Some of Matt and Cat’s readers visit this eating out guide with flattering regularity, apparently trusting – as well as being entertained by – the amateur ramblings of the eponymous bloggers.
Just as one might demand the same hairstylist year after year – as they are truly the only scissor-jockey who can whip lank greasy hair into a towering spiky mullet – so Matt and Cat have confidence in the venues of certain restaurant proprietors.
So it was, when M and C learnt that the business acumen behind popular upmarket Ryde restaurant Liberty’s was involved with the refurbishment of what was formerly Bar 53, they were keen to check it out.
Black Sheep Bar occupies a prime site adjacent to the historic Yelf’s Hotel in Ryde’s distinctive Union Street. Its adjoining courtyard has been sympathetically upgraded; etched plate glass walls keep out the draughts and potted plants create pleasant screening. The interior of the bar is quite gothic but without clutter; florid black and silver wallpaper contrasting with plain magenta walls.
Matt and Cat were curious to see whether another Liberty’s would be created up the road – as if so, there’d inevitably be competition between the two. But the style and feel of The Black Sheep Bar is quite different from Liberty’s – one assumes deliberately so. And, for those expecting Liberty’s-style menus, there is a surprise in store for the Black Sheep Bar sells tapas. Matthew, who usually likes a full plate has learnt to love these tiny dishes. They allow you to have a taster of many interesting foods without the hazard of making an unwise choice. Don’t care for your slow-cooked octopus? Ne’er mind, swap it for your companion’s smoky eggs. Not ordered enough? No problem – just order some more. Cat, with her bird-like appetite, loves to pick away at this food designed for sharing too, so it’s a good format to please both of them.
For tapas noobs, there are some friendly instructions printed atop the menu, recommending three or four dishes to start with. There’s even a special children’s menu available on request, offering the intriguingly-titled ‘definitely interactive food’. As many experiences of eating at El Toro Contento have shown, three platters each is usually enough to fill Matt and Cat. So when the waitress sauntered over they ordered an eclectic mix to pick over together: mixed olives; black pudding; whitebait; sesame & garlic chicken; and a courgette salad.
The Black Sheep Bar was not crowded, and Matt and Cat soon noticed another distinct difference from Liberty’s. Perhaps in a deliberate effort to give an informal, clubby atmosphere, the waiting staff were determinedly casual about their demeanour. Chatting volubly across the bar as they waited for other customers, Matt and Cat heard the staff tattling about amorous conquests, unusually large volumes of alcohol drunk, and even listened to a new ringtone.
This is no criticism, and indeed much of this seemed to be coming from a chap who was obviously off-duty. When staff attended to M & C, the same informal and chatty style was clearly the norm for The Black Sheep Bar.
Eavesdropping was soon put to one side when the food very promptly arrived. Your reviewers were stunned by the impressive spread which was laid out in front of them. This far exceeded their expectations. Each dish was beautifully presented, and hardly done justice by the menu descriptions. What was described merely as ‘mixed olives’ turned out to be a delightful mélange of olives stuffed with coriander and cumin seed, presented on a tangy bed of fresh rocket and garnished with sprigs of thyme. Similarly, the black pudding, billed as ‘quick-fried and served with warm breads’, was a decent pile of piping-hot wedges of pud, on warm ciabatta alongside a mixed salad featuring fresh figs, no less.
Courgette salad £3.00
Garlic chicken £4.50
Black pudding £3.50
Smoky eggs £3.00
Mixed olives £2.50
2 x coffee 3.50
And this bounty was not found wanting when tasted either – it was all freshly cooked and prepared, mostly from fresh ingredients. Indeed the only obviously pre-prepared item was the olives, by necessity from a jar. Matt was particularly pleased with the whitebait – so hot and new they just melted in the mouth as only very good fish can. Again, this was served with handfuls of that zingy rocket which really set it off. It was a revelation to Matt and Cat that good tapas can be English, as well as Spanish.
This nu-goth addition to Union Street’s ever-changing kaleidoscope of eateries is a remarkable innovation, and one which Matt and Cat thought was exceptionally good. A very casual ambience, yet still a hint of grown-up sophistication. And the food! An outstanding way to enjoy tapas. This one’s recommended.
Black Sheep Bar, Ryde
- A trendy eating-place
- Bargain cocktails
- Some really innovative and good food
- Consistently cheerful service
- Not a venue for an intimate family gathering
- Gets a bit lively later in the evening