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? For a second time 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.
Well it seems only about ten months ago (probably because it was), that my friend Hannah and I had the pleasure of reviewing Cantina for Matt and Cat. So it was with a slight sense of deja vu that Hannah and I wandered into the new Cantina, which has magically floated up from the seafront and onto Ventnor's High Street. Our purpose on this August evening - to eat, drink, be merry... and to write up our findings. My companion being a professional writer, and me having sold a few photos in the past; we decided to reverse our natural roles as before. Just to be awkward.
Soon after Coast opened, back in 2011, Matt and Cat raised a posse and went there for dinner.
It was a great evening, with a lively atmosphere lubricated by alcohol. But what of the meal? Matt and Cat disappointingly concluded that neither the food nor service were a triumph of the restaurateurs' art. The experience formed the basis of a review that caused quite a bit of a stir among irate Cowes residents keen to defend the honour of their beloved bar - M&C's virtual postbag was positively bulging with correspondence on the matter.
Obviously there are plenty of people who are charmed by the Coast experience - certainly enough to merit its owners doubling the size of the place by expanding into the next-door shop. Clearly there is confidence in the future of Coast, but the key question remains: can they serve good food? Purely in the interests of even-handedness - and in the hope of a decent nosh-up - Matt and Cat undertook to repeat their test of Coast by accompanying a large group of pals for an anniversary dinner there, right in the middle of Cowes Week. This was the chance for Coast to shine. Read on to see how it did.
Ventnor has always had a glut of antique shops and bric-a-brackeries to satisfy the desire for vintage housewares like carnival glass and old lace runners. This recherché resort is also one of the best places on the Island for an award-winning dinner, with more AA rosettes than the rest of the Island's towns can muster between them. When fine dining isn't the order of the day, Matt and Cat also enjoy a stroll along Ventnor's sinuous streets where they are spoilt for choice when seeking out a venue for light lunch or a cosy dinner with chums. A decent cup of coffee is also not that hard to find in Ventnor - with Tramezzini and now Cantina both producing an espresso that could be candidates for the best on the Island.
But despite all this, there's been something missing. Where can you buy household essentials such as fabric bunting and Cath Kidston crockery? And, of more interest to Matt and Cat, where do you go for a nice cup of tea and a cake? There are quite a few places to enjoy a a chef's superlative creation or a continental pastry, but on this particular day M&C were after a wedge of cake and a hot brew. Enter At Sarah's House. This substantial unit has successfully fused a modern gift shop with a clean and stylish tea room. It was the very thing Matt and Cat wanted to see after their cultural afternoon at Ventnor Fringe.
By this year's Bestival correspondent, Ian Winter. Our regular Festival food reviewer Wendy was busy enjoying the event this year; so Ian, who managed to eat an impressively large amount of food, agreed that Matt and Cat could pillage his Twitter and Facebook feeds for the following overview, which long-standing readers will notice differs both in style and subtlety from Wendy's usual offering.
Recalibrating my inners after a weekend dining al fresco on festi-food.
- One almost-cold hamburger from Gourmet Burger Kitchen (they are clueless, avoid).
- One milk-shake mixed with Dime Bar (sorry, ?Daim Bar®?).
- Coffee + cake + wasp-garnish from a lady in a basque decorated with costume jewellery who told me to stop hitting the wasps because then they sting the staff.
- To the Women?s Institute Tea Tent for tea and cake (basque-count: nil).
- A very lovely curry from the farmers' market.
- From same place later, "Ooh, pork pies, £2, my comfort-food of choice" and turns out it?s as big as my hand, awesome treat, which I eat like a total f------ pig alone on a bench like a famished tramp.
- A little tray of chips (Sea Cow) "round the back" of Elton John.
- A freshly griddled waffle with maple syrup and "do you want squirty cream with that?"? "yes I DO!"
- One coffee drunk carefully on a bean-bag and two more on the hoof.
- Two hot crumpets with raspberry jam carefully smeared on from a jar in the dark (£2 but actually a bargain, counted as a whole meal).
- Two cuppas (one free after a drunk walked THROUGH my table spilling my tea, picture the suppressed tears of my inner toddler).
- No pies at all. Boycotting Pie Minister because of their appalling re-branded logo treatment, I have standards. Used to love them, now inspire graphic-design-fuelled contempt (nobody said I have to be reasonable here). Also avoiding Barnaby Sykes as they're a faux-artisan front for plain old Pure Pie and I don't like the taste of cynical marketing in my meat-and-mash. Even when others tell me they're damn tasty.
- Some utterly delicious popcorn from Joe & Sephs (caramel, macchiato & whisky flavour).
- A disappointing visit to the Solace tent, which is run by little loveable Christian bunnies with happy smiles and I suspect a darkly disciplinarian leader, where I usually get FREE CAKE and therefore FIND JEEEESUS; but no cake this year so b-----r The Lord, the W.I. are my new saviours. Solace cake is meagre, and they were not open late as other years.
- An ice-cream from a proper van.
- One bottle of water.
?and no alcohol at all, which will be news to the people who were pointing me out to their friends and pulling their children back as I danced BRILLIANTLY to high-BPM East European folkcore in the Caravanserai.
Don't judge me, just help me get up.
Back in the day the local dining scene offered the choice of starched linen and silver service; sticky Formica tables with aluminium edges; or when going 'foreign' you could eat among exotic plastic grapes and raffia'd wine bottles.
Then Mark King invented Joe Daflo's, and everything changed. Tables lost their cloths, floors lost their carpets, and walls lost their flocked paper. Nude wood was everywhere and Joe's was the coolest place on Union Street; the vertiginous highway recently re-imagined as Ryde's Leisure Strip. The radicalness of the new Joe's is hard to imagine today, when it seems almost normal to be served coffee and cocktails alongside food in a trendy, relaxed atmosphere. But in Ryde at least, Joe's got there first and did it very well. And when other, bigger venues - such as Smithfields - eventually came along and did it better, everyone assumed that Joe's would move on and try something else. But Smithfields disappeared and Joe's prevailed - but it wasn't quite the same; it seemed as though a little bit of the fight had been knocked out of it and that this trendsetting place was just going to slowly fade away. But it didn't. This year, at last, Joe's unveiled a new style, new branding, and a new menu. Some classic Joe's elements remain unchanged: the distinctive continental café-bar interior for one. But for food, Joe's has made a break from the standard Italian-inspired fare, and is now a joint that specialises in burgers. Burgers eh? Sounds like something for Matt and Cat to take a look at.