Matt and Cat are well-known to the staff and management of Cantina, so despite requests from readers they have not visited as reviewers, thinking an anonymous review would be impossible.
Or would it? They sent instead James - Ventnor writer and gentleman. Matt and Cat promised to publish his unexpurgated views, both praise and criticism. Read on to see what James made of Cantina.
I feel sure that many readers of M&C's eating out guide have felt a little envious at times. To be able to potter about the Island, anonymously photographing and describing eating experiences both good and bad sounds like a good wheeze. I've always thought so anyway, so I was excited to be given the opportunity to report on a local restaurant for them.
Pausing only to invite a charming and witty dining companion to join me on my undercover mission, I booked a table for two. It was a mild but drizzly October evening when Hannah (my companion du jour), and I arrived on Ventnor’s attractively curvy promenade. The lights of the seafront’s various eateries played romantically over the rolling waves, but few folk were venturing out into the damp air.
With its relatively small frontage a stone’s throw from the Spyglass Inn’s beguiling pirates and cannon, it would be easy to miss Cantina. But as we wandered up to the door the owner welcomed us in, and we were soon seated in the comfortable and stylish interior. It turned out we were the only people dining that evening, but we had a pleasing view of the sea and rainy promenade from our window.
Hannah and I were soon sipping glasses of wine and perusing the menus. There were some intriguing choices. We decided to share two starters, and opted for some garlic bread and warm roasted vine tomatoes with almond pesto and buffalo mozzarella. The garlic bread was unusual but delicious. Home-made sourdough, with a perfect coating of garlicky butter. We wolfed it down like greedy children. The roasted tomatoes were sweet and juicy, the mozzarella soft and gooey. There were also a couple of slices of toasted olive bread, which we used to mop up the tomato juices and very tasty almond pesto. This all boded well for the main courses, and we awaited them with some excitement.
I had chosen fish of the day with roasted veg and salsa verde. Hannah plumped for what she felt could be a risky combination - pasta with duck ragù. The fish of the day was sea-bass, a fillet of which arrived draped handsomely over a pile of green beans, courgettes and red pepper. It looked so good I nearly forgot to take a picture. The fish was moist and tender, and the vegetables cooked perfectly. As a former vegetarian who now eats fish, it's really refreshing when eating out to find vegetables that aren't overcooked. The salsa verde enhanced the flavours of both, without overpowering either. Hannah described her duck ragù as rich, velvety and almost sweet. The pasta was fresh and perfectly al dente.
Garlic bread £3.50
Roasted tomato starter £6.00
Duck ragu £10.00
Sea bass fillet £15.00
Baked plums £6.00
Ice cream £1.00
2 x white wine £9.00
Hannah’s meal did not come with veg or salad, and mine came with no carbohydrates, but these were available on the menu as extras. If I’d paid more attention I might have plumped for the crunchy potatoes with rosemary to accompany the fish, but then perhaps I’d have had no room for a dessert.
Three courses are often too much for an athletically built chap like me, but I was on a mission, and felt duty-bound to push the boundaries of the menu and my waistline. There were several enticing options, but baked plums with frangipane and mascarpone cream was the most tempting for a James. Hannah, even slimmer than me and feeling full of ducky pasta, felt she couldn't manage a normal dessert, but her (frankly Cat-like), request to go off-menu and have some vanilla ice cream and a cup of tea was easily accommodated by the polite and efficient waiter. The baked plums were superb. Halved and baked with little hats of almondy crumble, and surmounted by dollops of mascarpone, they were soon devoured with a little help from my companion, who couldn't resist my plums once she’d feasted her eyes on them. Hannah declared her ice-cream to be excellent, but as she didn't reciprocate my generosity and gulped it all down herself I have only her word for it.
We were both very impressed with the food. If you held us over hot coals (and we’d really rather you didn't if you don’t mind), and forced us to pick faults with Cantina, the - admittedly classy - plastic tablecloths were a little disappointing, and the menu would have been a tad clearer if it were divided into sections. But these are very minor points (extracted under duress remember), and overall we had a very enjoyable evening.
Whilst Hannah sipped her tea and I quaffed a coffee, we discussed the many delights of living in Ventnor. It’s a friendly and quirky place to reside, and seems to get better every year. Despite the weather, this summer has seen many good things happening around the town. Arguably the best of these was the incredibly fun Ventnor Fringe Festival, which is organised by some truly inspiring young locals. As we sauntered out into the fresh Ventnor air feeling happy and satisfied, we agreed that Cantina was a very welcome addition to our excellent little town.
Disclosure: Matt and Cat have in the past undertaken promotion work for Cantina and are friends of the proprietor.
Matt and Cat respond: Thanks for your comment, richard. We had some delicious food there and were delighted to be invited to help eat the remaining stock on the day it closed for the end of the season. We hear that when Cantina re-opens it may be in a different location (still in Ventnor though) - watch this space..!