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Restaurant Reviews by Matt & Cat

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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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Bagel Wrap, Ryde

'How many Islanders does it take to change a lightbulb?' 'Change? We don’t like change!'

Bagel Wrap, Ryde

One of the Isle of Wight’s charms is how it has remained steadfastly behind the times, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. This laissez-faire attitude may have more to do with collective inertia than real fear of change. Whatever the reason, if you're into vintage vacations then a ticket to Ryde on August Bank Holiday weekend is the hot chit, as the town is filled with old-school mods and their contemporaneous vehicles.

Having built up a decent appetite gongoozling scooters, foxtails and Union flags, Matt and Cat were drawn to Bagel Wrap. The café's enticing music, al fresco seating and shady awning mark it out from the many other sarnie shops in town. Now in the heart of Ryde Leisure Strip, this eatery has been feeding the lunchtime crowd long before the submarine sandwich surfaced over here. Although the Union Street cafe has a rear courtyard and plenty of seating inside, M&C nabbed the tiny table out front so they could continue enjoying the antics of Ryde's colourful visitors.

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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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