The southerly approach to Cowes always puts Matt and Cat in mind of the Midlands, with row upon terraced row of red brick houses punctuated by the occasional corner shop or takeaway.
By the time one gets to the High Street, the town reveals its historic heart; Georgian buildings nestle with their younger Victorian neighbours creating a pleasant architectural patchwork. One of the most picturesque parts of the town is Shooters Hill, dominated by the impressive art nouveau façade of Jolliffe’s – for many years a shoe shop and now a swanky coffee bar-cum-art gallery.
A couple of doors up and tucked into a little corner by the wishing well is Mojac’s. Matt and Cat were keen to revisit this hidden gem after incurring the wrath of the Cowes Mafia following a previous review, which mentioned in passing some slightly aged broccoli. However, concerned that the knives had yet to be re-sheathed, M&C considered it necessary to don their cloaks of invisibility for the return visit and went with a huge crowd: safety in numbers. Will the new review have a happy ending for all concerned or can Matt and Cat expect to share their pillow with a horse’s head?
As well as being one of Cowes’ best-supported restaurants, Mojac’s also hosts themed evenings and it was to one of these that Matt and Cat made their return visit. Cat had booked the duo seats at a table with a bunch of (mostly) strangers; all signed up for a ‘ghost supper’, a meal interspersed with chat and otherworldly anecdotes from renowned local ghost-botherer, Marc Tuckey.
Matt and Cat found their seats and met their dining companions. Introductions out of the way, they settled down to study the menu. Prudently Mojac’s was offering a la carte; with the restaurant filled to capacity and the ghost talk running to a tight schedule, the kitchen would need to operate to a military timetable. Each of the three courses had trio of choices – at least one of which was vegetarian – and all looked very promising. Efficient waiting staff busied about getting drinks and somehow managed to cut through the clucking of Matt and Cat’s crushed velvet-wearing companions to take the dinner orders.
For starters, M&C both chose smooth homemade chicken liver and mushroom pate with Mojac’s red onion chutney and warm ciabatta toast. They diverged for their main courses: Matt opted for pan fried escalope of chicken topped with roasted vegetables served with a chipolata and chicken sauce. Cat, whose antenna is normally keenly tuned to Radio Chicken, decided to twiddle with the dial and go for pan fried fresh supreme of cod with garlic mash and a mixed mushroom and fish sauce. The selection of puddings was left until later: around the room elderly women patted their thickening waistlines and coquettishly proclaimed, as with a single voice, “I’ll wait and see if I have room”.
As the diners buttered their delicious warmed rolls, and with the dinner admin out of the way, it was time for the entertainment. Master of ceremonies Marc, taking his cue from the kitchen staff, rapped a spoon on the table which cut through the gossiping of the crowd. For about half an hour or so he kept his audience enthralled with wonderfully-spun tales of ‘Lala’, Shooters Hill’s own tormented soul. Describing in almost implausible detail the goings-on of this spirit child, he eventually came to a well-timed halt following a further nod from the staff: the starters were ready.
The paté was lovely and creamy yet given a bit of texture by pieces of mushroom dotted throughout and its bacon topping. It was served with some crunchy ciabatta and a tangy salad garnish. However, it was the accompanying chutney which was the plate’s moment of glory; the sticky sweet relish was the perfect partner for the paté: Cat, usually a modest eater, gobbled all hers up.
Once the plates were cleared and glasses replenished, it was time for round two of the ghostly tales. Marc entertained the diners with the story of Chadwick the dog and a very comprehensive history of the goings-on at Knighton Gorges, said to be the Island’s most haunted place – depending on who you believe (if you believe any of it!).
Again, with a discrete nod from the staff, Marc’s story dissipated like ectoplasm on a medium’s breath and everyone swivelled round to face their place-setting, ready for the next delivery of food. Matt’s chicken looked good and tasted better: the big, moist chicken breast was accompanied by a hearty chicken gravy with chunks of sausage in it. This was good, solid cooking in the style Matt loves. Cat’s fish, too, was excellent; a chunky flaky fillet languishing on a bed of garlic mash and bathed in an exquisite sauce. It was fantastically tasty and very well presented.
The accompanying vegetables came in for particular scrutiny given the controversy of the broccoli from the previous review. Now it may just have been coincidence, or perhaps Mojac’s had taken Matt and Cat’s previous criticism to heart, but it was in the vegetables that Mojac’s really demonstrated just how good it is. There was a generous veg allowance for the whole table – at no extra cost, obviously. Dishes of the most delicious potatoes were passed around but the pièce de résistance was the broccoli. The dark green florets were coated in a crunchy, cheesy, garlicky topping which was like catnip to M&C. The veg itself was cooked to perfection but its dressing was sublime. Matt declared, without a hint of irony, that it was the best broccoli he had ever eaten.
Even then Mojac’s had not finished, as the deft staff, discreetly clearing away empty dishes and replenishing glasses, came around with offers of even more veg. Despite their best efforts Matt and Cat had to waive away some still half-empty dishes of vegetables and the diners – some quite lubricated by this point, turned their attentions back to the entertainment. For his final chapter in the ghost stories of the Isle of Wight, Marc took requests! Folks shouted out various place-names and Marc regaled them with impressively localised stories of tormented office workers at County Hall, undead consumptives at Ventnor Botanic Garden and ghoulish children running amok at Northwood House. Plus ça change!
Three course ghost supper x 2 £41.90
Somehow desserts had been ordered and, again, delivery was executed with exacting precision. Cat had chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream. It was absolutely lovely, the epitome of the genre; crunchy on the outside and with a warmed and gooey heart. As well as being scrumptious it was a pleasure to eat a brownie without the tell-tell tongue-searing heat that accompanies one of those over-microwaved efforts. Matt had orange panna cotta finished with oranges and candied zest. The previous day he had also had an orange-based pudding, which seemed basic indeed compared to the thoughtful presentation of Mojac’s sweet.
During the breaks in entertainment the staff at Mojac’s were always in attendance, clearing plates, bringing sustenance and operating like a well-oiled machine. The meals were all delivered in sync; no-one had to wait. All evidence of a professionally-run establishment and factors which some other venues seem to forget about. Incredible as it may seem to some restaurateurs, dining out is not just about the food – although in the case of Mojac’s that was fantastic. Customers want decent, efficient and friendly service and evidence that the kitchen and the front of house staff are attuned to the needs of each other and the patrons. Matt and Cat have eaten in some dingy hovels which win big points for their attitude to customers: and other far grander venues which, while offering some of the finest dining known to Vectis Man, have staff that are indifferent to their charges. It is only the very best establishments that deliver great food and professional yet friendly service, and Mojac’s certainly did on the night Matt and Cat visited. Highly recommended!