For many years Matt and Cat took advantage of generous offers punted under what was, until recently, "Orange Wednesday". The buy-one-get-one-free tickets at the cinema and BOGOF pizza at Pizza Express made for a cheap date night. However, also until recently, Pizza Express was more like Pizza Somewhen, so M&C watched with interest last summer as a new pizza oven was installed in a renovated cafe on Ryde seafront. Could this be somewhere new to spend their pizza pounds?
The venue eventually opened on New year's Eve in anů umm, blaze of glory, as Blaze, a pizza cafe. This double-fronted venue has, along with Hong Kong Express and the newly-expanded and relocated Chocolate Apothecary, extended Ryde Leisure Strip eastwards along the town's esplanade.
Since it opened Blaze has been metaphorically on fire, garnering some very positive Trip Advisor reviews and a good local reputation. As the venue is aiming at the family market, Matt and Cat waited until Matt's teenage sons found time in their busy rock 'n' roll lifestyles to join them for an early dinner at Blaze.
The Coast Bar, in the trendy heart of Cowes, is unquestionably one of the most popular places in the town.
Both the previous times M&C dined at Coast it left something to be desired, and the venue felt the rough edge of Matt and Cat's virtual pen. However, M&C are not a couple to hold a grudge, so one quiet autumn afternoon they returned to the Shooters Hill restaurant in search of a light lunch.
It's not as though they don't warn you.
Were you imagining a stuffy private club, where silent staff obsequiously bring gin and tonic on a silver tray to an harrumphing old commodore? There may be such places in Cowes, but The Mess Canteen isn't one of them. Put away any idea of a nautical connotation and suddenly its name makes sense. As Matt and Cat can confirm, The Mess is a riot of kids, music, dogs, jam jar cocktails and some damned good food. No silver trays involved.
Much is made of local provenance, particularly in the food industry. The Isle of Wight's farmers, producers and artisan bakers enjoy a justly-deserved cachet.
Steaks can be identified by their originating herd. Many restaurants serve up "a trio of Island cheeses" as a dessert. Crabs practically scuttle up the beach and into the nearest pot! Matt and Cat have seen for themselves the thoroughness with which Ryde-based butchers Island Foods ensures that each of the animals it processes is tagged and traced, ensuring explicit labelling on a restaurant's menu.
There are some types of restaurant that don't engage in this local food revolution. Or do they? Despite the prevalence of the generic 'ruby' - the mild yellow curry, the orange one and the one with the red sauce - presumably these dishes have their origins in regions beyond the Isle of Wight. Beyond Europe no less; regions unfamiliar to parochial diners like Matt and Cat.
Matt and Cat have been part of the Isle of Wight community for many years even if they can't boast actual Caulkhead status. As taxpayers, voters and residents however, they like to think that they are nonetheless entitled to comment on local matters - not just the food. And their simple message to Sandown is this: you can do it.
Not that long ago, Ventnor was in the doldrums; it had ruinous shops and tired venues struggling to survive at the arse-end of the Island. However, what it did have was a fabulous beach. With a bit of tender love and cash, the town reversed its decline and now has a vibrant arts scene, plenty of decent restaurants and, of course, that wonderful beach.
There has been much said about Sandown by 'miserable, whining tightwads', about how the council should do more to help this impoverished town. Of course an injection of moolah could do wonders - how couldn't it? However, like pioneering Ventnor, maybe Sandown could take matters into its own hands. The town has recently been fly-posted by an anonymous campaigner who, by dint of their actions has made the shabby properties look a bit shabbier - even if their dereliction-shaming has been done with the best intentions. Matt and Cat agree that perhaps the property owners could do a bit more to smarten up their own little piece of Sandown, as its clear there's no point holding out for public money.
But it's not all doom and dereliction in Sandown. No, far from it. Yes, a few landmark properties are in a shameful condition, but that beach is still magnificent. M&C have already reviewed a couple of extremely agreeable venues in the past year, the proprietors of which have made considerable investment in their seafront restaurants. They sincerely hope that the arrival of a talent like Ocean Deck's Alan Staley might cause a positive ripple effect in the town, the same way that Robert Thompson did when he won Michelin status for Ventnor's Hambrough.