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Matt and Cat… on being incognito restaurant reviewers

Matt and Cat… on being incognito restaurant reviewers

Recently the unexpected stars of Rich Hall’s comedy routine at the Isle of Arts, and something of a minor legend on the Island, the incognito restaurant reviewers Matt and Cat agreed to be interviewed by myisleofwight

The tables were turned for the duo when they were the focus for caustic American comic Rich Hall’s scrutiny. Questions as to where they worked and what they did were just a little too close for comfort – the duo like to remain as anonymous as possible.

Berating Matt for his lack of romance, Rich put his thoughts on the pair before him in the front row to music. Little did he know that romantic dinners out are something of a regular occurrence for Matt and Cat. As are putting their thoughts on the eateries up on their website www.mattandcat.co.uk

It was at an end of holiday meal in Rye, East Sussex in November 2005 that the idea of reviewing restaurants came to the couple.

“It was a lovely restaurant but the service was supercilious, dismissive,” said Cat. “It would have been a great experience, it looked lovely and the food was good but it fell at the last hurdle.

“When we got back home we looked online to see if we could leave a comment but there was nowhere. Then that week we went to Sainsbury’s to have one of their ‘Buy One Get One Free’ meals and waited for nearly an hour to get served. I got our money back and bought sandwiches and that’s when we started our website.”

The couple used to always go to the same restaurant when they went out – The Maharaja in Shanklin, which is now the Spice Lounge. But they decided instead to go somewhere different every time – one wonders if Cat was the catalyst for this decision as she admits to not being a great fan of really spicy food. However the decision was made and they started writing ‘Matt and Cat’s Eating Out Diary’.

“We changed it to a guide a few months in as we found we’d definitely tapped into something,” said Cat. “Then we added a ‘suggest a venue’ option for website users. We now eat out at least twice a week. Not always new places and sometimes we get invited to go out to eat.

“But we want to be regular people off the street and we don’t want to compromise our impartiality,” she added. “We are occasionally criticised for being too lowbrow but we try to present it from the viewpoint of someone eating food, not someone who knows about food.”

The addition of the new ‘Matt and Cat’s Dining Club’ cards has, however, blown their cover with the eateries joining in the scheme, as the pair have struck special deals for cardholders that range from a free piece of cake to fifty percent off the bill. And club members also get the chance to meet the duo at the ‘exclusive meals, curated by Matt and Cat’. The first Matt and Cat’s Dining Club event was held last month and proved a great success.

“We only get money from the people who buy the card, not the restaurants,” stressed Cat. “The idea is that our dining club has the pick of our favourite restaurants on the Island. Anyone can buy a dining club card but the participating restaurants are by invitation only at the moment and we wouldn’t take a venue that we didn’t like. We’ve got to like it and know that they can produce the goods every time. There’s an annual card and a fortnightly visitors card.

“We’ve never taken advertising from restaurants on the Island and we don’t make any money out of the website, we just do it because we love eating out,” said Matt. “We’re going to have to make something out of it or we can’t afford to continue to do it but we don’t want to compromise the content,” added Cat.

“We have 360 or so reviews on the site and there are about 500 eateries on the Island, although some are not accessible to us – political and private clubs and private hotels. Some of the six year-old reviews do need to be redone.

“It says Matt and Cat on the door, but you do get the comments and some people are regulars,” said Cat of the website users who add their own reviews. “A couple of people write because they really don’t agree with us.” Apparently a couple of restaurant owners have tried to sue the couple, without success.

“There’s always something going on on the site,” said Matt who built the original website. “Cat does all the design. Our visual identity is very important to us.

“Twitter has been really good for us –visits to our website doubled overnight. We get between 500 and 1,000 unique visits daily and the IW Festival is always a spike as are Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. But Christmas is a dip for us strangely.

“We’re very keen on Isle of Wight-produced food and try to give it a plug. We’re not the avenging angels of Isle of Wight eating out: we like to encourage the good rather than criticise the bad, and it’s so much better than it was.

“Hardly ever do we have to write a bad review – things have really changed in the last five or six years,” they agreed.

To check out Matt and Cat’s views or to find details on the Dining Club go to www.mattandcat.co.uk