Category: We love!
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.
It’s all over. The sun has resolutely taken off its hat, brushed it down and stashed it away until next year.
The summer of 2012, with its diamond jubilee, record-breaking rainfall, Olympics and Paralympics is a distant memory. Wenlock has closed his vast single eye and Mandeville’s name is tainted with the scandal of the late Sir Jimmy Savile’s association with his namesake hospital. Also consigned to the past is the day the Olympic torch came to the Isle of Wight.
Like most of the summer, the torch’s national tour was played out with a backdrop of typically British weather; yet the drizzle didn’t stop the crowds from gathering to see one of the eight thousand torches flicker through their neighbourhood. On the day the relay visited the Isle of Wight - passing through Yarmouth to East Cowes before you could say £11,000 pounds well-spent - Matt and Cat somehow missed the entire razzmatazz.
While hosts of their fellow Islanders were gawping ten-deep at joyous but sodden torchbearers, Matt and Cat were snug inside the dining room of Dandelion Café, enjoying the spectacular view of the heritage coast across Freshwater Bay and beyond.
Matt and Cat’s lunch breaks are usually taken within a set radius from their Newport workplaces.
Their invisible umbilicus allows them to range to Olivo, French Franks and the Blue Door. Tugging a bit tighter on the string, they can make it to the Noodle Pot and even Original Phil’s. However, one day they decided to test its full extent and managed to get all the way to Pan before there was no more slack.
There may be some among you who hold an old-fashioned view about this vast housing estate. However, the area formerly known euphemistically as 'disadvantaged' is these days enjoying an unlikely mini-revival. Word had spread to Matt and Cat that a feature of Pan's new neighbourhood spirit is the social café in the portacabin known as the Isobel Centre. Now, some might baulk at venturing into Pan and seeking out a portacabin for lunch - if so, they should get over themselves. Matt and Cat make a point of discovering and enjoying the Island's good food, service and cooking wherever they can find it. Fancy restaurant and hotels certainly feature on that odyssey, but so do industrial cafés, burger vans and ice-cream kiosks. A big part of the fun is going to unlikely places and making unexpected discoveries. The Isobel Centre fulfils both those criteria.
How many Islanders does it take to change a light bulb?
"CHANGE? We don't like change!". Everyone must have heard that joke by now and presumably there are regional versions of it being laughed at around the world. And change? Well, Islanders embrace it, don't they?
Now, Matt and Cat love the Island, its heritage, culture and community. They engage on many levels with all of these elements, both personally and professionally. Yet sometimes they are dismayed to see the proverbial baby thrown out with the bathwater in the name of progress. Hands up who thinks that the medieval market town of Newport has had its skyline improved by the tin behemoth that is the Cineworld complex? Can the addition of 800 new homes really enhance a lovely bit of urban fringe pasture-land?
Despite these subjective blots on the landscape, Islanders are a resilient lot; after all, it's never long before they've got another contentious local issue in their sights. The latest is the controversy over Ventnor Botanic Garden; after forty years under council control it has recently passed into private management. But this review is not about the politics of the disposal of the Botanic Garden. If you want to discuss that there are other far more appropriate forums. Matt and Cat are interested in food, and eating out. So it was very much with those matters in mind that they made their way down to Ventnor and in through the familiar gateway of the Botanic Garden to try the café in its new non-council incarnation.
Matt and Cat are big lovers of sci-fi. Matt, who fancies himself as a writer and a scientist, combines those two interests in a bookshelf chock full o' the works of Asimov, Heinlein and Iain M Banks.
Cat prefers to have her sci-fi injected straight into her eyeballs. In the 1980s, when her hair was as vast as Arnie's biceps, she loved staring glassy-eyed at the Austrian Oak's portrayal of The Running Man, or his seamless depiction of both Douglas Quaid and Hauser in Total Recall, adapted from Philip K Dick's 'We Can Remember It For You Wholesale'.
The ultimate eighties Dick adaptation has to be the story set in a world where genetically-engineered organic robots, indistinguishable from humans, wither and die atop a decaying building. No, not a documentary about County Hall, but Ridley Scott's Bladerunner. Mindful of this dystopian vision of a rainy neon future, M&C went with a pal to Newport's Noodle Pot.