Matt and Cat are well-known to the staff and management of Ryde Thai, and their enthusiasm for its previous incarnation in Seaview, the now-closed Khrua Thai, is well documented. At their very first visit way back in 2009 Matt and Cat famously ate the wonderful 'Set Menu B' and said of it "the food itself was faultless, and the service charming. Its extraordinary alchemy of tastes and textures was a pleasure to eat". Since then, Matt and Cat have had family dinners, takeaways and even birthday parties to the taste of this great Thai food. And, like a great many regular customers, have become friends of the management and staff. So they could hardly be their usual impartial selves.
As is occasionally their habit they sent trustworthy but unknown agents instead. This time it was local writer Emma Brown and her husband Stephen. Matt and Cat promised to publish Emma's unexpurgated views, both praise and criticism. So read on to see what Emma made of Ryde Thai, before seeing Matt and Cat's own conclusions at the end.
I'd been following the transformation of Khrua Thai in Seaview to Ryde Thai quite closely, especially after they caused a bit of a stir when their new cooker got stuck in the door. Not being a resident of Ryde, I wasn't sure where they had moved to so checked their website but unfortunately it hasn't been updated and states that they're still based in Seaview. Google soon assured me that they can now be found at the bottom end of Union Street so I booked for us to go on the day after Valentine's Day.
When Sandown boy Matt worked in the Fens he was struck by three things: the searingly cold easterly wind, the uncanny flatness of the countryside and the dialect.
He learnt how to stoke up a woodburner, heard the legend of Ol’ Shuck and updated his vocabulary with words including 'clunch' and ‘docky’. The docky hut was a shed with runners that was dragged about the fields and parked up to provide a temporary shelter for men to eat their lunch - or 'docky'.
It is entirely right that something as important as lunch has its own local word, and on the Isle of Wight docky is called nammet. In 2013 a new restaurant appeared in Shanklin calling itself - with commendable local distinctiveness - Fine Nammet. It goes without saying that to wear such a name with honour, Fine Nammet would need to be a cut above your average cheese sarnie.
It’s amazing how many people think that they are a ‘natural’ at something. For every warbling show-off who imagines that their dreary back-story and falsetto interpretation of ‘Oops I Did It Again’ on Britain’s Got Asthma is the route to instant glory, there are thousands of people who know that hard work and a decent education are truly the key to long-term rewards.
Matt and Cat have from time to time visited restaurants and been served by uninterested children without the wherewithal to even make eye contact. And do you know why? It’s because people imagine that hospitality work is that which any fule can do. Well it isn’t. Like being a successful pop star, it takes training and guidance and mentoring and on-the-job experience.
Having had a fabulous Sunday lunch at the award-winning Isle of Wight College-based UKSA Essential Marine Hospitality kitchen, Matt and Cat were keen to see to see where other fledgling chefs, servers and restaurateurs learn their craft. As it happens, the hospitality trainees at the Isle of Wight College need to have people to practice their craft on, and some friends had invited Matt and Cat to join them for dinner there. So it was back to the college, this time to the student-run restaurant.
Back in the day a handy man named Phil refurbished a greasy spoon called Top of the Town. He was so pleased with his work that he took over the venue and named it after himself, and thus Original Phil's was born.
There was the possibility that Phil donned his pinny and was flipping burgers at an early stage in the career of his eponymous restaurant, but if so, he didn't hang around for long. After several iterations, in summer 2013 the café was once more reborn with new management and high aspirations. This can only be a good thing: Original Phil's for some years featured as one of Matt and Cat's top recommendations, but had got bit less original of late.
New people full of energy and excitement could be just the thing to put some fizz back into Original Phil's soda, some sizzle into his sausage and insert some meat between his buns. Or something. Anyway, the new brooms' bold claim, "We are upping the game with uniformed table service, fresh hand-made burgers with real steak every day" strongly suggested that, while Cat was picking through some lunchtime lettuce somewhere, Matt should go and put the diner to the test.
Back in 2012 Matt and Cat were enjoying an ordinary Saturday night in. The rain was teeming down and and Matt was chopping some fresh Island lamb into chunks for a meaty winter stew for the next day's Sunday lunch. It's always nicer when it's been, well... stewed!
Unusually for March, he heard some fireworks outside. Matt and Cat didn’t yet know it, but some wedding celebrations in Ryde were about to go with a bang and a pop, and then a sickening crackle followed by the prolonged whooshing of extinguishing water. The rest of the story is well known - the fireworks apparently initiated the flaming overture to a remarkable night. Matt shoved the stew in the oven and he and Cat turned temporarily into citizen reporters, watching horrified as one of Ryde's best-known landmarks burnt to a smouldering shell.
The Ryde Castle was widely expected to be demolished, but guess what? It wasn't, and in autumn 2013 it reopened, completely refurbished. Frankly underwhelmed by the old Ryde Castle way back in 2008, Matt and Cat set out to see whether, as well as doing some very nice rebuilding, the Greene King phoenix had also worked its magic in the kitchen.