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Restaurant Reviews by Matt & Cat

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Sloop Inn, Wootton

One of the top questions Matt and Cat get asked is 'Can you recommend a decent Sunday roast?' You'd think that meatophile Matt would have a list as long as your arm of places where you can get a spectacular platter piled high with roast beef of Old England. However, you'd be wrong. Matt and Cat are so indolent that they usually miss Sunday lunch altogether, preferring instead to sleep in as late as possible - sometimes after a Saturday night to remember. After all, if a Day of Rest is good enough for God...

Sloop Inn, Wootton, roast pork

But as the nights finally draw in and the days of picnic lunches fade into the distant memory of yet another hot summer (thanks, David Thornton), M&C decided to get up early and head to Wootton Bridge to find a roast for, what for them was, breakfast.

You need to plan your strategy for a visit to the Sloop. Matt and Cat turned up one Sunday just after midday. This was a good game plan. There was room in the small car park and, more importantly, room in the pub. If you want the premium seats you need to arrive even earlier - the really early birds had staked their claim on all of the window seats at the back of the pub. Clearly these tables, with their view up the pretty river, were the most popular. Matt and Cat were resigned to grabbing a table a bit further inside, which had a disappointing lack of daylight but was within sight of some ancient and gnarly beams - presumably a remnant of the original inn.

Having staked their seating claim with judicious use of jackets flung over the seats, they trotted down to the business end of the pub - the bar and carvery. In a 2008 review of the Sloop, M&C said that the carvery concept is like 'school dinners for pensioners'. In this regard, little has changed. The system is simple: you buy your drink plus dinner ticket at the bar, which you swap for the roast of your choosing.

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Eastern Eye, Sandown

Eastern Eye, Sandown

There are a some local Indian restaurants that M&C would say are definitely worth a visit. Monsoon in Ryde is a lively, modern curry house that Matt and Cat are always happy to recommend. The veteran Saffron in Cowes also has many fans, and M&C have enjoyed several meals there. It remains true that Indian cuisine on the Isle of Wight has not universally enjoyed the huge improvements in standards and choice that other sectors of the Island's food and drink offering have seen over the last decade or so and, to be perfectly frank, Cat has all but given up going out for a curry. It may be that she always chooses poorly. Not being one for the hot stuff, her rota of chicken tikka masala, chicken passanda and chicken korma (the mildest red one, the mildest yellow one and the mildest orange one) is never going to set anyone's arse on fire.

It has been quite a while since the old Taj Tandoori in Sandown High Street emerged from its chrysalis as the shiny new Eastern Eye in early 2013. With Cat taking a curry hiatus it fell to Matt and companion Bill to give the place the once over.

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Fogg's, Ventnor

Fogg's has undergone something of a mild transformation. An earlier incarnation saw a wildly ambitious multi-page menu with an eclectic range of dishes from around the world. Probably a menu that was more fun to conceive than deliver. A change of ownership saw the menu's international offerings contract a little and in autumn 2014 another step-change occurred as the venue changed its name to Fogg's and launched another new menu.

Vodka-marinated gravadlax

Fogg's has a pretty lively voice on social media and Matt and Cat have regularly read about the restaurant's popular fish dishes - often created with locally-caught seafood brought ashore at Ventnor Haven. M&C have wondered why Fogg's doesn't just knock the world food stuff on the head and embrace its obvious strengths. Maybe bring to the fore their locally-provenanced menu with a seafood emphasis. Certainly these days, punters seem to crave local distinctiveness in their food, and visitors to the Island regularly ask M&C where the Island's fish restaurants are - the Rick Stein effect is clearly not confined to Cornwall.

And so it came to pass that Cat was left with a booking for a table for two at Fogg's, Ventnor (previously Phileas Fogg's) on a Saturday night.

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Tony's, Ryde

It's not the rarest of occasions, the opening of a new fish and chip outlet in a seaside town. Frankly, it happens pretty regularly. Some chippies stay the course for decades - or in the case of Stotesbury's, Newport, over a century. But whenever new hands take up the fryer, locals do tend to pay a bit of attention. After all, a really good fish and chip shop is going to be an asset to the town. And everybody likes chips, right?

Tony's, Ryde

Thus Matt and Cat paid close attention when they heard that central Ryde chip shop Alexander's had closed down, and shortly afterwards reopened under a new name - Tony's. The quality of fish and chips in Ryde has been the subject of heated debate on these pages in the past, and so pretty soon M&C made it their business to get down to Tony's and find out whether it was any good.

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Burr's, Newport

The other day Cat was tidying her wardrobe. At the front were a pair of holographic leggings, a pair of impractical skyscraper platforms and a silver biker jacket.

Brie at Burr's

Stuffed at the back was an old stripy jumper. This sweater, historic enough to be referred to as vintage, is Cat’s old faithful. Everyone has one: it could be a really comfy pair of trainers, slouchy ancient denims or, as seen in popular fiction, Jerry Seinfeld’s ‘Golden Boy’ tee.

As avant-garde as Cat’s iridescent plimsolls may be, sometimes it’s too easy to have your head turned by the latest Shiny New Thing. Every now and then it’s worth taking time to rediscover old favourites.

And so it was that Matt and Cat took a step away from St Thomas Square and sauntered down one of Newport’s characterful side streets. Although the area around the Minster is fast becoming Newport’s go-to food district, other streets are available, folks - and other eateries in those streets.

Matt and Cat’s destination was Burr’s. As they made a bee-line for one of the oldest family-owned restaurants on the Island, they speculated on whether the cosy restaurant’s extremely reasonable lunch special menu was still a thing. And, guess what, fans of good fortune? It was!

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Bendula, Ryde

With the arrival of Ryde Thai in Union Street in early 2014, Matt and Cat declared Ryde Leisure Strip™ to be the Island’s home of international cuisine. Potential diners can zigzag across the road, lured by the tempting food of the aforementioned Thai, plus Italian, Malaysian, Indian, Wild West and until recently, Tex Mex eateries.

Curry goat, Bendula, Ryde

Although the long-established Dos Amigos unexpectedly closed this year, the building wasn’t unoccupied for long. The brightly-painted premises reopened as 'Bendula' just in time to take advantage of the influx of Bank Holiday scooterists.

With a hastily-scrawled sign board to announce its arrival, Bendula welcomed hungry middle-aged mods sporting Paul Weller haircuts and pop-art wives. However, once Ryde’s air had cleared of two-stroke smog and the plastic glasses had been swept away from the Western Gardens, Matt and Cat were delighted to see that Bendula was more than a holiday weekend joint. They mentioned the restaurant on social media and soon the virtual bush telegraph was buzzing with the voices of excited would-be diners. Usually Matt and Cat like to give a new venue a few months to wean but, as their mention of Bendula had caused such an instant furore, they were keen to check it out while it was still red hot news.

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Adgestone Vineyard

People on the Isle of Wight have long, long memories - and unforgiving ones. Matt and Cat have heard tales of folks who have vowed never to revisit a particular establishment after a single disappointing experience - and cling to that simple principle for so long that generations later their children's children are still wedded to the conviction that nobody should ever go near the place.

Adgestone Vineyard scones

It's for that reason that Matt and Cat make a point of going to pretty much anywhere (at least once). Good food and service can be found in the most discreet of locations so sometimes it's worth deviating from the well-trodden path. Island eateries can change quite rapidly for better or worse, and you never know when a gem is going to turn up - or, for that matter, a lemon.

However, with nearly 2,000 licensed food premises on the Island, in nine years Matt and Cat have only managed to visit about a quarter of them. And let's not even start on about revisiting places. So it is only fair for them to confess that they'd never actually been to Adgestone Vineyard. Nor had they really considered it as a dining venue, and yet it is. Driving through the countryside one sunny afternoon they were in search of a cream tea and, having only recently enjoyed the teashop at nearby Brading Roman Villa, decided they'd like to try somewhere new. Thus they ended up pulling into the vineyard's little enclave.

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Off the Rails, Yarmouth

The question that Matt and Cat most often hear is "Are you guys really fat?". Well, aside from the fact that Cat is not a 'guy', the answer is well… no, maybe yes, in places (mostly restaurants). While Matt is content to lean back in his chair and pat his stomach after a particularly fine mixed grill, Cat mitigates her tiramisu intake with the occasional spin on her bicycle.

Off the Rails, Yarmouth

The Isle of Wight is famous for its spectacular and undulating landscape. Anyone who has ever straddled a bike here will undoubtedly have encountered a climb at some point but the strenuous uphill bit is delightfully offset as you freewheel down the other side. For the less energetic there are a few flat trails on the Island, mostly on the routes of the old steam railway. One of those cycle tracks is the particularly scenic West Wight causeway, which runs alongside the Western Yar estuary. Having treadled from Yarmouth to the glorious Freshwater Bay and back, Cat drew up at the platform of Yarmouth station - now Off The Rails cafe - which was crammed with similar walkers and cyclists.

Coming to a halt on the cycle track, Cat leaned her bike against the platform with all the other bicycles (surprisingly there didn’t seem to be any bike racks at this cycle-friendly cafe). Spotting a table by the vast patio doors, she hopped in and nabbed it. This proved to be an unorthodox entry; if she’d walked in through the door she would have been properly greeted and seated and given a menu. However, having glanced around then taken a trip to the counter she was fully furnished with a menu and advised that a waiter would be over soon. Cat’s trackside seat was was an excellent place to sit and look across Thorley Brook wetland, as the afternoon sun slowly made its way across the platform.

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