Soon after Coast opened, back in 2011, Matt and Cat raised a posse and went there for dinner.
It was a great evening, with a lively atmosphere lubricated by alcohol. But what of the meal? Matt and Cat disappointingly concluded that neither the food nor service were a triumph of the restaurateurs' art. The experience formed the basis of a review that caused quite a bit of a stir among irate Cowes residents keen to defend the honour of their beloved bar - M&C's virtual postbag was positively bulging with correspondence on the matter.
Obviously there are plenty of people who are charmed by the Coast experience - certainly enough to merit its owners doubling the size of the place by expanding into the next-door shop. Clearly there is confidence in the future of Coast, but the key question remains: can they serve good food? Purely in the interests of even-handedness - and in the hope of a decent nosh-up - Matt and Cat undertook to repeat their test of Coast by accompanying a large group of pals for an anniversary dinner there, right in the middle of Cowes Week. This was the chance for Coast to shine. Read on to see how it did.
When Matt and Cat's party walked in to Coast it was buzzing with early evening jollity. The bar is a lively, modern, stripped-down joint with lots of exposed brick, warm wood and a pleasing mish-mash of furniture. Cat, who had drawn the designated driver straw, was a bit taken aback when the mixologist confessed that he didn't know any non-alcoholic cocktails - perhaps could she suggest something? Shrugging her shoulders she ordered a glass of Peroni for Matt and lemonade for herself. Taking their drinks, the party clattered down a precipitous staircase into another nicely-conceived environment; a wine cellar that had been adapted as an intimate banqueting room. Among the shelves of bottles, a long table had been laid with twinkling candles and a plethora of glasses.
The menus were handed out: two entirely separate menus. One was for pizzas and the other for everything else. After the waitress had recited the specials, she pointed out that those who ordered off the pizza menu would get their food at a different time to those who ordered from the other menu - the explanation being that there were two different kitchens. The diners looked at both menus. Well, 'strained' would be more accurate. Although the candles gave the dining room a charming glow, the light was almost too gloomy to read by. This wasn't helped by the rather affected way of writing the prices, for example: "Linguine - with crab chilli parsley lemon 6½ / 12½". A handful of Matt and Cat's party ordered pizza. M&C picked from the other menu. Cat unhesitatingly chose crab cake from the specials, and Matt was unable to resist replicating what he'd had on his last visit - a burger, or rather "Coast Beef Burger - skinny chips & gherkins 12 add cheese 1 / bacon 1".
After a time the guests begin to wonder about their food; it had been quite a while since they had ordered. However the speculation was abruptly interrupted when a tealight burnt too close to its glass holder, shattering it into hot shards - one of which rather alarmingly launched itself into the nearest lap and burnt an hole in the lap owner's dress. Somebody trotted up the stairs to alert the management and very quickly a young fellow descended wielding a dustpan and many apologies. It was a good recovery from a minor crisis, although there was no offer of amends to the lady with the singed garment or even a polite attempt to examine the damage. Still, at that moment the pizza order arrived. Forewarned of the possible mismatch between the delivery of pizza and other things, the pizza-eaters made a start. The pizzas weren't bad: being described by one diner as "within acceptable tolerances, but by no means anywhere close to Olivo".
So, the evening wore on, with one fewer candles to provide light. The pizza eaters had finished but there was no sign of the food for the non-pizza eaters. A moment of excitement was generated when the waitress returned - albeit empty-handed. She had came to apologetically explain that there was only one fishcake special left. The other two who had ordered the fishcake kindly deferred to Cat and chose something else. However, it was a bit unexpected to have to pick an alternative dish so late in the proceedings.
Coast beef burger with cheese & bacon £14
Crab & salmon fishcake £13
Kirsch brownie £6.50
Lemon tarte £6
Extra mascarpone £1
Lime & soda 60p
The pizza plates were long empty, and uncleared, before the rest of the food was brought down the little staircase just over an hour after ordering. In all fairness, what arrived was worth a wait, although not perhaps quite such a long one. Cat was particularly pleased with the crab and salmon fishcake served with creamed leeks, which she displayed proudly to her jealous companions who'd foregone this morsel. On top was a poached egg. Now Cat knows what she likes when it comes to poached eggs, and what she likes is a runny egg - but not too runny. A very tricky thing to deliver in a busy kitchen, and this one was spot on. Impressive. The fish cake itself was decently-stocked with salmon although the crab was a little less obvious. It all sat on a bed of al dente leeks in a creamy sauce and was an attractive, tasty and filling dish.
Matt was looking forward to his Coast burger. In fact he'd had about an hour's anticipation so imagine his enthusiasm when the meal actually arrived. It was a very good burger, packed with meat and cheese, and hot off the griddle. Definitely a big improvement on the Coast burger that he'd eaten in 2011. The fries that came with it were a scant portion, even though they were served hot and fresh, in a galvanised mini-bucket on a big wooden chopping board. Matt would have rather had a few more chips, or maybe a salad - but couldn't being himself to make an additional order.
Before the table was even cleared the waitress came down and handed out dessert menus - perhaps anticipating another delay in the kitchen. As it was, the menus generated a lively discussion between those born south of Watford and those who insisted on calling dessert 'afters'. This was settled to everyone's satisfaction by the usual derogatory stereotyping of regional characteristics.
After the expected delay, during which more candles guttered out, the desserts arrived. Cat had lemon tarte with rhubarb compote and ice cream - delivered on a square of rough-edge slate, in the fashion à la mode, and dusted with a generous amount of icing sugar. Cat knows a good lemon tarte when she tastes one, thanks to some input from the skilled hands of a local baker. The Coast tarte had satisfactorily short pastry and a delicious soft and acidic centre. It was accompanied by an almost equally sharp compote and smooth ice cream. Cat congratulated herself on her Good Choice.
Matt thought he'd like the look of his kirsch, cherry and pistachio brownie, served with poached cherries and mascarpone. The look of it was quite difficult to enjoy though, as one thing that everyone had noticed about the wine cellar was that it was almost too dark to see. There's atmospheric, and there's tenebrous. The explosive loss of one candle earlier hadn't really helped much with the gloom, and there was audible moaning from the party when the ambient lights, such as they were, were actually turned down at one point. Presumably the master switch was upstairs in the slightly better-illuminated main bar. Still, Matt settled down to eat what felt like a decent enough pudding, and was a bit disappointed to find it was a dry and crumbly slice of nutty cake anointed with a tiny garnish of marscapone. More of a desert than a dessert. A few kirch-soaked cherries were scattered around, but what really would have really helped would have been a couple of tablespoonfuls of riotous pink tipsy cherry juice, or at least a big spoonful of the creamy cheese. One of Matt's neighbours, having ordered the same dish, was so incensed about this that she asked the waitress for some more marscapone. This arrived after no small wait, was a portion small enough to be described as a spoonful, and did not satisfy the doughty diner at all - in fact, as she'd given up waiting and finished her dessert she gave the extra dollop of cheese to Matt.
As the evening wound towards its end, the diners were anticipating the traditional dance around the bill. It was actually so dark that it was impossible to read it. The friends took turns holding their mobile phones over the long document, and the various apportionments were calculated on the back of a napkin. As the items were ticked off one unexpected surcharge was found - £1 for an extra portion of mascarpone. This was parsimony taken to an extreme, and the unwelcome development had the effect of hardening the hearts of some of the party. A determined deputation climbed the stairs to draw again to the attention of the management the earlier damage to the burnt dress. Matt and Cat had no part in this so they can't report on what transpired above, but without doubt a revised bill was promptly supplied, giving a generous and very welcome concession as mitigation for the candle incident.
The diners ascended and made their way out to the street for more Cowes Week fun elsewhere. What of Coast? The bar had changed a lot since 2011, but in many ways, it had stayed the same. It still had great atmosphere, a lively bar and a tempting cocktail range (as long as you didn't want a 'virgin' drink). For a drink or coffee with friends, this remains one of the go-to places in Cowes and seems likely to stay that way. And in one important way, things had improved at Coast. Much of the food was actually good, and certainly far better than it used to be. But it isn't all positive news. The prices were not outrageous, but neither were they cheap - which is not necessarily a problem, but it does raise expectations. In some cases these were not met. The bizarre two-menu and two-kitchen system is just silly. It's an arrangement that values the convenience of the establishment above that of its customers. And as before, Coast had plenty of the right intentions but really didn't cope well with delivering meals consistently to a large, prebooked party. The problems and delays which beset the meal were individually trivial, but cumulatively added up to a disappointing evening.
Matt and Cat will be back in Coast without a doubt, as it's a fun place for socialising. But after this, they probably won't be giving the food a third chance.
Categories: We don't like, Restaurants, Cowes & East Cowes, Tapas
4 comments (newest first)
I own a pub in Cowes and would have been delighted to be reviewed during Cowes Week. In fact we were reviewed by the several hundred people who walked through our door, whether thats vocally, to their friends or online. We pull out all the stops, double our staff and our specials board, have special offers on our drinks, a bit of music, fab atmosphere and great fun. Its the most perfect time of the year to get a review. Anyone who hasnt over prepared for Cowes week has probably never seen one! We were more excited about getting great feedback from new customers, some of whom took the time to write about it on trop advisor which, unfortunately, has become a vital part of running and establishment which sells food.
And they said we’d never get a ‘burger king’ on the Isle of Wight!
(sorry me again just thought of that lol)
Matt responds: I’m gonna get a t-shirt with that on. ;)
No No No!!!
How can you review a restaurant in Cowes during Cowes week? Cowes Week is total mayhem - restaurants will have temporary staff, probably increased prices and be in a state of chaos.
The basement at Coast isnt used much during normal times - the very lovely upstairs dining room is where you should go. And the new pizza oven is brilliant. The owners are very diligent and creative and this place pays great attention to detail.
I disagree with your review entirely! Try Coast for a 3rd time! Meal for two during the week.
Matt & Cat respond: true, it was indeed Cowes Week with a large party and we were careful to say so, as we don’t doubt that Coast can do well in many situations. We nostalgically recall that you took us to task in 2011 because we reviewed Coast at an inappropriate time (when it was newly opened), and because we sat on the wrong floor. But like most diners, we choose our eating out dates to suit ourselves (and in this case, a large party of others) and not for the convenience of the venue. Nonetheless we ate at a number of other places in Cowes during Cowes Week this year and would say that if you’ve never enjoyed a decent meal served well in Cowes Week, you must be going to the wrong places.
Matt really likes burgers doesn’t he! Maybe he’ll turn into a burger one day, if he hasn’t already?!