Restaurant Reviews by Matt & Cat
It's a 'hotly' contested accolade; the Isle of Wight declares itself the Sunniest Place in BritainÂ, despite some vigorous but unsuccessful chest-beating from Eastbourne.
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.Article continues »
Island roads are different, so the apologetic sign once declared to visitors disembarking from the ferry. They sure are.
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.Article continues »
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?
The venue eventually opened on New year's Eve in anÂ 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.Article continues »
The Coast Bar, in the trendy heart of Cowes, is unquestionably one of the most popular places in the town.
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.Article continues »
It's not as though they don't warn you.
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.Article continues »
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.
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.Article continues »
Matt and Cat have been part of the Isle of Wight community for many years even if they can't boast actual Caulkhead status. As taxpayers, voters and residents however, they like to think that they are nonetheless entitled to comment on local matters - not just the food. And their simple message to Sandown is this: you can do it.
Not that long ago, Ventnor was in the doldrums; it had ruinous shops and tired venues struggling to survive at the arse-end of the Island. However, what it did have was a fabulous beach. With a bit of tender love and cash, the town reversed its decline and now has a vibrant arts scene, plenty of decent restaurants and, of course, that wonderful beach.
There has been much said about Sandown by 'miserable, whining tightwads', about how the council should do more to help this impoverished town. Of course an injection of moolah could do wonders - how couldn't it? However, like pioneering Ventnor, maybe Sandown could take matters into its own hands. The town has recently been fly-posted by an anonymous campaigner who, by dint of their actions has made the shabby properties look a bit shabbier - even if their dereliction-shaming has been done with the best intentions. Matt and Cat agree that perhaps the property owners could do a bit more to smarten up their own little piece of Sandown, as its clear there's no point holding out for public money.
But it's not all doom and dereliction in Sandown. No, far from it. Yes, a few landmark properties are in a shameful condition, but that beach is still magnificent. M&C have already reviewed a couple of extremely agreeable venues in the past year, the proprietors of which have made considerable investment in their seafront restaurants. They sincerely hope that the arrival of a talent like Ocean Deck's Alan Staley might cause a positive ripple effect in the town, the same way that Robert Thompson did when he won Michelin status for Ventnor's Hambrough.Article continues »
Just as Newport has become synonymous with coffee shops, Ryde is a place where one is spoilt for choice for a light lunch. There are plenty of sarnie and baguette shops or, if you prefer your nammet enclosed in other ways, you won't have to look far to find a bagel or a wrap. Or maybe you fancy hot tapas, a budget breakfast or perhaps a South African stew, coz they're all available in this Georgian town.
Of course, sometimes only a good old fashioned fry-up will do and, it was with this in mind, that Matt and Cat pushed open the door to Kevar's - in what is poetically described as Ryde Old Town. As the door swung to behind them, Matt and Cat were reminded of their first visit to Kevar's some years back in which they sang the cafe's praises - but with the suggestion that they fix the draughty door. Well, M&C are pleased to report that the door has been well and truly sorted out. Which just leaves the food to comment on.Article continues »
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