It?s inevitable, as this blog is written by the son of a preacher man and the granddaughter of a verger, that there may be the occasional ecumenical reference.
Who can forget Matt and Cat?s inference that Ventnor?s Hambrough had the atmosphere of a place of worship? Or their review of the more humble Foundation Bakery which suggested that the café?s interior (probably not without coincidence) reflected that of a parish church?
Yarmouth?s Forresters is in a secular building that nonetheless has an unavoidable feel of churchiness about it. The restaurant is close to the town centre in a striking former meeting hall originally built for the Ancient Order of Foresters back in 1874. Matt and Cat couldn?t help but drag out their book of ecclesiastical clichés again, seeing its vaulted ceiling, mullioned and leaded windows and organ-like piano (ok, perhaps the comparison is being stretched a tiny bit here - it was just an ordinary upright). Above the front windows the hall had a mysterious stag's head carved from stone. Matt and Cat were intrigued by the location, and also by the prospect of dinner.
When Cat first started going out with Matt she did what all new girlfriends do, she introduced him to her pals. So far, so typical. However, one day when she and Matt were out she bumped into one of her mates.
Introductions duly made Cat was shocked when her friend started quizzing Matt in an impudently personal way. The interrogation went something like this: Cat?s friend: ?Are you Jewish?? Matt: ?Err, no.? Cat?s friend: ?Welsh then? No? Are you perhaps a Seikh??. On it went as she rolodexed through a lexicon of swarthy nationals. Eventually she admitted defeat and accepted Sussex-born as the definitive answer. By this time Cat was feeling awkward about this persistent badgering and Matt was just bemused.
Fast forward a decade and the same scenario was being played out again in Dalyan Kebab House, Shanklin. After a particularly entertaining night at Shanklin Theatre, Matt decided to wrap up the evening with meat. Cat followed him into the welcoming warmth of the kebab house and heard the following discussion: Kebab man to Matt: ?Hey. Where are you from?? Matt: ?Er... we?ve just been to Shanklin Theatre.? KM: ?No, I mean where are you from?? Matt: ?Ryde? KM: ?NO, I mean originally?? Matt: ?Sandown.?. And so it went. The chap was convinced that Matt was Turkish - something about his slightly disheveled appearance and bulk apparently marked him out as Middle Eastern. Matt was flattered but unable to admit to anything other than English ancestry. The Dalyan chap even called his mate out from the back to have a look at him. Through her giggles Cat confirmed that Matt wasn?t Southern European, Jewish (at least last time she looked) nor Welsh nor a Seikh. With that matter cleared up - although the kebab bloke did not seem entirely convinced - it was time to order some late night snackage.
The other day Matt and Cat were on the terrace of the Spyglass Inn, in Ventnor.
As they enjoyed the view of the English Channel they pondered how many other pubs could actually boast such an awesome south-facing shore-side position. Think hard folks, because that?s what Matt and Cat did. And, do you know what? They couldn?t think of one pub other than the Spyglass that is within a stone's throw of the beach on the south side of the Island. Sure the Sun Inn, Hulverstone and Chale's Wight Mouse both have spectacular views across the heritage coast but you'll never be bothered by salty spray at either of these rural venues.
The Buddle Inn at Niton Undercliff was only likely candidate. Its website trumpets hopefully that it "boasts unrivalled views of the English channel". So, to put this to the test, Matt and Cat bowled along there and parked in the little car park which did indeed have pretty good views across the sea. They sat for a few moments and enjoyed this vista, listening to the sound of the waves pestering the shore far below. But after a short stroll down the hill towards the scenic rocks and spectacular lighthouse of St Catherine's Point, they realised that the Buddle is not that near to the shore really. And in fact, the best view - and it is a good one - is to be had from the Buddle car park, albeit that it was shared with an old camper van and a derelict BMW. So having got the best of the view, Matt and Cat ambled back up to see what the pub?s food was like.
By Malcolm Alder-Smith, Island chef and author. Classically trained as a chef by French, Italian and Swiss master chefs, Malcy trains UKSA Marine Hospitality students in the kitchens of The Isle of Wight College; and is author of the popular The Marine Cookery Bible.
I?m not sure who spotted The Hambrough's potential first back in 2008. Whether it was Robert Thompson or his successful sailing-enthusiast backer Kevin Sussmilch, it was a brilliant piece of opportunism. Robert's boyish good looks and shy manner were a marketeer?s dream of a perfect front man. Who will forget Julian Winslow's iconic photo of Robert, appearing to spring forth from the ocean floor brandishing a freshly 'caught' sea bass? TV food critic Jay Rayner in 2007 recognised Robert as ?a chef to watch in the future.? So I have to ask why, after nearly five years with one Michelin Star has he not achieved a second?
The Foundation Bakery is the latest venue to jostle for a place in Newport?s crowded lunchtime market.
Just when things seemed to have reached a critical mass with the arrival of national coffee outlet Costa Coffee, and rumours of Subway's imminent arrival finally confirmed, the bakery too has opened its doors to those seeking light refreshments.
The café has taken shape inside a disused furniture store on the periphery of Newport's main drag. However, Matt and Cat aren?t necessarily seduced by a prime town centre location; some of the best places to eat are worth that extra step. Take the Isobel Centre; although it?s far from the beaten track in the heart of Pan, it's well worth the diversion. Similarly the John Cheverton Centre provides a tranquil spot for a light lunch and delicious cake. But what have these venues and the Foundation Bakery got in common that may help them keep buoyant in these uncertain times?
Unlike Newport's commercial lunchtime offers such as Matt and Cat's favoured haunt the Blue Door Café, the Issy, JC and Foundation Bakery are supported by public money, charitable donations or philanthropy. Most businesses can benefit from a financial leg-up (some of the Island's most prestigious venues have silent benefactors) and the charitable ones are, by their very nature, supported through the munificence of others. At both the Isobel and John Cheverton Centres, Matt and Cat have had the pleasure of being served homemade cake by charming volunteers in clean and pleasant surroundings. Would the Foundation Bakery be able to complete the hat trick?