it’s a bit of a rarity they finish their dinners.

As we were about to leave, another staff member brought out the robot for one last goodbye, a move that really rounded off what was a brilliant experience for my nephew and all of us.

So while 1886’s Robot is a very entertaining attraction, it’s the food and the stellar service that steal the show.