Since we started Matt and Cat’s Isle of Wight Eating Out Guide, we’ve proudly boasted that we will review anywhere, from “the grandest of hotel restaurants to the most modest of burger vans.” As it happens, burger vans are surprisingly few and far between these days. There are a one or two scattered about keeping the faith, such as the one outside B&Q and, err… that’s about it. It seems that the ‘humble’ burger has been usurped from its van by artisan coffee, Moroccan-influenced street food and wood-fired pizza.
We normally like to give a place a good six months before we’ll write a review. Any new venue is likely to need a few refinements and tweaks; if, after six months, they’re still not cutting it then we feel that it’s fair enough to have a pop – if necessary. Occasionally though, if there’s sufficient word on the streets about a fresh new place then we’ll stick our noses in and our six month policy be damned.
And so it was that Twitter’s jungle drums tapped out their rhythm, requiring that we visit Salty Willy’s in Fort Street Sandown. Salty Willy’s?? How could we resist with a name like that! The venue’s proper title is Salty Willy’s Fish Shack and we can see why. A fairly standard catering trailer has been clad in cut bleached timber, given a suitably rustic driftwood counter and has the remnants of a timber yard serving as set dressing and also some fancy log seating. That’s the shack bit taken care of, but what about the fish?
There’s a pretty small menu at Salty Willy’s, but that’s the nature of street food. There was a choice of two fish fillets – mackerel and wild sea bass – which were served in various permutations with salad, brioche or tomato bread, plus fish goujons and one or two side options. Cat had the star dish, Salty Willy’s special sea bass fillets, and Matt chose fish goujons with seasoned potato bites. At this point we discovered just how fresh and local the seafood was. A replenishment of goujons was on its way from the fisherman at Bembridge, if we were happy to hold on for ten minutes. And, right on cue, an ancient Ford Popular arrived with a bag of fish. Talk about the locavore movement! These fish had barely travelled five miles since they had been hauled from the sea.
Cat watched as her sea bass fillet was cooked on the shack’s griddle and pontificated to herself about how there may have been a time when vans like this one almost exclusively churned out burgers and cans of coke. Now the griddle sorted out fresh mackerel and sea bass, served in your shiny-domed brioche. Another aspect that notched Salty Willy’s up a considerable gear was the array of condiments. The Garlic Farm shop had been raided for its Vampire Slayer hot sauce, garlic ketchup, garlic mayo, garlic pesto dressing and, if that ain’t enough garlic for ya, pickled garlic cloves. As it happened we can’t get enough of the stuff, but there was some regular Heinz ketchup for the vampires among you.
Salty Willy’s sea bass special £6
Fish goujons £3.50
Seasoned potato bites £1.50
We took advantage of those sauces by smothering a shared a portion of seasoned potato bites with garlic mayo and ketchup. Matt was enamoured of his hyper-fresh fish goujons. The word ‘goujon’ has been compromised by so many pre-frozen disappointments that it was a delight to see what a goujon actually could be. Piping hot, with perfect crispy batter and full of fresh, moist fish. Cat’s Salty Willy’s special was superb. The sea bass was hot and soft; the meat flaked easily away from its skin. The tomato bun was delicious and the salad was, thankfully, a considerable way away from the dreaded iceberg. The mix of leaves and cherry tomatoes were dressed by Cat with the garlic pesto dressing. It was a surprisingly sophisticated meal for such a modest venue.
Salty Willy’s is in a back street car park in the Island’s Cinderella resort of Sandown. However, it is a cracking spot for the afternoon sun and, if the proprietors are to be believed, they will be there in the off-season too. With a menu filled with commendably locally-sourced ingredients – even our lemonade was Wight Crystal brand – Salty Willy’s is making the sort of food that some restaurants would do well to emulate. Meanwhile, we’ll recommend you go down there and give them a spin.
- Local produce
- Friendly service
- Delicious food
- Free parking
- Limited menu, but if it's seasonal fish you want then fab!
- Not the most scenic of locations