Mostly Matt and Cat write about the Isle of Wight. But not always. In 2014 they took an autumn city break in Brighton where they got some great dining out tips from the locals, and this is one of several reviews they wrote there. It's one of an occasional series of mainland reviews.
They say that Ventnor is where all of the refugees from the early Isle of Wight Pop Festivals laid their roots. The Island’s most southerly town was known for its preponderance of beardies and yoghurt-weavers, partly drawn to the location’s climate and lack of police presence - perfect conditions for growing exotic weeds. Although today you may still find a cadre of whiskery hippies - identifiable by their Peruvian cardigans and green wrists from copper bangles - their children and grandchildren are now owning the town. These energetic progeny have injected an artistic vibe into Ventnor, which has drawn businesses,visitors and other creatives to this revitalised corner of the Isle of Wight.
That model is not unique though. If you can imagine Ventnor magnified several hundred times, you wouldn't be too far from envisioning Brighton. Once rather dismissively labelled ‘London by the Sea’, like Ventnor this city has evolved and grown into something really interesting. Yes, the seeds were sown by hippy forebears who themselves must have been influenced by the city’s ultimate patron of leisure and style, the dissolute Prince Regent. And now they have born fruit.
And, as much fun as it is bimbling around a field welly-wanging, examining artificial insemination charts and enjoying a good old fashioned sing-song, everyone needs to refuel. However, festi-nosh can be extremely varied; from the delights of a of a Secret Supper Club pop-up restaurant all the way down to some rip-off burger you'll hate yourself (and its purveyor) for eating.
Matt and Cat have chuntered on about the rise of street food on this blog before. In the days prior to the ubiquity of the hipster food wagon, for decades we on the Island spearheaded the trend with Minghella’s ice cream van and the Jolly Fryer mobile chippy. And now the Isle of Wight's peripatetic catering facility club has a new member in the playful form of Ronnie and the Taco Bandits.
One of the top questions Matt and Cat get asked is 'Can you recommend a decent Sunday roast?' You'd think that meatophile Matt would have a list as long as your arm of places where you can get a spectacular platter piled high with roast beef of Old England. However, you'd be wrong. Matt and Cat are so indolent that they usually miss Sunday lunch altogether, preferring instead to sleep in as late as possible - sometimes after a Saturday night to remember. After all, if a Day of Rest is good enough for God...
But as the nights finally draw in and the days of picnic lunches fade into the distant memory of yet another hot summer (thanks, David Thornton), M&C decided to get up early and head to Wootton Bridge to find a roast for, what for them was, breakfast.
You need to plan your strategy for a visit to the Sloop. Matt and Cat turned up one Sunday just after midday. This was a good game plan. There was room in the small car park and, more importantly, room in the pub. If you want the premium seats you need to arrive even earlier - the really early birds had staked their claim on all of the window seats at the back of the pub. Clearly these tables, with their view up the pretty river, were the most popular. Matt and Cat were resigned to grabbing a table a bit further inside, which had a disappointing lack of daylight but was within sight of some ancient and gnarly beams - presumably a remnant of the original inn.
Having staked their seating claim with judicious use of jackets flung over the seats, they trotted down to the business end of the pub - the bar and carvery. In a 2008 review of the Sloop, M&C said that the carvery concept is like 'school dinners for pensioners'. In this regard, little has changed. The system is simple: you buy your drink plus dinner ticket at the bar, which you swap for the roast of your choosing.
There are a some local Indian restaurants that M&C would say are definitely worth a visit. Monsoon in Ryde is a lively, modern curry house that Matt and Cat are always happy to recommend. The veteran Saffron in Cowes also has many fans, and M&C have enjoyed several meals there. It remains true that Indian cuisine on the Isle of Wight has not universally enjoyed the huge improvements in standards and choice that other sectors of the Island's food and drink offering have seen over the last decade or so and, to be perfectly frank, Cat has all but given up going out for a curry. It may be that she always chooses poorly. Not being one for the hot stuff, her rota of chicken tikka masala, chicken passanda and chicken korma (the mildest red one, the mildest yellow one and the mildest orange one) is never going to set anyone's arse on fire.
It has been quite a while since the old Taj Tandoori in Sandown High Street emerged from its chrysalis as the shiny new Eastern Eye in early 2013. With Cat taking a curry hiatus it fell to Matt and companion Bill to give the place the once over.
Fogg's has undergone something of a mild transformation. An earlier incarnation saw a wildly ambitious multi-page menu with an eclectic range of dishes from around the world. Probably a menu that was more fun to conceive than deliver. A change of ownership saw the menu's international offerings contract a little and in autumn 2014 another step-change occurred as the venue changed its name to Fogg's and launched another new menu.
Fogg's has a pretty lively voice on social media and Matt and Cat have regularly read about the restaurant's popular fish dishes - often created with locally-caught seafood brought ashore at Ventnor Haven. M&C have wondered why Fogg's doesn't just knock the world food stuff on the head and embrace its obvious strengths. Maybe bring to the fore their locally-provenanced menu with a seafood emphasis. Certainly these days, punters seem to crave local distinctiveness in their food, and visitors to the Island regularly ask M&C where the Island's fish restaurants are - the Rick Stein effect is clearly not confined to Cornwall.
And so it came to pass that Cat was left with a booking for a table for two at Fogg's, Ventnor (previously Phileas Fogg's) on a Saturday night.