We spent a pleasant evening at Bonchurch?s Pond Cafe for a nine course dinner created by chef Chris Denney, who was keen to introduce Island diners to his new and decidedly cosmopolitan menu. However, he also chose that night to announce that he was leaving, and so the fortunes of the little restaurant were in flux again.
In summer 2014 keep your eye out for another season of The Dome (pictured), an exclusive pop-up in Bembridge showcasing the talents of Holly Maslen and Alice Lee. We had a delicious and fun dinner in this unusual venue.
The year?s foodie bombshell came with the announcement that Robert Thompson (pictured) was off to "seek new challenges" and was due to leave the Michelin-starred The Hambrough, the restaurant that bore his name. We said at the time that it was hard to overestimate the contribution Thompson has made to the food and hotel sector on the Isle of Wight, and Ventnor in particular.
We had a delicious and simple lunch at The Foundation Bakery. Despite the personal service, home-cooked food and local ingredients the bakery closed its doors within the year. Having already dined at the Island?s highest pub this year, we made our way to the its most southerly watering hole, The Buddle.
We were extremely flattered to be asked to formally open a Newport venue with community at its heart: Isobel Cafe. We snipped a ribbon each and then had lunch with the locals, volunteers and staff at the cafe, who?d generously prepared avocado salad and lemon drizzle cake - both contenders for Cat?s favourite food.
Nationally it was a year of high-profile food-related stories. Horse meat, the creation of a lab-grown burger and the patented ?cronut?, a croissant-doughnut hybrid, all caused a stir. On the Isle of Wight as elsewhere, the horse meat outrage focused diners' minds on the origins of their food. Venues such as the Priory Bay Hotel, Pointer Inn and Lockslane; and suppliers including as Island Foods and Dunsbury Lamb were able to capitalise on this renewed interest in local food provenance.
Events on the Island continued to feature local food very favourably. The Cowes Food Shows run by Red Funnel have become a regular feature, drawing tourists from Southampton and beyond. And the new Chilli Fiesta seemed to be a success - maybe to be repeated in 2014.
2013 was also a year of big changes in some of the high-end kitchens around the Island, and a time when quite a few interesting new venues opened their doors, as well as some sad times as others went to the wall. We had a few bad meals, quite a lot of decent meals, and a pleasingly large number of excellent and delightful meals. We've been saying it for years, and the longer we say it, the more it seems to come true: the Isle of Wight really is a great place for eating out.
Read on for part one: January 2013 - March 2013.
There has been much debate on the Isle of Wight about the merits and disadvantages of chain and franchise eateries. If the arrival of Costa in Newport?s St James Square raised a few eyebrows then the rumours of Starbucks has aroused widespread consternation.
However, left to itself, the Island doesn't always manage to make the best of its assets. Without the backing of national companies, some popular hostelries could have literally been ruined. In the last couple of years the Old English group has spent a shed-load of moolah on the Fountain, the Folly, the Crab, the Hare & Hounds and most recently the Ryde Castle - which was in a pitiful state following a catastrophic fire. And that investment can only be a good thing surely? There are plenty of local examples of buildings that could do with a similar hefty injection of cash, but alas don't look as though they are likely to get it.
For as long as Matt and Cat can remember, the site at Merrie Gardens, Lake has resembled what the planning authorities euphemistically call ?brown field?. With the quaintly-spelled name ironically attached to one of the Island's most soullessly dismal bungalow estates, and a former fridge factory for many years its main local amenity, one can hardly be surprised. The historic thatched farmhouse at the front of the site was possibly the victim of an arson attack about a decade ago and the land was left to lie. However, unexpected good fortune turned up last year when Staffordshire brewery Marstons submitted ambitious plans to build a 180-seat pub and convert the Grade II-listed farmhouse into staff accommodation. After a decent amount of disruption as a new roundabout was created, the pub opened its doors in summer 2013.
Cowes has quite a dynamically-changing high street. During the famous yachting festival particularly, the place is bursting with temporary retailers and eateries. However it's not all seasonal pop-ups; there are some establishments like Benzie that have been there as for as long as Brucie has been entertaining us on Saturday night TV. Another long-standing fixture in the middle of this ever-changing streetscape is Eegon's café. This little venue is a rare exemplar of the unreconstructed vintage style - yes, children, there was a day when all cafés were like this. Most have moved on, or faded away - but not Eegon's. This doughty survivor is still offering budget café fare with no frills, in a venue that looks as though it might have been meticulously dressed by an ITV set-designer for yet another 70s retro drama..
Matt and Cat had been doing their bit for the Isle of Wight Walking Festival - did you know they lead free guided walks for the Festival every year? You didn't? Well, come along to the next one and find out more. Anyway, in 2013 it was the turn of Cowes, and after a stroll from the Floating Bridge to Gurnard and back, your reviewers were ready to tackle some food. Eegon's seemed like a suitable place for refuelling and recovering from a prolonged stroll. This venue is one of the places Matt and Cat first reviewed, way back in January 2006, when they judged it "very enjoyable". How had it got on in the intervening years? Very much by staying the same, if outside appearances were to be believed. So in they went to find out.