Bring to mind, if you will, the Archbishop of Canterbury's Special Envoy Terry Waite; Our Very Own Frankie Howerd; and Robert Thompson The Hambrough. Institutions that have all acquired titles with words inextricably linked together.
Sometimes food writers seem overly obsessed with who cooks their food. Matt and Cat usually don't feel the need to find out, but sometimes you just can't avoid it. The Hambrough in Ventnor has placed the famous chef's name above the title to create Robert Thompson The Hambrough. This has set the Isle of Wight a-twitter; with breathless tributes to this talented young man coming thick and fast. And it's far from empty hype: the Michelin judges awarded Thompson's restaurant a coveted star.
Matt and Cat could hardly miss out on this opportunity. Neither had eaten Michelin-starred food before, and they decided it was time to do so. So Matt had a shave, Cat put on a skirt and, having scraped a dead fly from the windscreen of the BMW, they made their way to Ventnor's Robert Thompson The Hambrough restaurant.
Cat once went for an interview for a job at Liz Earle, a Ryde-based soap factory. The headquarters were very smart; all stripped wood floors and muted pastels. The Hambrough is similarly decorated in a corporate, clean and minimalist style. Like Liz Earle's, the hotel is situated in a smart Victorian seaside building, subtly and sympathetically restored - and maybe smelling slightly of heritage paint.
Entering the Hambrough felt like entering a church - a church dedicated to food. Like unaccustomed worshippers arriving on Christmas morning, Matt and Cat stood helplessly in the lobby until an immaculately-uniformed acolyte came forward to murmur a few words of welcome and take their coats. Matt and Cat gingerly took their seats in the restaurant. The sun had yet to set over the English Channel so your reviewers had a nice view of the tail end of the day, as they sat and waited for something to happen. Their table was bedecked with an impressive range of equipment; but there was a conspicuous absence of menus, drinks being offered and other regular restaurant activity. Perhaps this was a pause for awe? Looking for something to keep her occupied, Cat flipped her empty handmade glass plate. The reverse revealed the words 'Robert Thompson The Hambrough' and individual numbering (Cat's plate was number 50). Cat wondered if there was to be a raffle later - this plate could be her ticket to a fruit basket or flowery sponge bag.
When the appropriate amount of time had been spent admiring the table setting, Matt and Cat were offered the menu by another of the smooth but almost silent staff. Two courses for £38, three for £45 and a tasting menu for two for £80. Matt and Cat had done their homework; plenty of the dishes appeared on the the Hambrough's website sample menu.
Matt's choice was fillets of red mullet with seared scallops, Kalamata olive and smoked garlic sauce. Knowing enough to realise that he didn't know enough about wine, Matt was determined to get the full experience. So he asked for guidance from the somellier. To draw on such knowledge is a rare treat, and Matt was anticipating a bit of dialogue about this important decision. However, a single recommendation was given without any embellishment: Cooper's Creek Pinot noir. This proved to be excellent advice, and differed from what cautious Matt would have chosen. Still, your reviewers were beginning to understand that in the temple of Thompson, nothing was to disturb the atmosphere of reverent anticipation: and evening service was about to commence.
The waiting staff fetched the craziest-looking bread sticks ever. A towering brace of squid-ink-black brittle sticks were delivered in a glass, held in place by a handful of seeds. The salted sticks were at least a foot long and flat and wavy like starched ribbons; lumps of sea salt glistening up the shafts of the bread. They were like elongated pretzels; nice and licky. Matt and Cat daringly snapped their bread into their individually-numbered handmade glass plates and dabbed butter on the ends, sucking the sea salt lumps like cattle at a saltlick.
After the bread sticks came more bread. This time a basket of the kitchen's finest, warmed to perfection. Cat chose a white roll with elongated ends, like a mermaids purse but with only two tails. Eaten with the remains of the butter, it was delicious and had a great dual texture; the extremities were crunchy and the body nice and soft.
The glass plates were taken away after the second bread course and were soon replaced with tiny cups and saucers containing wild garlic soup, compliments of the chef. Little white flowers bobbed in the vivid green - a divine visual treat that also tasted rich, fresh, and subtly garlicky. Was this Isle of Wight ramsoms? It was not made clear, but it was certainly a delicious appetiser and boded well for the rest of the meal.
Usually at this point in a review, Matt and Cat will digress with tales of other diners' conversations or amusing observations about the decoration. However, at the Hambrough, there was little of either to remark upon. Although other supplicants were sitting at the nearby tables their conversation was in suitably muted tones, making Cat's covert photography probably a little obvious. The décor, although pleasant, was also a bit soulless. There was one picture on the wall - so far so minimalist - and a vast spray of synthetic orchids on the mantelpiece of the stone fireplace. The dining room, like every other aspect of the Hambrough, was merely the conduit for the revelation to come: the food. This was, after all, the reason people were there, wasn't it? The one concession to the populist eating experience was the oddly muffled warblings of Dido, whose aural wallpaper is as ubiquitous as Phil Collins for those wanting music to talk over.
Starters were next. Velouté of Jerusalem artichoke with truffle and Parmesan for Matt. The heirophant approached the table bearing a steaming jug of velouté. A dish appeared before Matt's nose with a handful of ingredients in the bottom, and the ritual pouring began. The staff withdrew and left Matt to contemplate what was before him. He dipped in his spoon, put it to his lips...
...had the Hambrough really been a church this would have been the moment the full peal of eight bells sounded forth. In one mouthful Matt was a convert to Thompsonism. The garlic soup had been impressive, but this was something else. Complex, earthy flavours of artichoke and truffle jostled to enrich the classically velvety sauce; and the nuggets and slices of crisper vegetable hidden within gave a combination of contrasting textures. Matt dug deep into the pale swirls, delighted. To crown it all, as the heat of the velouté began to sink into the Parmesan, the strong, acid taste of cheese gave an extraordinary finish to the little bowlful. Matt sat back, rapturous.
Starter was roasted cod with Romanesco cauliflower, Iberian ham and saffron sauce for The Cat. She was excited about the impending cauliflower. These fractal foods are fascinating structures to look at - and tasty too. Surprisingly, when her plate arrived, although the dish was well-presented, the Romanesco was not on show - perhaps it was mashed up to the point of invisibility. A shame, as it's such a visual treat. Nonetheless, the Iberian ham was delicious, nice and sweet. The vivid yellow saffron sauce almost made up for the lack of cauliflower but Cat felt that its unusual citrus flavour, for her, didn't quite match with that of the delicate cod.
Next up was the main course. Matthew's red mullet was perfectly complemented by his Pinot noir, and two generous fillets were decorated with a good handful of scallops. The smoked garlic sauce was subtle to the point of bashfulness, but with the seafood taking centre stage this was probably as it should have been.
Cat had black leg chicken with cannelloni beans, asparagus and stuffed morels. Unlike Matt's starter, which had been crafted with some kind of cheese and truffle alchemy, Cat's dish had no mystery - all the ingredients were immaculately laid out for inspection. A well-balanced pile of meat was delivered, woven together with sticks of white and green asparagus which were curiously sharpened at one end. Is there a culinary device for shaving the ends off asparagus? Maybe M & C should do some research in Hursts. The sublime morel, stuffed and halved, showed off its interesting texture. It was a really evocative ingredient, soft and subtle, its taste unmistakable yet indescribable.
In an effort to engage the efficient but at times inaudible staff, Cat asked about the origins of the morel. The waiter seemed stunned by this approach - so far the staff had all demonstrated a robot-like delivery of the food as follows: deliver plate; softly mutter a description; waft away. However, Cat was not to be put off by his coyness. Matt's attempts to banter with the wine waiter had fallen at the first fence; Cat would surely succeed where Matthew had failed. But no luck - on returning from a foray into the kitchen to enquire, the waiter's definitive but succinct answer was one word, "France". Although Matt and Cat like to feel that they are involved in the dining process, doubtless this abstract yet unflappable manner of service is just another carefully considered aspect of the Hambrough experience.
Still, it was notable that the waiter had to ask in the kitchen about the mushrooms - in a restaurant as obsessed with the quality and origins of food as the Hambrough, one might have expected the staff to have at hand every fact about these extraordinary creations. Another anomaly concerned the provenance of the food. The only local produce identified on the menu was Dunsbury lamb 'nicoise' and Ventnor stout ice cream. Maybe the other local items were just not labelled, as the website states, "the restaurant’s gourmet menus focus on using only the finest and freshest ingredients available daily from the market – where possible produced locally on the Isle of Wight." Local provenance is big business everywhere these days and M and C do like it to be made clear if their meal contains locally-sourced food or not.
One complaint that cannot be made of the Hambrough is about the size of the portions. Both picky Cat and greedy Matt were comfortably well fed, leaving just enough room to squeeze in one of the delicious-sounding puddings. In the interregnum between giving their order and the sweets being delivered, a further complimentary dish arrived. Unfortunately its name was lost in the mutterings of the waitress but it appeared to be a wonderfully sharp, fresh apple posset with a foamy, impossibly sweet sugar hat. Fantastic!
By this time, Cat really was full. So when her blackberry soufflé arrived she knew it would be a challenge to eat it all - a challenge she simply would not refuse. The eggy mound was being held up mostly with air and skill. A single blackberry had been artfully positioned at the apex of this inflated structure. Cat took great delight in watching the soufflé slowly sink as she poked in its innards to find the other blackberry. It was subtly flavoured; like the finest soufflé the experience was as much about the texture as the taste. The Ventnor stout ice cream was an excellent accompaniment.
Matt had a cylinder of white chocolate and passion fruit with tropical fruits, another architectural wonder. The sweet chocolate had been formed into a 'cooling tower' of fondant and passionflower jelly; tiny cubes of fruit were scattered about its base and a beautifully constructed spiral of chocolate completed the ensemble. M and C wondered how many chocolate strips ended up in the reject bin before a perfect one was coiled out.
Matt and Cat were stuffed. But there was no way they were going to fall at the final fence, so coffee and petits fours was ordered. The petits fours were tiny cornets of biscuit with fruit mousse, and a hazelnut truffle, all presented in curious steel holders like miniature candelabra. They were quite delicious, of course. M & C nibbled at the sweetmeats and supped their coffee - not certain whether they were sad to reach the end of this seemingly infallible series of delights or just relieved that they wouldn't have to squeeze in another morsel. As it was, they certainly found themselves more than satisfied with their first experience of Michelin-approved dining. They were looking forward to a refreshing stroll back to the car, gazing down across the twinkling lights of Ventnor Bay... but at this point the Teflon staff just seemed to be too smooth to offer the bill or make any further enquiry, and it was only when a lady came in and started laying the tables for breakfast that M & C managed to request the bill and make a dignified exit. Perhaps, as on arrival, it was expected that diners should pause after the experience to reflect and ponder.
2 x three course dinner £90
2 x coffee + petits fours £9
So at last, making that slightly-delayed promenade back through the cool evening; M & C were able to consider what was one of the most memorable meals they had ever eaten. The Hambrough is an extraordinary place, and to dine there is an extraordinary experience. It isn't too hard to work out that in the Hambrough, apart from the celebrated chef himself, nothing is more important than the food. Everything else is designed to allow these remarkable creations to be appreciated.
The star of the show for this meal was Matt's velouté. Even Cat, who only got a mouthful, could only explain the splendour of this creation as 'alchemical'. The generous amuse-bouche courses were also both outstanding and clever - the wild garlic soup being a particularly apposite seasonal touch. M & C found the remote service style to be a little wearing, and ultimately, would have preferred a little more personal attention: but perhaps if they'd had it, they wouldn't have appreciated the food so.
And finally, the question that many of your reviewers' acquaintances have asked of the experience: was it worth £100? With the Hambrough undoubtedly close to the top of the Island eating out cost table, M & C knew what they were expecting to pay and saved up accordingly. But what else can this buy you? Tickets to a premiership football match? A night at a musical? A period return on Wightlink? Measured against those experiences, The Hambrough seems like outstanding value for money. Matt and Cat don't begrudge a penny of it, and nor should you. So start saving.
For Marjorie and Clement.
Categories: Restaurants, We love!, Ventnor area, Hotels
We stayed overnight (a birthday treat for me - why go off the Island when you can spend a night in Ventnor?!) and Ian was really smitten with the whiskey-glazed porridge he had for breakfast.
The Michelins Star hasn't affected the prices just yet...
Very relaxing atmosphere, great tasting menu
My only advice is - do NOT have cocktails before you attempt this!
Have had several Michelin star experiences and this has to have been one of the best - fighting the urge to return (failed twice!) since it is all to handy being a mere 5 minute stroll from home.
You see I'm really quite confused about why you argue so strongly it was worth the money considering you managed to fit at least ten specific complaints into this review covering the service, decor and even the food.
Yes I am aware critics are supposed to be objective and its the overall experience that counts but surely theres a limit!
Could it be the mighty Matt and Cat are afraid to contend with the real critics over this "Michelin Starred" establishment.
Carefull you don't get lost amongst all those sheep guys.
I'd LOVE to know whos growing blackberries at this time of year!
For every establishment charging in excess of £100 for a meal you will find 10 charging under a fiver
Matt replies: that was indeed one glass. And yes, fascinating is about right!
We too spend less that £100 to feed our household for a week but that does not mean you cannot save up for an experience like this ... and it is an experience.
Well done to all at The Hambrough!
I look forward to eating here soon.
Interesting to see that Mojac’s in Cowes has also been listed (not top 50).
If your interest in food goes beyond survival then save up, book and go. It's not only the best restaurant on the Isle (by a stretch), but it's one of the best in the UK. Take an afternoon off and go midweek for the set lunch menu, 3-courses is £24, superb value for the quality on offer. It's likely the restaurant will be quite quiet, and you can relax, take in the view, savour the flavours and enjoy yourself.
But.. I couldn't help but wonder why on earth he's here - and in Ventnor of all places. It's just a bit to out of the way methinks. Shame, because the island needs places of this quality. My bill with a single £25 bottle of wine £150 ish. Worth it if you have it to spend is my view.
It is wonderful!
We went for lunch on a lovely Saturday, and the whole experience was top notch.
I was also impressed with Robert Thompson, he was in the door to the kitchen as we were getting our coats and happily chatted to us. When we were ready to leave he walked us to the door and shook our hands and as a good business man should he said he hoped to see us again and he will.
Matt & Cat respond: congrats, Sean, on the most amusing typo of the week.
But as with our last visit, some of the best bits came outside the main courses: the gorgeous spindly bread sticks, this time flavoured with garlic and thyme; the range of fresh warm breads (between us we tried all three - sourdough, focaccia and walnut - and couldn't decide on a favourite). As an appetiser Ian was served an intriguing glass filled with savoury layers and topped with bacon cappuccino (eh? But yes, yummy apparently). I had something very delicately rolled around sliced vegetables which was described as cannelloni, but was nothing like the pasta bake you're probably thinking of.
A pre-dessert extra was a small glass of blood orange juice topped with cardamom foam, and my pudding was so beautiful I wanted to keep it. The menu says it was parfait of Agen prune and armagnac, baked chocolate yolk and brandy snap. But the chocolate yolk came as a tall cone, wearing the brandy snap as a hoop, and sprinkled with gold shimmers. I was reminded of a wizard's hat. I can see why Matt and Cat carry a camera, because this food is hard to describe. Anyway, it tasted as good as it looked. Ian disappointed me by going for a selection of cheeses with walnut bread and membrillo (quince cheese). He was happy, but I wanted to see what one of the other cooked desserts would be like!
And after that (phew!) I had rosebud tea, Ian had coffee and we each had the petit fours like tiny cornets which Matt and Cat describe so well in their review.
I was not over-stuffed, oddly enough, but the half bottle of wine did pretty much finish me off, so after a very restful night's sleep (lovely not to have to drive home), I felt like I needed to show a little restraint at the expansive breakfast buffet this morning. I chose fruit salad (inevitably very tastily done) with Greek yoghurt and tried some of the fresh bread with a selection of fab preserves. Ian showed zero restraint, and had the whiskey-glazed porridge, which he remembered fondly from last year, followed by the full English breakfast...
Suffice to say, we're still rather full, and Ian's making amends by taking the dog for a walk.
Full marks to The Hambrough for their winter warmer. I loved it!
As it is an expensive restaurant I booked for an anniversary and got dressed up for the special occasion.
Our table was booked for 9pm - we turned up at 8:45 to get a drink in first.
We were shown to the lounge/bar area and were told someone would come and take our drinks order. There was 1 other table in the bar at that time who went to their table for dinner shortly after we arrived, as a result the room was silent, no atmosphere and no soul.
After 15 mins of waiting for a drink I went a found a member of staff who told me once again to sit down and they would come to us. After another 5 mins he came in to give us the food menu and left before we got a chance to order a drink.
Another 15 mins later - (I was starting to get annoyed now) I again asked a member of staff for a drink. Another 10 mins and he finally came in - with no apology- and got our drinks for us.
It was 9:45 when we were shown to our table. The restaurant has some nice views but it is completely souless in there, the atmosphere is uncomfortable with other diners whispering to each other.
We ordered our starters - I had some vegetable/tomato salad type dish, I cant remember how it was described. My partner ordered some red wine which when it finally came was served chilled in the glass where it had been in a cold cellar.
My starter arrived and was basically some baby sweetcorn and lettuce with tomato puree underneath. The puree literally looked like sick to the point where I couldnt eat it. Not only that but at this point it was well gone 10pm and I had lost my appetite, was tired and dreading the thought of dishing out around £100 for this meal.
My partner was disappointed by his starter too, and was still waiting on a refill of his wine. By this point is was half 10 and I had had enough. We got up and told the restaurant manager we wanted to leave and settle up because we were disappointed. He didnt even want to hear our comments and handed us our receipt with a smug expression smiling and raising his eyebrows. What a slap in the face.
For somewhere that boasts its excellence on the Island I really suggest the service is sorted out. The whole thing was a complete joke from start to finish and the arrogance of charging those prices is beyond me. Im all for spending that money when its worth it. The Hamborough is somewhere I never want to return.
I suggest he reviews his own place before criticising others.
We ate Lunch at the Hambrough yesterday (a birthday treat) with our four year old daughter. The food was excellent as was the service and the menu adaptability for our daughter. We ate there about 3 years ago and the food was like the decor, minimal and also overated and overpriced so it has taken this long to entice us back.
The staff were plentiful and polite and attentive. We would definately welcome a trip back.
The review makes a number of questionable comments regarding your evening at The Hambrough, however everyone is entitled to their view. Incidently there has never been a dish served consisting of baby sweetcorn, lettuce and tomato - I think I should know as I write the menus. You also describe the puree as looking like sick - did you get commision for this review?
Your partner was disappointed by his starter - well what was it and why was it not good? It's very easy to say someone is not good but surely you need to back up the comment.
If The Hambrough is a complete joke from start to finish why are the restaurant and rooms so busy?
Regarding your final comment regarding restaurants that I am currently reviewing - If I was asked by Island Life to do these reviews and there feedback has been very positive what's the problem? Read back through what I have written in each edition and hopefully you will see that anything I have said comes under the heading "Constructive Criticism".
I hope E.S can return at some point to The Hambrough. It would be wonderfull if he could make himself known and then give his feedback etc in a constuctive manner.
The most important part of our business is listening to our customers and yes this includes bad comments as well as good. Despite this I'm quite confident that 13 years training in some of the best restaurants in the country means I don't serve dishes that look like sick.
My partner had a rabbit dish, i cannot remember because it was about 2 months ago that we ate there, Ive only just discovered this website which is why ive added my review. Like I said I cannot remember what the starter was exactly because of the elaborate description (which im not slating by the way), but those were the main components I remember. It was a vegetarian dish. Youre missing my point anyway, the whole experience was to do with bad service, as I mentioned before if I had entered the restaurant with a positive attitude I might have thought different towards the food. With regards to the restaurant and rooms being busy all the time can you tell me then why on a saturday we were the only occupants in the bar area for 45 minutes?
But no dont worry, youre right and I am wrong, the Hamborough is wonderful and you are wonderful and i should never have written such a terrible lie of an opinion.
Im all for publicising restaurant reviews, I just dont think its fair that the head chef of one of the main Island competitors is the one doing it. It the equivalent of British Airways being asked to do a review of all other airline companies for Airport magazine....they are hardly going to be glowing reviews are they? Its not in your interest to write good reviews and say 'oh yeah go to that restaurant its amazing', because then you lose out on business. Thats why I dont think its fair. The reviews should be there I just dont think an Isle of Wight head chef should be doing them, thats all.
We should be revelling in the fact that such chefs come to our Island and celebrate that such Restaurants and food pubs like his, the Royal and the Taverners bring international standards to our doorstep.
Of course he should have a voice and be able to review other restaurants...he's a Michelin Star Chef, not some hack journalist ( not aimed at you, Matt & Cat :) ) what better person to do a review than a professional
ES, your experience at the Hambrough I can say must be a one off and I understand that bad service often clouds decisions and judgements on the rest of a dining experience. Saying a chef's food looked like sick on a plate? Honestly what sort of response did you expect to receive from the chef especially someone as passionate about his food as Robert!!! Also maybe the Rabbit was just not too your partners personal taste (though i struggle to see this) does not make it bad. If you had asked to speak to Robert before you left and explained your experience you may have left in a different manner as I know he would not have been happy for someone to leave as you did. However I do recommend you go again as Robert suggested and make yourself known (he did not ask you to publicly declare yourself on here only at his restaurant to ensure you had the complete opposite experience this time. Members of the general public do matter and he understands this.
To RCG: obviously your comment was unfounded. "if Robert wants to succeed beyond the Island" being that he was awarded his first Michelin star at the age of 23 off the Island at a well known restaurant. I also believe it is not him showing his age but his passion about what he does with his response to the complaint comment.
Also those baffled by Robert doing reviews for the Island magazine. Why not? If I was to listen to anyone's opinions on places to eat out on the Island it would be his. Being a fantastic chef with a great palette, his is the only opinion worth knowing (in my opinion and has recommended myself to eat at other places on the Island). He does not do this to "big up" his own restaurant he does it fairly and on honest opinion. Nobody would question Gordon Ramsay or Heston Blumenthal giving their reviews as they have done.
Robert is a talented young man and has turned the Hambrough into an amazing success. I cannot wait til I am on the Island again and will be heading to the Hambrough to dine for definite.
You may have guessed I have met Robert and can confirm all I have said, such passion and dedication to the dining world should be hailed.
As mentioned for the 2ND time, my problem is with the SERVICE, not Robert's precious perfect food.
I wasnt actually angry about the Hambrough when I wrote my review, now everyones response telling me my opinion and experience must have been wrong has irritated me.
People make mistakes in the industry because at the end of the day we are human beings, including Robert. It happens, im sure 99% of the time he does hit the spot, but for gods sake dont try and tell me he never gets it wrong and im not allowed to say he did.
On the basis alone of his response and others, with so much animosity, i am now definitely not going to return to the Hambrough and this is my last comment on this matter.
I wasn't to be disappointed. The meal was excellent as I had expected it should be.
Having read the previous comments on here about the service, I wasn't put off. But, just a couple of small points.
I do find it a little uncomfortable when i can here everyone's conversation, and they can here mine. I found myself whispering my conversation to my companion. Maybe a little music just to overcome that problem?
The service was excellent, not too fast, not too slow but, maybe just a little too formal for a lunchtime service. The restaurant team did everything I could have wanted, but a smile costs nothing, and when they served my separate courses and gave me the full description of what was on my plate I could hardly hear what they were saying.
Overall, an excellent dining experience to celebrate the big 40!
Matt and Cat say: congratulations Simon on your birthday, keep up your own good work and we wish you many more!
We ate there Friday to celebrate our son’s (Edd) 17th Birthday. Edd is doing catering at the IOW College and as a surprise I asked if he could see the kitchen at work for a project he is doing on Michelin Stars. On arrival they treated him so well and invited him to get some top tips from the Chef and front of house team, our son was thrilled and loved the experience.
The food was as fantastic, as always, with the highlight for me being the oxtail ravioli served with steak, whilst my son and wife loved the quail. It was all fantastic, and at £26 for 3 courses very reasonable indeed, I encourage everyone to give it a go.
Then whilst watching the final of this year’s Masterchef the professionals last night they had what they called the “Top 30 chefs from Europe” and we spotted Robert Thompson, fantastic for The Hambrough and the Island. Thankyou and well done.
As we found out - no need to worry - Excellent is the only approbriate answer
Having overcome initial fears about the unreliable weather, air traffic and the roads to Ventnor in winter and the treathening non refundability of the hefty but to say this upfront good value for money price tag we arrived at the Hambrough onChristmas day at 4 pm for the late Lunch setting hungry after a nice walk along the seaside. The Hotel was clearly busy and the new service brigade has made a huge impact by adding the relaxed and "can do" atmosphere you expect from places like this without comromising the perfect service but removing the previously experieneced somewhat "stiff" atmosphere also noticed by other reviewers here - so thumbs up for this already
The chef - despite clearly having had a busy day and run up to Christmas - came out of the Kitchen to say hello and welcome. Despite having a fixed Menu there was enough flexibility to take care of some dietary needs (we had 2 diabetics, 2 drivers and a non seafood and a non chocolate eater) and dislikes of some of the diners, orders were quickly settled. Full Marks also for the New Sommelier who had arranged different wine arrangements to compliment the menu which did take care of everybody's palates as well as pockets - also positive is the fact that in comparison to other places these wines were served in normal sized glasses not degustations and topped up if diners wished.
Presentation of food, tables and Restaurant has also improved over the previous already high standard and the addition of Spiegelau Glasses is a nice touch
As we were a large group of seven we had a beautyful table in the bay window and nice views on the moonlit Ventnor bay
Between us we had most of the food on offer and everything was executed perfectly- from the prestarters to the chocolates
Worth mentining especially were the scallop dish on cauliflower and black truffle, and old Ramsey favourite with a modern twist, the mosaic of IoW venison and foie gras, a lovely butternut squash soup with a chestnut foam which made a lovely difference, the "local" turbot on scampi and lasgana which (despite I am biased as I love turbot) was amongst the best fish dishes I have eaten this year and the vegetarian main course, which was stunning
There was a pre dessert which had nuances of molecular cooking and perfectly executed desserts which were modern versions of old classics and xmas favourites with lots of orange, chocolate and ginger aromas
All in all a perfect day - which my mum will never forget as Robert was kind enough to sign one of the menus for her and add his New Year Wishes - Thanks again for this
I can only thank Robert and his team for arranging such a special day and wish them all the best for the next year and perhaps the 2nd. star
We slept in a room where you're lulled to sleep by the sound of the sea and, after the fog of the previous day, woke to bright sunshine, views of the ocean and a delicious breakfast waiting.
Once again, a lovely treat.
Raining outside but so nice to be in being treated with this amazing food.
Will start saving for the next time!
Sadly the mains weren't quite up the standard of the previous parts. I had to send my veal back as it was too tough to cut. The flavours were nice though and they took it off the bill as a gesture of goodwill. The standard went back up when we got to dessert- beautiful souffle with pecan ice-cream with lemon posset as a delightful prelude.
I note the previous comments about the ambience and agree that it is a rather sombre sort of place with tasteful grey paint and glass 'show bowls' on the table that I wasn't sure what to do with and was worried about knocking over! The service was generally good and the 2 waitresses were particularly knowledgable and helpful. The waiting staff were less experienced and sometimes hard to attract the attention of when more drinks were needed.
Overall a good experience but hasn't quite beaten the Taveners in Godshill, my current favourite. But certainly the Hambrough has done enough that I may give it a second chance to compete!
Purpose of leaving a comment: a couple of things which need to change. First - the food is excellent (ideas, cooking, presentation, use of local ingredients) but a small thing : please make sure that the game served is cooked. I ordered the grouse (as I had ordered in Lincolnshire years previously)and it was served seared on one side only. I know enough to know game is served pink. Pink good, dark and making the plate bloody - ie raw, bad. I asked for this to be taken back to the kitchen and it was ... and the same piece of meat was then served to me on a newly-dressed plate. It was delicious, but took time and disrupted the flow of the meal. I will come onto the service later. In the same comment as lamenting the game, I have to praise the hazelnut and (I think) fig tart with, from memory, fennel ice cream. It was the best dessert I have eaten anywhere, ever. As I say - food is excellent, but a minor slip up has contributed to me not coming back.
The real reason that I haven't returned, however, is the utter lack of an atmosphere. I take M&C's point about reverence, but that is an unhealthy pressure to put on what ought to be a pleasurable eating experience. When I visited, for a family celebration, the welcome was at best aseptic, the "welcome" to the upstairs bar area was pretty cursory and the bar area was utterly unfriendly as a space. I don't crave chintz, but the lack of any decoration or similar relief from bland neutral tones becomes oppressive during the time you are in the space. The dining room is little better. There was no atmosphere on a night when the restaurant was not full - and it does happen. I recognise the hushed tones and "succinct" service references.
The food is excellent. The decore is bland without being stylish or engaging, and the service was, on my visit, average in the extreme. The waiting staff needed to be warmer, more customer-friendly and to bring a little more personality to the place. There has to be more than the excellent food to an enjoyable eating experience for which one has to save - and which one would wish to repeat. I hope, in the year since I visited, that things have been done to improve the warmth of the welcome and service. I wish Mr Thompson every success with his plans for the Winter Garden, but as this has been a much-loved institution on the Island for years, he needs to get the "people bit" right this time.
Good luck to you Mr Thompson and I hope these comments are useful to your future success.
The Staff were absolutely charming, very helpful with nothing being too much effort, they happily suggested and substituted dishes for one fussy eater.
The food ... well, the food was sublime, we went for the tasting menu, with one of the dishes being smoked carpaccio of lamb, with its own glass dome of smoke, pure theatre!! Plus, the most amazing apple tart tatin to share ... mmm
The chef ... Mr Robert Thompson was an absolute gentleman, taking the time to talk to us, show us the kitchen and being completely charming, all this considering "The Hambrough" was closing the next day for a two week sabbatical.
All in all we had the most amazing experience, well worth the expense for a special event. If anyone has been put of from trying by reading other peoples opinions, you might just find you will have a great time too, after all everyone has there own opinion.
Well ... All I can say is try "The Hambrough" and make up your own minds!! :-)
I wish Robert and all his team the very best of luck at "The Hambrough" and in future adventures.
Having dined at The Hambrough around six times previously (and stayed there twice) I have lost count of how many people I have recommended it to over the past few years, but I wish I was on commission!
We lived on the Island for several years in the 90's and, although we loved the island, it had no quality restaurants at the time. Now it has one of the best in the country.
I have been fortunate enough to have dined in numerous Michelin star restaurants (including many owned by celebrity chefs) and the only one that betters the Hambrough is Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck in Bray. That's something I never thought I would be able to say about the Isle of Wight.
I would like to defend the 'quiet' atmosphere that some have described as soulless. Nothing ruins a quality restaurant experience more for me than 'loud' diners elsewhere, howling with laughter or talking in loud voices that can be heard by other diners. Such people who feel that their conversations or bad jokes should be overheard by other diners are missing the point of fine dining completely. There are countless other venues better suited to that behaviour.
We are really looking forward to our visit later this week and, for the first time, we are taking our teenage daughter who is fascinated with quality cooking. I expect to part with £200-300 for dinner and am convinced that I will be telling another load of people how great it is!
Matt & Cat respond: Thanks very much for your many constructive and comprehensive comments, IWR, we very much look forward to hearing your views on the Hambrough and any other venues you try during your stay.
After some difficulty parking (the only downside to The Hambrough), whilst walking to the hotel I noticed Robert Thompson running up the road with a camera! Thinking this was possibly to capture a sunset, I later learnt that he is monitoring parking issues in Ventnor. Apparently, this is connected with his bid to buy The Winter Gardens and convert it to two restaurants and a theatre. Knowing as I do how challenging it can be to bring about change on the Island, I suspect that this process will be like walking through treacle. The authorities should bite his hand off. This entrepreneurial young man has put the Island on the map by bring it it's first Michelin star. Rather than grab it and flee to London and make millions, he has chosen to stay here and bring tourism and employment to the Island. He could do for Ventnor what Rick Stein has done for Padsfow.
We opted for the 7 course 'surprise' tasting menu. I was driving, Mrs IW Regular can't drink to excess and Miss IW Regular is too young, so we went for the £85 a head version rather than the £140 a head with a 'flight of wines'.
Things started well. After a fabulous appetiser and pre dinner drink, we were ushered to our table. After two courses, Miss IW Regular (who is wise beyond her young years) announced that she had spotted a flaw in the 'mystery' element. A nearby table was enjoying the same menu and were around 5 minutes ahead of us. As each dish arrived, the waiting staff boldly announced each course, meaning that we actually had a 'surprise, but with 5 minutes notice' menu!
Mrs IW Regular stated that she would like me to bring her to The Hambrough for a weekend (so that we could enjoy the wines) next year to celebrate a 'landmark' birthday of hers (I will spare her blushes).
Unfortunately, from this point on, things took a turn for the worse. A party of four arrived at the other end of the retaurant and it became apparent very quickly that these people were loud. Very loud. Even though the restauarant was almost full and they were the furthest table from us, we could hear all of their conversations above all the other diners and the piped music. They seemed oblivious to the fact that every other diner understood the unwritten rule of fine dining (i.e. that conversations should be heard within your table, but not beyond it), even when, at one particularly loud moment, everyone else in the restaurant looked at them and glared in unison.
I won't describe the menu, as it would spoil the 'surprise' for future diners, suffice to say that with any seven course tasting menu, you will have some dishes that you like more than others. That's not to say that anything is bad, but merely an indicator of personal taste. Everything was cooked or prepared to perfection and there was even a moment of Heston Blumenthal style 'magic'.
Having asked one of the staff to have a polite word with the overly noisy table, things quitened down for a while, but as their 'wine flight' progressed, the volume levels once again got louder and louder. The staff were in a very difficult position as, whilst they were aware that these people were spoiling it for other diners, their bill was probably going to come to over £600. This group were probably the best example of people who can afford to dine in upmarket locations, but have no idea how to behave in them. In other words, they had "all of the brass, but none of the class"! On the other hand, it made me very proud of my teenage daughter, who does know how to behave and thoroughly enjoyed her first Michelin star experience.
By the sixth course, Mrs IW Regular had decided that it perhaps wasn't such a good idea to come here for her big birthday as 'knowing our luck, we'll have another group like that one and it will be ruined'.
Had I been a Michelin inspector assessing their star staus, I might have picked up on a few very minor things, like no offer to take my coat when I arrived after parking, a delay for the menus to be presented and some rather haphazard placement of cutlery prior to each course, but as I am not, I would say the service was as first class.
The final bill for the three of us, for the 7 course menu (without wines), three non alcoholic drinks, two bottles of water and two teas with petit fours plus gratuity came to just over £300. Was it worth it? On the basis that the big disappointment wasn't caused by the restaurant, yes. I will also continue to recommend The Hambrough as the best dining establishment on the Island.
During the drive home, I pondered over the difficult situation that the staff were faced with and wondered how I might have dealt with it had I been in their shoes. Firstly, I would have got the restaurant manager to have a discreet word with the noisy party, rather than the wine waiter (who had done so in broken English). Secondly, I would have made a token deduction off the bill for diners (like us) who had mentioned that it was spoiling their experience.
Robert Thompson is a local hero and the Isle of Wight would be a worse place without him. I wish him well with his new ventures. I will work on Mrs IW Regular as I fancy the 'wine flight' next time. I might just have to enquire whether they have a private dining room!
I must say that reading your reviews has been an education. No dogs in pubs, no frivolity allowed in 'fine dining' establishments and certainly no 'splashing the cash', unless I do so in the correct and proper manner. God forbid I behave in a way not becoming of a Michelin starred restaurant, or for that matter a '2 meals for £9.95' pub.
I feel that the time has come to impose a ban on myself and my family, and dare I say it, the dog from eating out on this Island again for fear of upsetting other diners obviously more experienced in how to behave in public eateries.
I hope you enjoy(ed) the trip back to the mainland, I hope the clientele on the ferry were up to scratch.
Id prefer lunch with the dogs please.