Matt and Cat recently twanged their umbilicus enough to take a trip to the delightful town of Lymington - Hampshire’s answer to Cowes, with its quaint thoroughfares, yachticulture and quayside amenities.
They popped over to have lunch in the town’s newest fine dining venue, the Elderflower restaurant, invited by their mainland counterparts Ladies Who Lunch in Hampshire - a sort of matriarchal Matt and Cat, run by the charming ‘CJ’.
When CJ chose Elderflower for this first collaborative review, she had done her homework. The restaurant is run by chef Andrew Du Bourg and his French wife Marjolaine. Both have impressive experience in the hospitality industry: Andrew’s last gig was as head chef at the nearby five star Chewton Glen Hotel. Matt and Cat were suitably intrigued.
Lymington was heaving with visitors; it was a perfect storm of Bank Holiday weekend, the last Saturday of the school holidays, market day and the sun was shining. Expecting the venue to be rushed off its feet, Matt, Cat, CJ and pal Sue were surprised to find that they were the first diners in the place. It was pleasingly calm after the hustle and bustle of the street and, as they settled at their table, they enjoyed watching the throng through the bullseye glass in the authentic Georgian windows.
The Isle of Wight does funny things to people. Some folks that move here just don’t get with the vibe and can’t wait to leave. If you’re not used to a place where everyone’s cousins live nearby, the roads have names and not numbers, and local businesses are obsessed with having logos that include the county's distinctive diamond shape, then it can take a bit of getting used to. So let’s get this over with now - neither Matt or Cat were born on the Island and all of the above were notable distinctions compared with their originating counties.
But resistance is futile. Once you tune in to Wight life, then you can have the Best Fun Ever. It doesn't take much to find your niche and M&C have certainly carved out one for themselves pontificating on the Island’s food offering for nearly a decade. It’s easy to see how their old associate, fellow pie-botherer and much-missed IW County Press columnist the late Keith Newbery turned down approaches from national newspapers, not wanting to forsake his Island home.
And so, perhaps, the same is true of Alan Staley, proprietor of Sandown’s Ocean Deck? Following a seventeen-year stretch at Ventnor’s Royal Hotel, this supremely competent and experienced chef went to the Seaview Hotel before moving on to work for himself. With his charming wife Hayley on front-of-house duties, his ‘office’ is now within a salty spray of The Bay, with an enviable view of the English Channel.
Video review: 2014
Written review: 2007
The Roman villa at Brading was built on the site of an Iron Age farm, which was positioned to take full advantage of the harbour situated between Sandown and Bembridge.
The Romans certainly chose a good spot for a tea room; the villa's Forum Cafe is positioned on the west side of the building, perfect for enjoying the view across to Sandown. It's very likely that those early inhabitants of the villa enjoyed al fresco meals in the late afternoon sunshine, just as Matt and Cat did one unexpectedly balmy October day.
Matt and Cat love fast food as much as the next person but occasionally they dust off their gladrags and go posh.
There are several delightful but purse-punishing venues on the Island and, to ensure that you don’t come away from your special dinner feeling underwhelmed, M&C are here to help you. They've had some truly awesome dinners over the years - there's no doubt that when the Island does fine dining well, it does it very well indeed. So when the chance arose for M&C to head west and heft cutlery finished with a coating of Viennese gold, they were powerless to resist. Yes. That’s right. Cutlery made with precious metals titanium and gold.
Anyone who has been to Ventnor recently will have been impressed with how the town has picked itself out of economic malaise. Where once were junk shops and empty windows, now there are coffee bars, emporia and restaurants. And even though 2012’s Arts Festival-goers heard a particularly impassioned discourse about Tesco's arrival in Ventnor from Nearly Naked Chef Hardeep Singh Kholi, the ruinous old Ventnor International stores has nonetheless been replaced by a shiny new Tesco Express.
So Ventnor is definitely open for business. Even the troubled Winter Gardens has flung open its doors again. In fact, if you want to relocate your cup-cakery, camp coffee parlour or pop-up burger joint to the town you’d be hard-pressed to find room.
In an attempt to spread the love beyond the town centre and the delightful esplanade, the culinary team behind the popular Ventnor High Street venue Tramezzini has popped up in the Wellington Hotel. After making a name for themselves with their classy café with its fabulous Italian-inspired lunches, they have ventured into riskier but potentially more prestigious territory. Can the successful formula be transposed to a hotel environment?