Nationally it was a year of high-profile food-related stories. Horse meat, the creation of a lab-grown burger and the patented ‘cronut’, a croissant-doughnut hybrid, all caused a stir. On the Isle of Wight as elsewhere, the horse meat outrage focused diners’ minds on the origins of their food. Venues such as the Priory Bay Hotel, Pointer Inn and Lockslane; and suppliers including as Island Foods and Dunsbury Lamb were able to capitalise on this renewed interest in local food provenance.
Events on the Island continued to feature local food very favourably. The Cowes Food Shows run by Red Funnel have become a regular feature, drawing tourists from Southampton and beyond. And the new Chilli Fiesta seemed to be a success – maybe to be repeated in 2014.
2013 was also a year of big changes in some of the high-end kitchens around the Island, and a time when quite a few interesting new venues opened their doors, as well as some sad times as others went to the wall. We had a few bad meals, quite a lot of decent meals, and a pleasingly large number of excellent and delightful meals. We’ve been saying it for years, and the longer we say it, the more it seems to come true: the Isle of Wight really is a great place for eating out.
Read on for part one: January 2013 – March 2013.
We started the new year by taking breakfast at Isle of Wight Pearl; blinking into the fabulous winter sunshine on that crisp new day (see photo of the view).
We also spent some of our Christmas money eating at two very prestigious hotels. We had our first wonderful taste of the work of maverick forager Oliver Stephens at the Priory Bay Hotel. We also took six boat rides in one day to have Sunday lunch in the Solent, at Spitbank Fort. It was a breathtaking venue – so exclusive that the silver fox of daytime TV Philip Schofield chose to spend this Christmas there!
January Dining Club dinner: Lockslane, Bembridge. “…a splendid sell-out event.”
After its extensive refurbishment, we decided to have dinner at the Hare and Hounds. We were a bit underwhelmed with the food, but delighted to be able to recycle a phrase from our first review – to us the venue will always be the Island’s (and possibly the world’s) only capital punishment theme pub. We also reviewed another very long-standing watering hole; Elizabeth Pack in Ryde. We said “It’s probable that the decor in the coffee shop started as cutting-edge modern, slinked into a period of being unfashionably-dated and has emerged as bang-on trend vintage.”
This was the month when we learnt about the first of some major changes in the Island’s chefs, as it was announced that the Royal Hotel’s long-standing chef Alan Staley had after seventeen years left the Royal to pick up the reins at the Seaview Hotel. At the same time one of his previous colleagues, Bridget Wells joined the team at Chessell Pottery.
February Dining Club dinner: The Pond Cafe, Bonchurch “We managed to have a little chat with Robert Thompson and heard about his plans to upgrade the facilities at The Pond.” Of course, what he kept under his hat was that days later, he’d announce his planned departure.
We had two printed publications out in March. We wrote about the local food scene for the first edition of the revamped Taste of the Wight from Solent. Although in a different format from its previous incarnation, this magazine was a great way to promote local venues and produce: we were happy to be associated with it.
We were also very excited about ‘Matt and Cat’s Isle of Wight Eating Out Guide’ (pictured) which we produced with kind support from Red Funnel. With words, pictures and design by us, it was a thrill to see our work in print.
In a break from tradition, we decided to put our pinnies on and cook a meal for some friends, ‘Come Dine With Me’ style. With horse meat firmly on our menu (bought from the makers of My Brittle Pony horse jerky), plus Island Foods beef, and Isle of Wight Biltong, we concocted a palatable supper.
March Dining Club dinner: Pointer Inn, Newchurch “Four courses of excellent food, in very fine company.”