Some of Matt and Cat's readers visit this eating out guide with flattering regularity, apparently trusting - as well as being entertained by - the amateur ramblings of the eponymous bloggers.
Just as one might demand the same hairstylist year after year - as they are truly the only scissor-jockey who can whip lank greasy hair into a towering spiky mullet - so Matt and Cat have confidence in the venues of certain restaurant proprietors.
Black Sheep Bar occupies a prime site adjacent to the historic Yelf's Hotel in Ryde's distinctive Union Street. Its adjoining courtyard has been sympathetically upgraded; etched plate glass walls keep out the draughts and potted plants create pleasant screening. The interior of the bar is quite gothic but without clutter; florid black and silver wallpaper contrasting with plain magenta walls.
Matt and Cat were curious to see whether another Liberty's would be created up the road - as if so, there'd inevitably be competition between the two. But the style and feel of The Black Sheep Bar is quite different from Liberty's - one assumes deliberately so. And, for those expecting Liberty's-style menus, there is a surprise in store for the Black Sheep Bar sells tapas. Matthew, who usually likes a full plate has learnt to love these tiny dishes. They allow you to have a taster of many interesting foods without the hazard of making an unwise choice. Don't care for your slow-cooked octopus? Ne'er mind, swap it for your companion's smoky eggs. Not ordered enough? No problem - just order some more. Cat, with her bird-like appetite, loves to pick away at this food designed for sharing too, so it's a good format to please both of them.
For tapas noobs, there are some friendly instructions printed atop the menu, recommending three or four dishes to start with. There's even a special children's menu available on request, offering the intriguingly-titled 'definitely interactive food'. As many experiences of eating at El Toro Contento have shown, three platters each is usually enough to fill Matt and Cat. So when the waitress sauntered over they ordered an eclectic mix to pick over together: mixed olives; black pudding; whitebait; sesame & garlic chicken; and a courgette salad.
The Black Sheep Bar was not crowded, and Matt and Cat soon noticed another distinct difference from Liberty's. Perhaps in a deliberate effort to give an informal, clubby atmosphere, the waiting staff were determinedly casual about their demeanour. Chatting volubly across the bar as they waited for other customers, Matt and Cat heard the staff tattling about amorous conquests, unusually large volumes of alcohol drunk, and even listened to a new ringtone.
This is no criticism, and indeed much of this seemed to be coming from a chap who was obviously off-duty. When staff attended to M & C, the same informal and chatty style was clearly the norm for The Black Sheep Bar.
Eavesdropping was soon put to one side when the food very promptly arrived. Your reviewers were stunned by the impressive spread which was laid out in front of them. This far exceeded their expectations. Each dish was beautifully presented, and hardly done justice by the menu descriptions. What was described merely as 'mixed olives' turned out to be a delightful mélange of olives stuffed with coriander and cumin seed, presented on a tangy bed of fresh rocket and garnished with sprigs of thyme. Similarly, the black pudding, billed as 'quick-fried and served with warm breads', was a decent pile of piping-hot wedges of pud, on warm ciabatta alongside a mixed salad featuring fresh figs, no less.
Courgette salad £3.00
Garlic chicken £4.50
Black pudding £3.50
Smoky eggs £3.00
Mixed olives £2.50
2 x coffee 3.50
And this bounty was not found wanting when tasted either - it was all freshly cooked and prepared, mostly from fresh ingredients. Indeed the only obviously pre-prepared item was the olives, by necessity from a jar. Matt was particularly pleased with the whitebait - so hot and new they just melted in the mouth as only very good fish can. Again, this was served with handfuls of that zingy rocket which really set it off. It was a revelation to Matt and Cat that good tapas can be English, as well as Spanish.
This nu-goth addition to Union Street's ever-changing kaleidoscope of eateries is a remarkable innovation, and one which Matt and Cat thought was exceptionally good. A very casual ambience, yet still a hint of grown-up sophistication. And the food! An outstanding way to enjoy tapas. This one's recommended.
Categories: We love!, Family friendly, Ryde, Tapas
The bar staff were all very friendly and the price was just right. We will definitley go back.
Not bad food but a quick look around and you'll find Ryde is already saturated with places like this. All the competition and high rates and lower footfall on the High St seems to be forcing these bars to keep their prices as competitive as possible whilst cutting corners in terms of quality. Get off the high street or head out of Ryde for a better quality meal - in terms of nights out Ryde is very very chavvy at the moment - the Black Sheep regularly has the glass panels round its courtyard smashed because of all the passing yobbos, although music wise you're likely to find the best of Island DJs and bands in there.
The atmosphere in the BSB is always welcoming, friendly and often family orientated with a childrens menu available which my kids love.
The weekend nights are pretty good too with live bands in the Clublounge every friday and a DJ every saturday.
If you havnt tried this place out yet, I urge you to do so, you wont be dissapointed!
Matt and Cat respond: Thanks for your comment Aaron. We went to the Black Sheep Bar on Tuesday and had a lovely meal; Matt's favourite whitebait had a delicious seasoning coating. We had a good old natter to chef Alex after we had eaten. Definitely worth a visit.
and being THE ONLY tapas bar in ryde its a breath of fresh air.
Matt & Cat respond: we'd agree - we've had coffee there and it is exceptionally good.
Plus, I liked the peripherals. Great contemporary background music (which I suppose is what you'd expect with John Giddings of IW Festival being involved) and I love the decor, including the ladies' loo. Black/silver floral wallpaper reminded me of vintage Biba from the 70s. And a hand-dryer so powerful it nearly takes your nails off.
Definitely somewhere I'll return to.
I think here a great chance is missed to spice up British drinking culture with some late night availibility of light bites (why not make it 23.00 or 24.00 hours)and thus avoid people getting totally plastered because they just drink, or as there will always be some who just want to do exactly that at least mix the customer base with some people who want to or have to dine late. In Spain they would hand out a tapa with every bottle ordered...
We will however attempt to come back earlier and find out if the food is really that good...
Such lovely, pleasant staff and wonderful food. Definately be visiting again next year.
Thanks! Liz :)
The food was freshly cooked, and served with prompt friendly service (but with only another 6 or so late lunch diners I can't comment on speed when they are busy.) I have had brie and bacon toasted sandwiches a number of times and this was definitely one of the better ones. Evenly melted and generously spread with cranberry sauce and thick flavoursome bacon. The bread was perfectly toasted and crisp. The chips were crispy outside and fluffy inside. Small side salad with the normal lettuce, tomato and lettuce, pepped up with some dill and red onion.
All in all something simple and well done.
I look forward to a more substatntial break there next time.
This Friday 27th April, we have the first of many 'dinner with the band' evenings, this month with the fabulous Charley Macaulay, who will be singing a stripped back acoustic set during dinner, later joined by her full band to perform with that perfectly toned sultry powerhouse of a voice. Expect a treat and to hear the classics from Adele, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Amy Winehouse and a few of her own.
This is a very special night...don't miss it!
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