As well as its regular holiday-makers, four times a year the Isle of Wight is inundated with a concentrated number of visitors. Thousands cross...

As well as its regular holiday-makers, four times a year the Isle of Wight is inundated with a concentrated number of visitors. Thousands cross the water for both major music festivals which bookend vehicle enthusiasts’ events. The late August Bank Holiday sees an influx of scooterists buzzing around Ryde but at the beginning of that month Cowes says “Hello sailor” to international yachtsmen and women who make their way to the historic coastal town for Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week.

Eegons Regatta Platta

Matt and Cat visited Cowes a week or so before it all kicked off to get a flavour of the place pre-Cowes Week. They emerged from their car to a tattoo of samba music, which gave the precinct a carnival atmosphere. From the floating bridge to Cowes parade, people were erecting marquees, putting up banners and the price of their goods. Or were they? It’s a popular supposition that during Cowes Week food and drink prices are hiked up more often than those canvas doodads that sailors hoist up the mizzen or whatever. Matt and Cat were on a fact-finding mission to either prove or debunk this theory.

Despite Matt and Cat’s obvious love of food even they couldn’t try out all that Cowes had to offer, so their refreshments survey was undertaken in a more objective manner. Strolling east to west, from Manuel’s to Watersedge, Gurnard, they scrutinised menus, considered common themes and compared prices. You can see the results of their research in this handy guide which covers five popular foodstuffs: breakfast, burger, chips, coffee and tea.

Matt and Cat were surprised at the range of prices on offer. One thing is clear – you most definitely can get good value food and drink in Cowes at the height of summer. If the British Legion have hiked their prices, for example, they must have been paying people to eat in the winter. Equally there is some top-quality food and drink that commands high prices – this isn’t necessarily a bad thing either, as M&C always believe that really good food is worth paying for. It’s also true that there are some good offers to be had, and a simple price comparison doesn’t always bring these out. So read on to see some more details and highlights of what’s on offer this year in Cowes Week.

Before long it became obvious to Matt and Cat that there are a lot of eateries in Cowes, nestled in alleyways, tucked between bigger shops selling distracting trinkets, and double-decker venues which are out-there and on parade. Sauntering about the town, they peered at dozens of menus and bills of fare, photographing them as they went. They discovered a massive range of food for all tastes, purses and appetites. For a light bite there are plenty of cafes, many with al fresco seating. If you’d rather eat on your yacht, try a ready-made picnic from the Food Hamper – pipe aboard half a dressed Bembridge lobster salad box for £10.99 or an excellent value Bembridge crab sandwich for £2.99.

If you’ve got a long day’s sailing ahead of you or need to recover from a heavy night, then you’re spoilt for choice about where to have breakfast. Matt and Cat’s breakfast-o-meter calculates the average cost to be £6.52. Eegons ‘Regatta Platta’ (above right) comes in at a wallet-welcome £5 and includes toast and a free drink too.

New for this year is mu-mu at Shepards Wharf, a pop-up offering “artisan food at affordable prices”. As well as a restaurant (evening dinner at £15 per person, plus dessert) and al fresco dining, mu-mu brings the DIY crew breakfast (up to £7.95), complete with your own toaster at the table. If you fancy oysters and Champagne or langoustine and clotted cream quiche, check out Oyster Grill and Bar (OGB), based at the Yacht Haven (we actually went there and had what can only be called an unusual experience – see review). Although a temporary venue, this year The Deck wine bar and restaurant on Cowes Parade will be here for its third Cowes Week. Check out their website for some special offers.

Plaze Ices

The temptations of these new kids on the block shouldn’t turn your head away from the established Cowes eateries. Matt and Cat are big fans of the Red Duster, whose three course set dinner costs a purse-pleasing £17.95. Reading the boards outside the Red Duster made Matt and Cat’s tummies rumble and even devout carnivore Matt had his head turned by the interesting vegetarian offers such as sesame-battered aubergine fingers on sweet pepper confit (£12.95). M&C loved their most recent visit to Mojac’s and the comments on their review confirm that it’s a fab place to eat.

After they’d promenaded up and down Cowes High Street checking out the fine dining, cafe fodder and pub grub, Matt and Cat flopped outside Plaza Ices. Cat lapped up her Ben and Jerry’s ‘Cherry Garcia’ cone (£2.50) and Matt had a cornet laden with Beechdean butterscotch fudge ice cream (£2). Ruminating over their ices and their menu analysis, Matt and Cat concluded that, like any other island town, you can pay a king’s ransom for your dinner or you can eat within modest means. Certainly Cowes Week visitors needn’t worry that they are going to be taken advantage of – set yourself a budget, you won’t have any trouble sticking to it.

Matt and Cat’s Cowes Price Watch: Your views and observations are needed!
Matt and Cat will doubtless be back in Cowes some time to see how things are going during the festivities. But they need help from sharp-eyed readers. Are the prices going up? Any special Cowes Week deals? What are your own examples of great value – or poor value? Please leave your comments here, and give details of any menu items, and costs, that might be of interest!

NB Like all posts on this website, Matt and Cat have not been paid to write this article.

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  • Clare

    20th August 2011 #1 Author

    We had largely stopped eating out in ‘Cowes week’ after several meals where we just felt we had been ‘ripped off’ after receiving poor food and poor service at an extortionate price.
    Mojacs was quite different; friendly efficient service, good atmosphere, excellent food and good value for money.

    Reply

  • roger

    14th August 2011 #2 Author

    as a ex-resident of cowes . i have found if u want a decent meal during cowes week, eat out of cowes there are good places to eat in newport

    Reply

  • ben johnstone

    12th August 2011 #3 Author

    Re: The Waterside in Cowes.
    Don’t go there unless you wish to be rudely asked to move from your table in the middle of a meal! We had been sitting at the table for over an hour waiting for our food then when we were in the middle of it we were asked to move to another table just to make room for two mates of the manager, Keith. Dreadful customer service which puts Keith into top position for the worst manager award! Well done Keith, another nail in the coffin of the Waterside. No wonder it’s on the market!

    Reply

  • lindsay

    11th August 2011 #4 Author

    we also went to BAHAR indian last night 10/8/11 but wish I had seen your previous post as we wouldnt of bothered. service was non excistent we sat and waited and waited and waited to order, it wasnt until I called the doorman over did we get anywhere. Food ordered it was then another 45 min wait for dinner it seemed everyone else was on starters and because we didnt order any we had to wait for everyone to finsh theirs before main meals where brought out, when asked how long a shrug of shoulders and soon soon was all we were told. Our currys finaly arrived it wasnt up to usual standard, the waiters hovered to take bowls before curry had been emptyed out so guessing they didnt have enough bowls to go around???
    All in all we wont be returning bad curry, bad service and came away skint wishing we had gone to the chippy 🙁

    Reply

  • rich

    10th August 2011 #5 Author

    BAHAR Indian treated a group of 6 of us disgustingly the other night. DO NOT GO THERE! They seem to have forgotten its locals that keep them in business 95% of the year.
    We turned up at 8.30 for a booked table to be told it wasn’t ready – come back in half an hour. Went for a drink in the Waterside (so busy, and only two bar staff working, that we didn’t actually get served for the half hour we were there!!!).
    On returning to the Bahar, our table was free, but an absolute **** of a yachtie decided to push past a female member of our group and sit down. ‘I’m here now’ he said when we pointed out it was our reservation. He then encouraged the rest of his crew to ‘sit down quick – there’s too many of us for them to do anything about it’. The manager of the Bahar then just shrugged his shoulders, asking if we’d mind waiting a bit longer for this table?! When we complained, his reply was – ‘ You are local – you should know its like this in Cowes week’. He then refused to give us back the supermarket bags we had brought our own beers in when we told him we would seek elsewhere to eat, and only gave them back after a heated argument. An absolute digrace.
    Things didn’t get better when we went to the COWES Tandoori a few doors down. A new, more expensive menu has appeared, you are no longer allowed to bring your own drinks (‘Only this week – next week its OK!’) and the NHS discount one of our group usually gets is not being given this week. We were so hungry we ate here, but I wouldn’t recommend it – £25 each for a main, side and a large bottle of beer.
    All in all, a disgusting example of the money-grabbing, lack of customer care that many Cowes businesses display during this week. I personally wish them all a very cold, quiet winter – I certainly won’t be providing any of the above with my custom ever again.

    Reply

  • Sean Wilson

    5th August 2011 #6 Author

    The best advice I would give is book before trying to eat out during Cowes Week, the restaurants can be empty one minute and once a huge crew comes aboard they can very quickly get full, especially the Indian Restaurants, although all the Indian Restaurants have lots more seating upstairs, so be aware you may get led upstairs and sit in a room with a crew of 12+ sailors! So if you don’t like it noisy and chaotic then don’t bother, your not going to find an interment table this week, in our experience. The best restaurant for watching the goings on is China China especially if your sat looking out the balcony, we booked last year a table for 2 by the window and had a great night. And China China, which is not cheap anytime (in our opinion) other than the eat-all-you-can-buffet did not put their prices up!

    Of course there is a lot of street vendors in the Marina and Parade which sell a variety of foods, some reasonable but some quite expensive, my advice is have a look before you decide, I often jump at the first ones only to find better sounding dishes later and cheaper! Last year Baan Thai had a take away table set up in their window and a rice and main dish, served in a takeaway tray with fork was under a fiver and absolutely delicious, finding seating on the parade was easy by the bar watching the live bands, you can find a line up of what bands are on in East and West Cowes if you search Cowes Week 2011.

    The fish and chip shops do not put their prices up (as far as I have seen in past years) you just have a long wait as they are so popular. But there is something about a slow stroll through Cowes with fish and chips and if you are looking for something new try Northwood House, its pop up restaurant last year was fantastic, I see on their website that ‘All About Catering’ are serving some very upmarket food; including Half a Lobster for £14.50, Bembridge Crab £12.50 and Moroccan Chicken £9.50. And the afternoon tea at £9.50 is accompanied by music on the grand piano! Spiffing stuff eh!

    And if you live in Cowes don’t plan on a takeaway – they often won’t take delivery orders during Cowes Week, and especially not on Firework Night, as we found out over the years!

    Reply