Although it is a mere four miles away from home, Spitbank Fort luxury hotel and restaurant is not the sort of place you can just rock up at - it’s a sea-castle in the middle of the Solent for crying out loud.
Vessels have to be chartered and lunches pre-ordered to ensure that the champagne reception has the prescribed amount of canapés. Still, Matt and Cat willingly complied with the booking arrangements as their keenness to visit the fort overrode their natural indolence. As they crossed the days off their calendar, their lunch date drew closer - and landlubber Cat kept an eye on the forecast. Snow ground the Isle of Wight to a customary halt and then, on the day itself, temperatures plummeted heralding the arrival of sleet.
Wrapped up in their warmest togs, Matt and Cat started their journey on the Island Line train. Three boat rides later - with a pleasant intermission in the fort’s luxurious Gosport-based departure lounge - M&C found themselves staring up at the granite edifice. Its presence may have been sufficient to deter Napoleon III’s steam-powered warships from chuffing up the Solent but it didn’t daunt Matt and Cat, not when they knew there was a Sunday lunch inside.
M&C visited the Priory Bay Hotel for the first time in September 2011. Unexpectedly, their conclusion back then was a less than ringing endorsement. They said "The meal satisfied the tongue, but didn’t stimulate the imagination. And when dining at this level - and at this cost - one should not be afraid to expect to come away amazed and intrigued."
Since then, there have been big changes behind the scenes. A new kid has appeared on the block - local man and ex-Noma alumnus Oliver Stephens - who is creating quite a buzz with his lively advocacy of foraged food and hyper-local ingredients. He has a flamboyant cooking style which Matt and Cat witnessed at a Red Funnel food show. As well as tempting the food theatre’s audience with his own pickled whelks, Stephens also cooked some locally-shot duck by pan-frying it, covering it in hay and bits of Christmas tree before setting light to the lot with a blowtorch. Judging by his impressively theatrical performance, Matt and Cat were keen to see if he'd ignited a fire under the Priory.
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.
Matt and Cat love eating out in Cowes, but they always approach a new review in the town with a certain caution.
It seems that M&C’s style of leavening their articles with impertinence and occasional sarcasm is one that riles Cowes more than any other Island area. They welcome readers weighing in, but it seems as though Cowesians are just a little more trigger-happy with the green ink. Take Matt and Cat's 2011 review of the Little Gloster, for example, which resulted in peevish objections to the use of the words 'gurgler' and 'breathless'. Other Cowes reviews, now thankfully superseded and archived, raised hackles even further. Learned friends were consulted. Strongly-worded letters were despatched to M&C. Not that Matt and Cat pay any attention to that - and, to prove it, recently they were back in Cowes undeterred to venture boldly into what some could perceive as the heartland of trendy yachtiness, the impossibly chic new Moocow in Cross Street.
The Royal Family's junior members have always courted controversy.
Who can forget Princess Diana and her lively chum Sarah Ferguson dressing up as policewomen and partying in Annabel's nightclub back in the 1980s. More recently some of you may have clicked onto TMZ to see Prince Harry's... er 'billiards'. However, these titled youngsters could learn a thing or two from the teenage Princess Elizabeth. Who? You know, HM the Queen. When she was just seventeen she got the nation's attention by spinning around the dancefloor of London's trendy Bagatelle restaurant to the Latin beats of Edmundo Ros. But what's all this got to do with a new tapas bar in Cowes? Nothing really. Other than when Matt and Cat entered the intimate venue they soon found themselves tapping their feet to Edmundo Ros' rumba music.
But let's unravel a bit. M&C had already scoped out Brawn's during their preamble to Cowes Week - and they thought the venue looked promising. However, as they'd already stuffed themselves that day with crab and chips they only had room for a nice cup of tea. Yet, salivating over the menu, they vowed to return.