Coffee Bean, Ryde

Tea cake and tea

You may have seen them on the streets: people that seem to have given up before they've begun. Slobbing around in their onesies and slippers - garments that should only be worn (if they must) within the privacy of one's home.

Celebrated romantic Barbara Cartland; prolific author, campaigner and 'pink crusader' would have undoubtedly rolled her heavily-mascaraed eyes at this relaxing of standards. The indomitable dame was an unmissable feature on the landscape of the twentieth century. She monopolised the world of romantic fiction, selling a (disputed) billion copies of her books. As one of 1920s society's Bright Young People, she received countless marriage proposals. She was a champion of sustainability - recycling wedding dresses for forces brides over half a century before EcoIsland had been invented. In the final years of her life the grand dame's star was fading but undiminished. Determined to keep up appearances, she always wore her trademark pink froufrou and lashings of make-up, which one wit described as 'cruelty without beauty'. However, she wasn't just a caricature; she kept her eye on the ball and had a reputation for being razor sharp to the end.

Ryde's Elizabeth Pack department store seems to have held a position in sartorial society similar to that of the formidable dame. Founded and developed from various respected Island retailers, the existing incarnation opened in 1987 with the laudable aim of continuing the standards established by its owner Elizabeth Barrow: standards that go back to before the Second World War. But just because it's old, and - like the novelist's - its exterior has succumbed to the ravages of time, the store's not yet turned up its toes.

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 Published: 1st March 2013
Categories: We like, Cafes, Family friendly, Ryde, Tea shops

Spitbank Fort

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.

Herb crusted goat?s cheese, pine nuts, beetroot Carpaccio, balsamic

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.

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 Published: 24th February 2013
Categories: Restaurants, We love!, Hotels, Special events

Priory Bay Hotel, Seaview

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."

Priory garden

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.

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 Published: 23rd January 2013
Categories: We like, Restaurants, Local produce, Hotels

Isle of Wight Pearl

Matt and Cat love the Isle of Wight. They love its history, geology, landscape and wildlife. And of course the food. All of these things make it a great place to live and to visit. Almost everywhere you go you?ll see something that adds to its fabulousness.

Isle of Wight Pearl cafe, breakfast pie

Take the West Wight for example. It?s got a long-standing reputation for history and culture thanks to its most famous former resident, Victorian poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson. Then there?s some of the south coast?s most exciting geology: chines, landslips, chalk downland, coloured sands and the world famous Needles. Get up close and personal with the grassland on the heritage coast and you may be lucky enough to see a Glanville fritillary butterfly or a rare lichen. At night, once your eyes have adjusted to the spectacular dark skies, you can enjoy feeling insignificant as you gawp open-mouthed at the Milky Way. The Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty really is a constant delight. It?s easy to see why the this corner of the Island is so popular with visitors - the holiday camps scattered along the clifftop pay testament to this.

But time moves on and the holiday camps? heyday has waned. Some local camps are now used for other things - such as Isle of Wight Pearl, which is based in a faded 1930s building, once the thriving Chilton Holiday Camp. With its curvy glass windows, bold architecture and views across the English Channel to Dorset, it's not hard to imagine what drew the ascetic citizens of inter-war years Britain to this remote spot to indulge their new enthusiasm for recreation, health and fitness.

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 Published: 14th January 2013
Categories: We like, Cafes, Family friendly, West Wight, Local produce

Larder and Pie House, Sandown

Cat was born in Essex. Not quite within the sound of Bow Bells, but surely it makes her more of a Cockney than Sussex lad Matt?

Pie and liquor; Larder and Pie House, Sandown

Yet it?s been a while since she cavorted in the streets of Dagenham - Cat is now a confirmed Wightophile. But they say that you can?t take Essex out of the girl so Cat, in an attempt to introduce Matt to a bit of estuary culture, took him by the hand and led him on a mystery tour which started with a walk along Ryde seafront. There they admired the expanse of flat sands, home to a variety of edible shellfish, including the saucy-looking razor clam.

Onwards they went to Ryde Esplanade station. Here they could have swerved northwards and caught a ferry then a train to Rainham and purchased a punnet of cockles from a chirpy street vendor. But there is more to East End cliché than salty molluscs and pearly royalty.

Instead Matt and Cat climbed aboard the ex-London tube train and enjoyed a rattling journey southwards to Sandown station. By now Matt was seriously intrigued. The seaside town was his childhood home but he has no memories of eating winkles and jellied eels in the vicarage. These days one could be forgiven for imagining that Sandown's eating-out firmament is illuminated only by the singular but impossibly bright magnificence of the constant stream of celebrities and government ministers enjoying the facilities of Rapanui's eponymous coffee shop. But far from it. Sandown still has plenty else to offer, and in 2012 the new café at Sandown railway station was awarded an impressive third prize in the national Community Rail Awards Best Station/Train Retail Awards. So suddenly, the reason for Matt and Cat's culinary journey became clear. As the metaphorical steam from the engine cleared away, they spotted the sign for refreshments and Matt finally knew he?d been brought to the Larder and Pie House.

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 Published: 5th January 2013
Categories: We like, Cafes, Family friendly, Sandown & Shanklin, Tea shops

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