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Restaurant Reviews by Matt & Cat

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Burrgrills, Seaview

Street food, the sort of nosh that you buy from a hatch in a wagon, is so popular that now they're opening restaurants dedicated to it. No, seriously. And, to prove that it's not all fuddy-duddies in faded red trews, the poshest town on the Isle of Wight has a trendsetting bijou pop-up street food parlour right on its high street.

Pork

Burrgrills has restaurant prices but it does takeaway, so if you want to stuff your face standing in the street you can. In fact, the venue is so tiny you might have to. But if you can get to sit down at one of those pastel-painted tables inside you should. This is one of the most exciting new things to happen to Isle of Wight food for quite a while.

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Rylstone Tea Garden, Shanklin

Matt and Cat don't half bang on about it but for them a significant part of the Island's charm is the steadfast way it refuses to move with the times.

Cheese sandwich

Yes, it is home to some top tech companies, future energy factories and even the electric bicycle has made its way over the Solent. However, there are plenty of places that just shrug their shoulders and give a nonchalant 'meh' to anything new fangled. Including the term 'meh'.

Take Rylstone Gardens. This pretty park at the top of Shanklin Chine has seen its fortunes rise and fall. Alas now the aviary has been decommissioned and the chalet is all but a ruin. However, the toilets remain open and so too do the crazy golf and the tea garden. Which is where Matt and Cat headed after a quick spot of geocaching.

Before they could have lunch, there was the important business of establishing who would pay for it. And, what fairer way to decide than with a game of skill and dexterity? Putters and score cards in hand, Matt and Cat headed to the links for a game of crazy golf; loser buys lunch.

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The Hut, Colwell

It's a 'hotly' contested accolade; the Isle of Wight declares itself the Sunniest Place in Britain™, despite some vigorous but unsuccessful chest-beating from Eastbourne.

Crab

An old sun recording machine from Shanklin is in Matt's possession and, although the natural light in his humble dwelling never troubles its sensitive needle, he is proud to own such an important instrument.

So, if the sunniest place is not Matt's bedroom, then where is it? Well, with midsummer practically upon us then, to get the best out of the longest day you need to head to the Island's western shore. Yes, you could sit at the top of Headon Warren and watch the sun go down over Dorset and very nice that would be too. Or, if you were feeling flush, you could do as Matt and Cat did, and sit on the deck of The Hut at Colwell raising a glass to the sun as it casts its light and warmth across the western Solent.

For a coastal county, the Island has a surprisingly low number of eateries right on the beach. Sandown and Shanklin can probably jointly claim the crown for quantity, and Ventnor does pretty well, although there is a road between most of its cafés and its picturesque bay. But from V-Town right round to the Boathouse at Fort Victoria, you'd be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of shoreside restaurants. However, The Hut at Colwell is one such, with an envious position right on the beach.

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Fighting Cocks, Arreton

Island roads are different, so the apologetic sign once declared to visitors disembarking from the ferry. They sure are.

Mini mixed grill

Some Isle of Wight roads are in a deplorable state; Cat's car recently sustained enough damage to require the replacement of two wheels and a hubcap as she inadvertently drove through a pothole in the West Wight. Conversely, in Ryde the streets are all shiny and new - really, really new - rapidly resurfaced in time for the first leg of the Pearl Izumi Tour Series cycle event.

In due course we are assured that all of the rotten roads will have been given a Ryde street-style makeover. For example, throughout the first half of 2015 the navvies at Island Roads were busy reconstructing the main road through Arreton. And the engineers were not just undertaking the lipstick-on-a-pig model of road repairs, but full blown reconstruction - in a Michael Jackson's face kind of way.

This sort of major construction work can't really go ahead without some disruption, but how much impact did it have on the local businesses? Matt and Cat headed to the valley to find out.

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Blaze, Ryde

For many years Matt and Cat took advantage of generous offers punted under what was, until recently, "Orange Wednesday". The buy-one-get-one-free tickets at the cinema and BOGOF pizza at Pizza Express made for a cheap date night. However, also until recently, Pizza Express was more like Pizza Somewhen, so M&C watched with interest last summer as a new pizza oven was installed in a renovated cafe on Ryde seafront. Could this be somewhere new to spend their pizza pounds?

Pizza

The venue eventually opened on New year's Eve in an… umm, blaze of glory, as Blaze, a pizza cafe. This double-fronted venue has, along with Hong Kong Express and the newly-expanded and relocated Chocolate Apothecary, extended Ryde Leisure Strip eastwards along the town's esplanade.

Since it opened Blaze has been metaphorically on fire, garnering some very positive Trip Advisor reviews and a good local reputation. As the venue is aiming at the family market, Matt and Cat waited until Matt's teenage sons found time in their busy rock 'n' roll lifestyles to join them for an early dinner at Blaze.

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Coast Bar, Cowes

The Coast Bar, in the trendy heart of Cowes, is unquestionably one of the most popular places in the town.

Mushroom and egg on toast

Both the previous times M&C dined at Coast it left something to be desired, and the venue felt the rough edge of Matt and Cat's virtual pen. However, M&C are not a couple to hold a grudge, so one quiet autumn afternoon they returned to the Shooters Hill restaurant in search of a light lunch.

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Mess Canteen, Cowes

It's not as though they don't warn you.

Burger

Were you imagining a stuffy private club, where silent staff obsequiously bring gin and tonic on a silver tray to an harrumphing old commodore? There may be such places in Cowes, but The Mess Canteen isn't one of them. Put away any idea of a nautical connotation and suddenly its name makes sense. As Matt and Cat can confirm, The Mess is a riot of kids, music, dogs, jam jar cocktails and some damned good food. No silver trays involved.

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Yarmouth Spice

Much is made of local provenance, particularly in the food industry. The Isle of Wight's farmers, producers and artisan bakers enjoy a justly-deserved cachet.

Yarmouth Spice

Steaks can be identified by their originating herd. Many restaurants serve up "a trio of Island cheeses" as a dessert. Crabs practically scuttle up the beach and into the nearest pot! Matt and Cat have seen for themselves the thoroughness with which Ryde-based butchers Island Foods ensures that each of the animals it processes is tagged and traced, ensuring explicit labelling on a restaurant's menu.

There are some types of restaurant that don't engage in this local food revolution. Or do they? Despite the prevalence of the generic 'ruby' - the mild yellow curry, the orange one and the one with the red sauce - presumably these dishes have their origins in regions beyond the Isle of Wight. Beyond Europe no less; regions unfamiliar to parochial diners like Matt and Cat.

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