Unless it’s in the resort of Ryde, Sandown or Shanklin, any beach on the Isle of Wight usually earns the title of Locals’ Secret Location. This sobriquet is bandied around so often that one could assume that the majority of the Island’s coastline is a hidden gem. Which, to be honest, it probably is.
Matt and Cat have read national reviews of the "locals’ secret" Boathouse restaurant at Steephill Cove, they’ve eaten at The Priory Bay Hotel, with its secret private beach, and even well-publicised Barefoot on the Beach requires the surefootedness of a native guide as it's certainly tricky to find of an evening.
And so to locals’ secret location Bembridge Forelands. Last century, this wonderful place was the backdrop to childhood family trips on endless hot summer days for Matt and so many others. After filling his metal pail with rockpool treasures, he and his sandy-fingered siblings ate ice lollies bought from the beachside kiosk. Fast forward forty years and the pleasures of Bembridge Ledges remain as delightfully unsophisticated. In order to get the true locals’ off-season experience Matt and Cat made it their mission to spend a bracing November morning playing along the beautiful beach collecting fossils and a progress-inhibiting amount of clay on their wellies, before seeking lunch at the beach kiosk's successor: the Beach Hut.
This is an archive review. Cafe 44 no longer exists.
If you are a contestant on one of the ceaseless merry-go-round of televised cookery shows, you must practise, practise, practise your recipe. It’s no good window-shopping the sexed-up photographs in a celebrity chef’s recipe book the night before and settling on salmon en croute, if you don’t know how to turn on your oven. Unless you're after some kind of pity vote.
Matt and Cat would never put themselves forward for Come Dine With Me; they are more than ready to acknowledge their culinary limitations. Sure they both have the ability to cook a meal - believe it or not they don’t eat out every day - but they are very modest about their efforts in the kitchen. Cat’s signature dish is poached egg on muffin and Matt can rustle up a passable spaghetti bolognese, but they rarely cook for others. Fortunately there are plenty of people on the Island who are delighted to share their culinary talents and charge accordingly, so why would M&C ever need to slave in front of their own stoves? Their continuing odyssey around the commercial eateries of the Isle of Wight makes their mealtimes more interesting.
And thus it was that Matt and Cat found themselves in Carisbrooke’s Café 44 one sunny autumn Sunday. The new proprietors at this prominent village eatery had been very proactive in encouraging Matt and Cat to revisit the café to see how they had changed things.
Burrs is a small, traditional-looking restaurant positioned away from the tourist-traps of the Island in one of Newport's back-streets. No sea view or historic ambience supplements the experience. Matt and Cat wandered in one evening after a late night at the salt mine, fearful that they might need a reservation. Luckily they didn't, and indeed at first they were the only customers.
The attentive waiter welcomed them and showed his guests to a cosy table at the back of the small dining room. As drinks, menus and the usual initial transactions were undertaken, Matt and Cat began to understand the important differences that set Burrs apart from other establishments. Burrs has rejected the doctrine of 'no-nonsense food' and offers a classy service in the traditional style that borders on the theatrical. Cat was invariably referred to as 'madame' (although she archly said she might have preferred 'mademoiselle'), and she always got the first service. The diners had the offer of having their coats taken - a rare experience these days, although once an invariable part of dining out. The whole performance was most enjoyable. If this is nonsense - bring it on.
It’s all over. The sun has resolutely taken off its hat, brushed it down and stashed it away until next year.
The summer of 2012, with its diamond jubilee, record-breaking rainfall, Olympics and Paralympics is a distant memory. Wenlock has closed his vast single eye and Mandeville’s name is tainted with the scandal of the late Sir Jimmy Savile’s association with his namesake hospital. Also consigned to the past is the day the Olympic torch came to the Isle of Wight.
Like most of the summer, the torch’s national tour was played out with a backdrop of typically British weather; yet the drizzle didn’t stop the crowds from gathering to see one of the eight thousand torches flicker through their neighbourhood. On the day the relay visited the Isle of Wight - passing through Yarmouth to East Cowes before you could say £11,000 pounds well-spent - Matt and Cat somehow missed the entire razzmatazz.
While hosts of their fellow Islanders were gawping ten-deep at joyous but sodden torchbearers, Matt and Cat were snug inside the dining room of Dandelion Café, enjoying the spectacular view of the heritage coast across Freshwater Bay and beyond.
Some people imagine that Matt and Cat are orderly souls; with a neatly-written list of candidate venues to review, fully researched and scheduled in their diaries at regular intervals.
The truth is so far removed from this cosy vision of administrative tidiness that, to be honest, M&C could probably collect the prize for the most chaotic and disorderly food reviewers on the Isle of Wight - if only they could organise themselves to do so.
Take today. When Cat finally woke from her slumbers at mid-morning o’clock, she was told by amnesiac Matt that they had a meeting. In fifteen minutes. Half an hour’s drive away. And he only knew this because his phone had reminded him with one of those nagging but essential beeps. Cat threw on some clothes and tugged a knitted beany hat over her knotted bedhair before driving her and Matt as fast as the speed limit would allow to their rendezvous at the Folly Inn, East Cowes.
They had a pleasant morning catching up with an ex-colleague and Cat, who had not had time for breakfast, subsisted on a vast cup of coffee and all of the tiny complementary almond biscuits that she could snaffle. Their meeting over, M&C decided to visit Waitrose, as they were in the area, to buy some much sought after shelled pistachios. Then it was off to lunch. Or for Cat, her first meal of the day. And this, dear reader, is how they roll.