Back in 2012 Matt and Cat were enjoying an ordinary Saturday night in. The rain was teeming down and and Matt was chopping some fresh Island lamb into chunks for a meaty winter stew for the next day's Sunday lunch. It's always nicer when it's been, well... stewed!
Unusually for March, he heard some fireworks outside. Matt and Cat didn?t yet know it, but some wedding celebrations in Ryde were about to go with a bang and a pop, and then a sickening crackle followed by the prolonged whooshing of extinguishing water. The rest of the story is well known - the fireworks apparently initiated the flaming overture to a remarkable night. Matt shoved the stew in the oven and he and Cat turned temporarily into citizen reporters, watching horrified as one of Ryde's best-known landmarks burnt to a smouldering shell.
The Ryde Castle was widely expected to be demolished, but guess what? It wasn't, and in autumn 2013 it reopened, completely refurbished. Frankly underwhelmed by the old Ryde Castle way back in 2008, Matt and Cat set out to see whether, as well as doing some very nice rebuilding, the Greene King phoenix had also worked its magic in the kitchen.
We had a big push on our Dining Club as Red Funnel promoted it to selected couples taking a short break to the Island. Consequently we received some more fabulous offers which we, and the club members, were delighted with. Find out more here.
And talking of loyalty cards, we had a delightful chat with one of the mysterious Ladies Who Lunch in Hampshire, who run a successful scheme similar to ours (although it pre-dates us). Like the Matt and Cat website, LWL has been providing unbiased reviews since the days before Twitter, Facebook and even TripAdvisor (yes, kids, we started out when the internet was all fields).
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.