Matt and Cat\'s Isle of Wight Eating Out Guide
Jolliffes of Cowes Jolliffes of Cowes
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Save Jolliffes of Cowes

Much is being trumpeted at the moment about the government’s idea of stopping central funding for public services through the ‘liberation’ of selected bits of England from the shackles of Westminster control. This is, on the surface, potentially an appealing prospect. There’s a local Solent Devolution Deal including the Island, whereby the area gets a one-off big pile of money, and then after that we have to pay for everything from business rates. And here is the rub. While Southampton and Portsmouth, major cities with healthy young populations of working age, can probably provide a decent business rate return, the Isle of Wight may struggle to make its contribution.

So the Island model for paying for all this seems to be to lure in some huge business to, say, create a vast factory in an area of open countryside delivering plenty of jobs. That probably works on the mainland, but we’re a bit worried about how it might work out here. As anyone who has dipped their toe into Island life will know, one of its strengths is the wealth of innovative and enterprising people. All over the county folk are beavering away on their own small projects, creatively using what resources they have. Dining places and their suppliers have been particularly successful. These small local industries often grow in a sustainable way and potentially provide long-term security and quality of life for their handful of employees. But what on earth has this got to do with the price of (poached) eggs?

Cowes is a pretty, historic town with winding Georgian streets and visible links to Henry VIII. For centuries it has been a hive of maritime industry; ropemakers, boat builders and chandlers have all plied their business in this glorious waterfront location with its pleasingly higgledy-piggledy streetscape of ghost signs and bow-fronted buildings.

One of these gorgeous shops, with its justifiable listed building status, is Jolliffes. Years ago, behind its Art Nouveau-period stained glass windows, the ladies and gentlemen of Cowes bought shoes. The interior now is much as it was back in the day; all wood panelling and yet more stained glass. After several dormant years the empty shop became a cafe, and is now a restaurant. Having popped over one night for an evening of innovative cocktails and Pokemon Go in the lovely Jolliffes, Cat insisted that Matt join her there for breakfast the very next day.

“The breakfast was added to our list of places worth travelling across the Island for.”

Like many venues that switch from night to day trade, Jolliffes continued with the restaurant-standard service. This is a very good thing. The tables may no longer have been wearing their white linen cloths, but a bottle of water arrived unbidden as it had done the previous evening.

Cat went straight for the what she refers to in her head as the Poached Egg Challenge. A perfectly-cooked poached egg – not snotty, but far from solid – is a thing to behold. Cat has been know to travel across the Island if she’s found a chef who can deliver the goods. Matt, too, has his breakfast favourite – the full English. Like a poached egg, this can vary enormously from venue to venue, so it’s not always easy to make any meaningful comparison. But hey, he’s always happy to have a stab (at a juicy sausage).

Cat’s eggs royale were delivered on a big bisected disc of a muffin. Slices of smoked salmon hung untucked under the eggs and the whole lot was dressed with smooth hollandaise sauce and garnished with leaves of flat parsley. There may be some of you out there who remember EggGate; that time a village cafe over-reached itself and offered Cat its eggs Benedict with disastrous vinegary sauce and solid-yolked results. Pointing out this poor effort got us “and all your friends” a ban from said cafe which has, we regret to say, closed for good. However, these are not those eggs. Jolliffes’ eggs royale were textbook perfect. The golden yolks oozed from their sacs and integrated with the gentle hollandaise. Delicious. Cat washed the lot down with a decent cup of Island Roasted coffee and declared the experience to be a most satisfactory one.

Matt and Cat’s bill
Eggs royale £6.45
Full English £7.95
Coffee £1.95
Tea £1.95
Orange juice £2.45
Total £20.75

The full English was also presented with a perfectly-cooked egg, and two warm toast slices to soak it up. Matt had as usual declined the beans, and was provided with a single half-tomato to provide some juice. The promised sautéed potatoes proved to be generic, bland, cubes of spud; but a good-quality sausage and some well-seared bacon were the highlights, making what was overall a decent breakfast.

Jolliffes seemed to us to be a lovely business. The premises are charming; respectful of the conspicuous heritage of the building. The service is great too; we were allowed to sit there long after the yolky remnants had started to congeal where Cat had dribbled some on her cardigan. Why, there were even fresh flowers on the tables, free Wi-Fi and somewhere to plug our devices. Consequently the breakfast was added to our list of places worth travelling across the Island for.

Of course, this modest business doesn’t fit into the devolution model of giant corporations paying huge business rates. But surely this type of local restaurant is the epitome of Island business; small, friendly and, we hope, sustainable. Our diverse small-shop high streets are something that mainland towns have in many cases lost a generation ago – but we on the Island have not yet. These enterprising little businesses need room and support to start up and, yes, to fail sometimes too. They shouldn’t be overlooked in favour of conspicuous big-bang ‘economic development’. We fear the Island risks a bland, corporate future if we embrace the mainland economic model at the expense of our own local talent. While the big boys play at devolution, economic development is quietly going on here right under their noses.

This is the full-length version of the review previously published in the Isle of Wight County Press. 

The acme of poached eggs in a delightful historic setting with charming service.
  • Charming historic venue
  • Fun cocktails in the evening
  • Good coffee and light food by day
  • Excellent service
  • Generic sautéed potatoes

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  • Tamsin

    18th October 2016 #1 Author

    You should try dining of an evening… the steaks are amazing and melt in the mouth

    Reply