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Restaurant Reviews by Matt & Cat

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Elderflower, Lymington

http://elderflowerrestaurant.co.uk/

Matt and Cat recently twanged their umbilicus enough to take a trip to the delightful town of Lymington - Hampshire’s answer to Cowes, with its quaint thoroughfares, yachticulture and quayside amenities.

Heirloom tomato salad

They popped over to have lunch in the town’s newest fine dining venue, the Elderflower restaurant, invited by their mainland counterparts Ladies Who Lunch in Hampshire - a sort of matriarchal Matt and Cat, run by the charming ‘CJ’.

When CJ chose Elderflower for this first collaborative review, she had done her homework. The restaurant is run by chef Andrew Du Bourg and his French wife Marjolaine. Both have impressive experience in the hospitality industry: Andrew’s last gig was as head chef at the nearby five star Chewton Glen Hotel. Matt and Cat were suitably intrigued.

Lymington was heaving with visitors; it was a perfect storm of Bank Holiday weekend, the last Saturday of the school holidays, market day and the sun was shining. Expecting the venue to be rushed off its feet, Matt, Cat, CJ and pal Sue were surprised to find that they were the first diners in the place. It was pleasingly calm after the hustle and bustle of the street and, as they settled at their table, they enjoyed watching the throng through the bullseye glass in the authentic Georgian windows.

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Ocean Deck, Sandown

The Isle of Wight does funny things to people. Some folks that move here just don’t get with the vibe and can’t wait to leave. If you’re not used to a place where everyone’s cousins live nearby, the roads have names and not numbers, and local businesses are obsessed with having logos that include the county's distinctive diamond shape, then it can take a bit of getting used to. So let’s get this over with now - neither Matt or Cat were born on the Island and all of the above were notable distinctions compared with their originating counties.

Carvery, Ocean Deck, Sandown


But resistance is futile. Once you tune in to Wight life, then you can have the Best Fun Ever. It doesn't take much to find your niche and M&C have certainly carved out one for themselves pontificating on the Island’s food offering for nearly a decade. It’s easy to see how their old associate, fellow pie-botherer and much-missed IW County Press columnist the late Keith Newbery turned down approaches from national newspapers, not wanting to forsake his Island home.

And so, perhaps, the same is true of Alan Staley, proprietor of Sandown’s Ocean Deck? Following a seventeen-year stretch at Ventnor’s Royal Hotel, this supremely competent and experienced chef went to the Seaview Hotel before moving on to work for himself. With his charming wife Hayley on front-of-house duties, his ‘office’ is now within a salty spray of The Bay, with an enviable view of the English Channel.

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The Forum Cafe, Brading Roman Villa

Video review: 2014


Written review: 2007

Brading Roman Villa

The Roman villa at Brading was built on the site of an Iron Age farm, which was positioned to take full advantage of the harbour situated between Sandown and Bembridge.

The Romans certainly chose a good spot for a tea room; the villa's Forum Cafe is positioned on the west side of the building, perfect for enjoying the view across to Sandown. It's very likely that those early inhabitants of the villa enjoyed al fresco meals in the late afternoon sunshine, just as Matt and Cat did one unexpectedly balmy October day.

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Isla's, George Hotel, Yarmouth

Matt and Cat love fast food as much as the next person but occasionally they dust off their gladrags and go posh.

Belly pork and lobster

There are several delightful but purse-punishing venues on the Island and, to ensure that you don’t come away from your special dinner feeling underwhelmed, M&C are here to help you. They've had some truly awesome dinners over the years - there's no doubt that when the Island does fine dining well, it does it very well indeed. So when the chance arose for M&C to head west and heft cutlery finished with a coating of Viennese gold, they were powerless to resist. Yes. That’s right. Cutlery made with precious metals titanium and gold.

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Tramezzini at the Wellington Hotel

Anyone who has been to Ventnor recently will have been impressed with how the town has picked itself out of economic malaise. Where once were junk shops and empty windows, now there are coffee bars, emporia and restaurants. And even though 2012’s Arts Festival-goers heard a particularly impassioned discourse about Tesco's arrival in Ventnor from Nearly Naked Chef Hardeep Singh Kholi, the ruinous old Ventnor International stores has nonetheless been replaced by a shiny new Tesco Express.

Tramezzini at the Wellington Hotel

So Ventnor is definitely open for business. Even the troubled Winter Gardens has flung open its doors again. In fact, if you want to relocate your cup-cakery, camp coffee parlour or pop-up burger joint to the town you’d be hard-pressed to find room.

In an attempt to spread the love beyond the town centre and the delightful esplanade, the culinary team behind the popular Ventnor High Street venue Tramezzini has popped up in the Wellington Hotel. After making a name for themselves with their classy café with its fabulous Italian-inspired lunches, they have ventured into riskier but potentially more prestigious territory. Can the successful formula be transposed to a hotel environment?

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Urban Diner, Newport

Ah bless the Isle of Wight, so steadfastly stuck in the middle ages. Or at least the middle of the twentieth century, if you believe the laziest of stereotypes. No, you don’t need a passport. Yes, there is a Marks and Sparks. Praise the Lord, there’s even a travelator. The county town Newport is quite the commercial hub these days, doncha know.

Urban Diner, Newport

OK, Newport isn't New York but, as an administrative centre and flagship town it can hold its head up high. Coppins Bridge in rush hour may not be exactly Piccadilly Circus, the double decker buses are green and not red, and the snaking river is a trickle compared to the Thames but hey, it’s as urban as we’ve got. Briefly nicknamed Westminster-by-Sea is the office block County Hall, and it is down this end of town you’ll find the Urban Diner.

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Beach Shack, Sandown

The sun has got its hat on, hip hip hip hooray! Not every day, admittedly, but today was The Day. And, as tradition dictates, everyone has to 'make the most of it'. Which, for you mainland readers, translates as an hour sat dehydrating as you rage in your car in the traffic jam from hell. Otherwise anyone within spitting distance of the beach is required to bare some flesh within sight of the sea.

Beach Shack, Sandown  crab and avocado stack

Being good citizens, Matt and Cat made their way to Sandown once the mercury hit the twenties. Now then, Matt and Cat know what you're thinking... Sandown, wasn't that once described as the Beirut of the Island? Perhaps, by someone who'd clearly never been to Lebanon's "centre for commerce, fashion, and media". Yes, Sandown has had its detractors and some parts of the town might benefit from a bit of a spruce-up. But despite years of underinvestment, the beach is still marvellous, the pier intact (yes, M&C are pointing the finger at you Ventnor, Shanklin and Seaview) and when the sun is out The Bay is blooming spectacular!

Once you've had the thrill of pouring a quid's-worth of coppers into the tuppenny falls on Sandown Pier, head southwards, being sure to enjoy the historic ruins of Zanies. At the end of the road you'll be at Devonia slipway and the wonderfully-positioned Beach Shack. Unlike some of the businesses in the seaside town, this small cafe has undergone a significant investment and is now twice the size of its previous incarnation, and without compromising its enviable sea views. Have the owners kept up their high food standards now that they can cater for even more hungry beach-going masses?

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Smokehouse Burger Company

2014 will go down in history as the year the Isle of Wight was served its last bender in a bun. Local businessman and franchisee Wayne Whittle removed the final Wimpy sign at his beachside burger bar, and rebranded the venue The Big Kahuna. And thus all things pass. Or do they?

The Smokehouse burger

The burger is considered a food staple (just ask any teenage boy), or an occasional treat, or even a thing most reviled - thanks to John Selwyn Gummer and latterly the horsemeat scandal. Now, a seemingly-endless series of such scares has led to a certain cynicism, and if you read one particular British newspaper any foodstuff could be the next enemy within. But these days consumers have become a bit more savvy about the origins of their meat, and beef of good quality can once more take its rightful place on our menus. There is an argument to be made about the sustainability of local food versus mass-production, but that is a drum we’ll leave others to bang.

Thus the humble burger, once the sole preserve of the fast food generation, has gotten all grown up: from sliders in swanky Shoreditch sham-shabby pop-ups to the Isle of Wight. Once again the burger is king. Although by the time Matt and Cat write this the metropolitans will have moved on from trendy tiny burgers to fish finger butties, macaroni cheese or crispy pancakes (two of these Saturday tea time standards have already been re-imagined by the foodniks). It’s possible that the penny-farthing-riding beardies will one day wake up and smell the coffee, then instead of having their brew created by a faux-chemist using a titchy bunsen burner, they’ll settle for a spoon of instant in a chipped mug. Or blown up their backsides with a pair of goatskin bellows. Or something else. It's anyone's guess, really.

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