Are Matt and Cat up for a culinary challenge? Well, is the Isle of Wight the sunniest place in Britain? Obviously!
And this Bank Holiday Monday your reviewers were invited to an unprecedented event: the Bay Grill at Appley offered to feed M&C for a whole day, and take whatever bouquets or brickbats resulted. So read along to follow their progress, and see how the day goes: this post will be updated throughout the day as the feast unfolds!
Having foregone their breakfasts, brunch was very much on the eager duo’s minds as they arrived at the newly-reopened Bay Grill. With stairs going up to the unknown, the venue’s always had a bit of an awkward entrance, but the Grill has really made an effort this year, with a very welcoming little porch and a smart new carpet to lure diners up to those splendid views across the beach. The tide was high and the kite-surfers were scudding across the water as Matt and Cat climbed the stairs. What would brunch bring? Read on to find out!
12.00 noon: Brunch
New for 2011 is the Bay Grill’s brunch menu. With sophisticated variations of traditional breakfast fare, the modest selection should appeal to all but vegetarians. Cat was unable to resist smoked salmon and scrambled egg on toast, having got a taste for this food of the gods at Besty and Spinky’s. Matt, similarly, reverted to type and ordered crispy bacon and cream cheese on toast. The three choices (the third being buttered kipper) were also available as a champagne brunch. The courteous staff attempted get your reviewers to enhance their brekkies with bubbly, but Matt and Cat chose conventional tea and coffee instead.
The all day breakfast is a singularly British tradition: cafés across the nation serve up this high carb, high protein meal compiled from a familiar range of ingredients including bacon, sausage, egg, bread and – in a nod to the balanced meal obsessives – vegetables in the form of mushrooms and tomatoes. How was chef Ryan Burr going to present this ubiquitous dish with his customary flair?
Cat’s smoked salmon and scrambled egg was delivered on a big doorstep of wholemeal bread and garnished with a delicate bunch of peppery watercress. The salmon was delicious – it’s hard to mess that up – and the eggs, speckled with pepper, were delightfully fluffy.
Matt’s bacon and cream cheese was presented on a similar wedge of bread. Two thick meaty rashers, fresh and hot, sat atop a lavish spreading of smooth cream cheese accompanied by a grilled tomato and prettied-up with a sprig of fragrant thyme. Delicious! His first cup of tea came, to his surprise, with a teabag in the cup, but this was soon remedied when a pot followed with the tea safely inside it. Cat’s fresh, hot coffee was a safer bet – straight from the machine it was the ideal accompaniment to her salmon.
1.30pm: Grazing board
Walk in Appley park? No chance. Before they even gathered themselves for a stroll, it was time for Matt and Cat to sample the next bit of the menu. Another new idea at the Bay Grill this year is the deli board: selections of meat, cheese or fish all on a big board for sharing. Matt and Cat have seen this work well at the Black Sheep Bar and elsewhere, so this seemed promising.
The Bay Grill made a special version for M&C which had a few samples from each board. This came with a basket of warm bread and a knob of butter. It proved to be an enjoyable source of nibbles; Matt and Cat watched the tented village of kitesurfers on the beach outside as they chatted and picked at the delicacies. There was plenty to tempt them: a tangy, lemony mackerel pate; some soft grilled chorizo and Parma ham; fresh grapes with Brie and smoked applewood cheddar; and home-made oniony chutney. On the well-crammed platter was also a bowl of stuffed olives and chillies. Matt polished most of these off after Cat tried half of one chilli-stuffed olive and made The Face, not really understanding the pleasure of eating such a potent pod. But it’s gallant of her to try it now and again, even if it’s only for Matt’s entertainment.
The deli board seemed to be a good idea, and one well-suited to the fairly laid-back ambience of the Bay Grill. Matt and Cat enjoyed this casual munching as they fiddled with their piles of hardware – laptops, cameras and smartphones. You might not always want to have a full restaurant meal up here, but if you had in mind to sit, drink and nibble whilst watching the sea, this might be a good-value way to do it.
So maybe this time there will be time for a walk in Appley Park then, before supper!
6.30pm: Cocktail hour
After a relaxing afternoon, Matt and Cat climbed the stairs towards the sounds of happy diners settling down for dinner. Back in the Grill for their third meal of the day, the first thing offered to them was cocktails from the copious drinks menu. Designated driver Cat asked for a non-alcoholic version, and barman Dan was happy to oblige with a Summers Dream: fresh strawberries puréed in front of M&C, mixed with other fruit juices to make an icy delight that Cat loved. Matt was persuaded to try a Bourbon Sour, with fresh egg white. This impressive drink lived up to its name – the tang of Maker’s Mark whiskey was a distinctive background to the bitters and lemon.
7.30pm: Dinner is served!
Matt put himself in the hands of the chef for his main course. Autonomous Cat chose whole lemon sole, served with lemon butter, new potatoes and seasonal vegetables. While waiting for their dinners, Matt and Cat supped on their cocktails and watched the indefatigable kite surfers wring the last of the fun out of the diminishing waves. Despite the venue being moderately busy, the main meals arrived surprisingly quickly and all eyes were returned to table.
Cat’s fishy dishy was lovely: the understated and wholesome sole lay on Cat’s plate serenaded by a colourful mix of mange tout, carrots and potatoes further jazzed up with a big wedge of lemon. The fish had only the subtlest flavour of its own but the lemon really gave it a pleasant twist. Despite being chock full of bones, like any decent fish, its spine stayed resolutely in one piece so there wasn’t any re-enactment of the famous Queen Mum/fishbone throat interface and the vertebrate was easily filleted in one deft movement to expose the remaining tender flesh. A subtle and delicate meal.
Chef Ryan – or maybe his kitchen colleague Mark Sheppard – had chosen one of the Bay Grill’s signature mains for Matt, pan-fried chicken breast with creamed leeks, chorizo and sautéed potatoes. This extraordinarily rich dish proved to be a first-class treat: an imaginative combination of tastes and textures, and a generous portion as well.
Despite the richness of their main courses, Matt and Cat still had room in their pudding stomachs – and a good job too as there was a decent array of fruity desserts to choose from. Continuing the lemon theme, Cat chose lemongrass posset; the Bay Grill’s version of this traditional English dessert was tangy and exceptionally smooth.
Matt’s strawberry and lime mousse with white chocolate berries was, like all of the Bay Grill dishes, beautifully presented. The attention to detail is second to none at this place. Cat, who had a seat facing the kitchen watched as Ryan meticulously placed garnishes and spots of coulis to the dishes before they emerged from the engine room.
8pm: Coffee and conclusions
Coffees and a smooth single malt whisky for Matt rounded the meal off splendidly. As the last kitesurfer finally ran out of light and the departing cruise-liners lit up the horizon, Matt and Cat reflected on a remarkable day’s dining.
This post is a bit different from the usual review, and let’s be under no illusions, this was no anonymous visit but the Grill doing its best to impress. You’ll need to read it with that in mind, and obviously have to form your own view but Matt and Cat can honestly say that the Bay Grill has for them maintained the quality that its first year promised. With Field Marshal Ryan Burr still leading the charge, flanked by his new front-of-house adjutant Dan and a new crew in the kitchen, things seem to be on track so far. Matt and Cat can report that the Bay Grill on top form will deliver a great dinner is relaxed surroundings and, depending on the weather, a decent view of the Solent and beyond.
Transparency: Matt and Cat didn’t pay for all this food – although they offered to. This is not a review but a special event. You can read the review of the Bay Grill (which they did pay for) here.