Matt and Cat\'s Isle of Wight Eating Out Guide
Red Duster, Cowes Red Duster, Cowes
Red Duster, Cowes

Now that Twestival is over, Matt and Cat have been winched back onto the review horse and are galloping into a town near you.

One of Matt and Cat's favourites

One of
Matt and Cat’s
Chicken and blue cheese

Saddling up one weekday evening they rode into Cowes and wandered around its streets looking for a place to slip on the proverbial nosebags. There’s certainly plenty to choose from in this picturesque town; Indian, seafood, Italian and even Portuguese. M and C carefully examined the menus of several different places only to be thwarted by the fact that they were closed, had already featured on these pages or they just didn’t fancy them. Cat, particularly, can dismiss a place on a whim and Matt can tell in an instant the mood of The Cat (is her metaphorical tail up? Or swishing?). With this specialist knowledge of Cat’s ‘inclination barometer’ he knew that the Red Duster had caught her eye. Lingering over the menu? Check! Peering in the windows? Check! Taking a pre-emptive photo of the outside? That settled it; in they went.

Red Duster, Cowes

The restaurant is in a prime position and, unlike some of its neighbours, has managed to resist the homogeneity of ‘modernisation’: laminate flooring, atmospheric coloured lighting and photographs of pebbles hold no truck here. The place has retained a splendid cosy charm and cleverly exudes a nautical vibe but without the oppressive clutter of nauticalia. Having given the place a favourable once-over Matt and Cat were greeted by a friendly waitress – who had been wiling away some down-time by polishing cutlery – and were shown to a neatly-laid table in the window.

The menu, an interesting creation of wood and metal, was almost overwhelming. There were so many tempting offers to choose from that Matt and Cat had to be given more time for perusal. Eating out can be a bit of a gamble, particularly if a rare treat. Often people will have an idea of what they fancy and will not deviate from their usual favourite. Which is why, dear reader, Matt and Cat try to take the risk out of eating out on the Isle of Wight for you. But fear not the dishes on the Red Duster’s menu, they were all worthy contenders with even the most unadventurous diner surely tempted by such offerings as sea bass on red pesto linguine with a Chablis and sun-dried tomato reduction or honey-glazed duck on crushed sweet roots with sharp redcurrant and juniper jus.

For his starter, Matthew was unable to resist ordering roasted Isle of Wight elephant garlic on a Caesar salad with Parmesan crackling. This deceptively simple little dish was bursting with flavour. The hefty clove of garlic was cooked to a point of mellowness and, instead of its usual dry and slightly gritty consistency, the cheese was unexpectedly presented as brittle discs which cleverly complemented the satisfyingly uncomplicated salad. The combination of tastes and textures was well conceived.

Without other fellow diners to observe, M and C had to rely on their own conversational reserves to keep themselves amused. The topics discussed ranged from the congratulatory (review of Twestival), the improbable (what would happen if the council just left the Military Road to take its chances with the forces of nature?), to the fantastic (if you could go back in time and give your fifteen-year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?). This last topic occupied the pair for quite a while, in fact so long and so intently that they were slightly startled by the arrival of the main courses.

…it deserved the highest accolade – the best chicken dish on the Island!
Fillet of beef

Cat’s thyme-roasted chicken on blue cheese and bacon dauphinoise was magnificent! A vast breast lolled enticingly on its cheesy bed of sliced potatoes and lean bacon strips. The smell was exquisite; the tangy aroma of the veiny fromage was quite irresistible – so Cat tucked in straight away. Savouring each mouthful she declared that the dish was on a par with those other memorable chicken dishes that have been logged both on this site and in her meat memory-bank. Firstly, the chicken and tarragon supreme at the Woodman Arms, a delicately flavoured dish served in homely surroundings. The second meal in Cat’s ‘Chicken Hall of Fame’ was the sublime chicken korma that she enjoyed at the Lifeboat in 2007. However, the more of the Red Duster’s thyme chicken dish that she ate, the more she realised that it deserved the highest accolade – the best chicken dish on the Island!

Matt and Cat’s bill
Caesar salad starter £4.95
Fillet steak £22.95
Table d’hôte two courses £16.95
Drinks £2.95
Coffee x 2 £3.00
Total £50.80
White chocolate torte

Matt’s rare-cooked fillet of beef with Yorkshire flats, bubble and squeak and crunchy bacon was the second most expensive dish that the venue offered, pipped only by the lemon scampi and crab thermidor with pink peppercorns (£23.60). Fillet steak is always a bit of a treat and the Red Duster’s offering was no exception. Delivered with a necessarily steady hand, the dish was a towering pile; patties of bubble and squeak were used as the foundation, with the lean meat and ‘Yorkshire flats’ forming the upper storeys. It was a superbly playful take on the classic roast beef Sunday lunch – every element a delicious pastiche, even down to the bubble and squeak made with fresh mange-tout and sweetcorn. ‘Yorkshire flats’ turned out to be a kind of freshly-cooked batter pancake that was related to a traditional Yorkshire pud in exactly the same way that the generous hunks of exquisite fillet were related to a humble slice of silverside beef. Matt set-to with the serrated knife and revealed the pink interior of the steak. Even the finest fillet risks blandness when compared with other cuts of beef, but this one was sublimely peppered and seared, offering one of the best fillet experiences Matt could recall. Like the starter and Cat’s wonderful chicken dish, the steak meal was an excellent combination of tastes and textures. A toweringly-generous dish of piping-hot vegetables came alongside, at no extra charge; plenty for the pair to share.

By now the waitress had other patrons to keep her busy but she still found time to tell Matt and Cat about the perils of bringing such artfully lofty constructions, such as Matt’s steak dish, down the stairs from the first floor kitchen to the ground floor tables. She was a cheerful young soul and professional with it – obviously knowledgeable and ready to discuss the menu and the food on it. It might have been more conventional not to have addressed her charges as ‘guys’ quite so often, but this mannerism might be the latest thing that fuddy-duddies Matt and Cat just haven’t caught onto yet. Clearing their satisfyingly empty plates, she offered puddings. Matt was replete but Cat had been saving a bit of room for white chocolate torte with red berries. Two coffees completed their order and they sat back patting their full bellies whilst waiting for the dessert.

Throughout the meal passers-by were seen to examine the chalkboard menus outside the restaurant. There was certainly a mighty choice, including an exceptionally good selection of vegetarian dishes such as field and forest mushroom Roquefort carbonara, and bulgar stuffed egg plant on balsamic and Parmesan beetroot. What’s more, you don’t need to shell out huge sums to get this cracking good food: so long as you’re willing to accept a much reduced choice. The table d’hôte menu had caught Cat’s eye; two courses for £14.95 and three courses for £16.95. There was certainly no diminution in either quality or quantity when comparing the table d’hôte with the pricier à la carte selection. (As it happened it was only whilst compiling this review when the diners spotted that Cat had actually been charged for the three-course table d’hôte despite ordering only two courses. Still, at a difference of £2 it was hardly anything to quibble over.)

Soon Cat’s second course arrived along with the coffees. The white chocolate torte was, like all of the other dishes, beautifully presented and wonderfully tasty. The torte was stained with the red juice of the berries, making it looked bruised. Hefty chunks of white chocolate embalmed within once again demonstrated the chef’s signature style of mixing up the dish’s textures. It was a lovely dessert and even Matt nodded his approval of the tiny mouthful he managed to wrest from Cat’s darting spoon.

Washing the remnants down with coffee, Matt and Cat decided that the Red Duster was a great restaurant at which to start the autumn/winter review season. This venue with its clever and interesting menu, cosy interior and friendly service was instantly proclaimed to be one of Matt and Cat’s favourites before they were even back out in the street. Definitely recommended.
Red Duster, Cowes

This venue with its clever and interesting menu, cosy interior and friendly service was instantly proclaimed to be one of Matt and Cat's favourites before they were even back out in the street. Definitely recommended.
  • Unusual and interesting menu, worth exploring
  • Cheery service
  • Good value for what you get
  • Great veggie options
  • Rammed in high season
  • Some of the seating is a bit cosy

5 of 5

5 of 5

4 of 5

3 of 5

4 of 5

  • Stephen says:

    I have been twice in recent months and both times had very good meals with friendly helpful service. It is worth highlighting that the Lady of the House is a vegetarian and so ensures that there are good veggie options and that that they are all properly vegetarian.

  • Kevin says:

    Had a great lunch on a very cold bank holiday Saturday. Hostess was great in making us welcome with great friendly banter and loads of local information. Had the fish pie from the lunch menu which was great, creamy and tasty. Good size portion. My wife had the clam chowder which was tastes and well made.. She loved her pudding of crime caramel, pistachio ice cream and biscotti which she said was heaven on a plate. I had cheese and biscuits to finish the great bottle of South African Shiraz wine. Total cost £ 50 including tip. Well worth it for the quality of food provided that is not mass produced like every other high street eatery. Good unique home cooked food of ala carte standard. Will visit again.

  • Egusta says:

    Yes, we read the excoriating review by Jay Raynor also, but gave the Red Duster a try last night. I had the prawns and leeks volauvents with whisky cream sauce, and loved it. Husband and Friend had whitebait with spicy guacamole which they also loved. We played safe with the mains, and had lamb chop with goats cheese on red onion and cabbage (me) and venison with sweet pot mash (the others). Absolutely no complaints, except the service was a little slow. They were pretty full also!

    Have been to the Red Duster 3 times now. Both times when they have had a winter menu (like last night) the food was great. We were a bit disappoiinted with a summer menu earlier this year, but certainly last night we had a great meal, great wine and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

  • Mattfromryde says:

    Check out the jay rayner review in the observer today. He really didn’t like it and in my experience is rarely this forthright on his negative reviews!

  • Claire & Paul says:

    We have just had a wonderful meal at the Red Duster in Cowes. My mustard chicken had a delicate blend of flavours asparagus being perfectly cooked. Their take on black forest gateaux is definitely worth a try. We were the only diners this evening so we very well looked after. We will be returning.

  • Jon Wedge says:


    We attempted to book a table at the Red Duster Cowes, but at the time of year you expect a returant to have some sort of offers on ie. a set menu for a set price they have nothing.

    We dine out with friends about once a month, sometimes more and enjoy our meals (Burrs we did not), and spend about the same on drink as we do on food. Why not tempt us in with the offers and let us spend our money on your wine? Or is tourist money all they are after? What about the locals!

  • Sean says:

    We have been meaning to go here for ages and did so on Friday night, after reading one recent negative review and M&C’s very positive review, we did not know what to expect.

    I must say on arrival I thought all the blackboards outside made the place look a bit café rather than restaurant, the place was fully booked but empty when we arrived but soon filled up. The rather ecliptic décor and booths downstairs give the place a quirky but old fashioned feel, but there was a good atmosphere and the young waitress was very attentive..

    The menu was interesting and we soon ordered French Red Onion Soup and Wild Boar Pate, both were delicious as were the mains of Fillet Steak with Veg and Pots and Chicken with Dauphinois (I thought the portion size was ok not huge), the Coffee Pot Puds were good too but very rich and only for those with a sweet tooth. At £70 with a bottle of wine it was good food and service but not cheap (must say we thought the veg and pots were very similar to Mojacs up the road where we often go on a Friday night, slightly more on the over done side, which I do not mind and my wife prefers as she is salicylate sensitive).

    So the reviews here, either good or bad, did not put us off, its nice to go with some thoughts and feedback, but that s all this site is, I will make my own mind up! And I would recommend the Red Duster as the food was good, would I recommend over Mojacs on a Friday with their 2 Three Course Meals with a bottle of wine for £40, that’s a different question! And you do not like Mojacs…shows we are all different!

  • Chris Parr says:

    I went to the Red Duster on Sunday evening, with my sister. The food was OK but it and everything else needs considerable attention. We went upstairs. The blue chairs must have been picked up, cheap from a hotel fire sale. Terrible. Why have red paper napkins in glasses and white linen ones on the table? Why allow dirty plates, etc to be piled up on an un-used dining table? Lazy. Why allow a waiter to sweat all over the place? Poor ventilation and poor choice of waiter. Why deliver a dish of boiled potato with dishes that already come with chips (hard and not good at all) and dauphinois (a pile the size of a small tortoise)? Why make the crepe so large and sickly that only half can be eaten? I think the Red Duster needs to take a long hard look at its offering. It’s charging London prices for Cowes cafe food. I am telling everyone I know not to go there. My sister agrees and will be doing the same. Sad, but management needs to eat in its own place and see it from a diner’s perspective. No value for money and they are throwing away profit.

  • Wendy says:

    Couldn’t walk past the Red Duster at lunchtime today without noticing the Matt & Cat sticker in the window (yay!) and remembering your good review, plus there was a promising board of vegetarian specials, so we headed inside.

    the imaginatively broad veggie menu might tempt me back

    We had mixed fortunes. Not ravenously hungry, I chose the intriguing sounding quails egg, goats cheese and cucumber kedgeree, which was delicious and very generous with the key ingredients. Mighty tasty, really quite filling for a starter size, and great value I thought at £5.90. Ian went for a main course, at about double the price, of pasta with tomato, garlic, capers and parmesan. Unfortunately it was overpowered by added chilli, which wasn’t mentioned in the menu. He ate some but found it far too hot and to be fair when he told the waiter what was wrong, and the waiter had confirmed that it did indeed contain chilli, he wasn’t charged.

    The other details that slightly disappointed were damp napkins, no fresh orange juice available, and the bread we were offered at the start of the meal tasted like it was one of those part-baked frozen Delice de France loafs that get re-heated at your local garage or newsagent. (Maybe they serve better bread when the bakery next door is open?)

    So there were some niggles. But the imaginatively broad veggie menu might tempt me back, as what I had was really very good.

  • KJ says:

    The twittered anticipation was almost worth it….now just have to get the map out to find Cowes 🙂

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