Archive review: The Waxworks has now closed
Where could you have found George Bernard Shaw on his trusty tricycle, Queen Victoria forever tapping her toe and an angelic cat with wings? No, not Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Freshwater salon, but Osborne-Smith’s waxworks in Brading. The candy-coloured museum was quite literally a cornerstone of Ye Kynge’s Town until it was, alas, decommissioned.
Nowadays this kind of lo-fi analogue attraction has had a resurgence as vintage chic and hipsterism hits its peak. Godshill Model Village has managed to not only cling on through rough times, but is a delight to visit. At the UK’s oldest amusement park, Blackgang Chine‘s cowboy village continues to entertain popgun-slingers young and old. But unfortunately for lovers of musty taxidermy and mat-wigged mannequins, the wax museum is no more. For a while it seemed like Brading may have got its wish for the traffic to slow down through the town to the point where it had practically stopped. Stopped coming that is. However, Brading still has some significant draws, including the excellent Yarbridge Inn (or is that technically in Yarbridge?) and Kynge’s Well, to which we gave a well-deserved five stars for its fab food and service.
Rising from the metaphorical ashes of the wax museum is the Waxworks Cafe, part of the Rectory Mansion complex – reflecting one of the building’s earlier purposes. It’ll never have the same ghoulish appeal as the chamber of horrors and stuffed rats that used to inhabit the site, but let’s not mourn for what has gone, but have a look at what we’ve won.
If the pretty town of Brading is to be saved from its decline into a commuter village for Ryde, then this salvation might just come in the form of eating out, because The Waxworks is worth the journey. Out the back is the old-school courtyard cafe, keeping Brading’s historic tea and cake market alive. We went for dinner in the front, a clean, modern dining area. It’s a curious layout, built as it is into a historic building that makes the restaurant a series of interconnected rooms. There are tantalising glimpses into the kitchen that give a nod to current trends, and a chance to see chef-proprietor Charlie Bartlett and team at work.
We soon put Charlie through his paces. To start, nachos. Nachos? Really? What is this, Cineworld? Well, film buffs, it turns out that nachos can be not only palatable, but delicious. When we saw this offering, we were startled to realise just how degenerate the corporate Dorito has become. Nachos Waxworks-style was a scattering of freshly-cooked crispy shells, generously topped with a chorizo and bean sauce. It was spicy, fresh and street-food delicious. Starters were hardly over and we were reappraising the potential of a dish we’d written off as junk years ago.
Salmon fillet £14.50
Grilled bacon £13.95
Salted caramel pavlova £6.50
Blackcurrant and cream sorbet £5.50
Matt could hardly be expected to ignore grilled bacon loin steaks with rosemary melted Brie. And he didn’t. That plural ‘s’ on the specials board was for once no exaggeration. Two thick, soft meaty slabs of succulent bacon loin had perfectly browned fat on the outside, giving a delightful charred taste and slight crispiness. Smothered in melting Brie and a cranberry sauce, the whole thing was piled on top of potatoes and fresh buttered greens. Those nachos were not just a fluke – this was as good. Cat’s tender fillet of salmon balanced on a neatly square stack of sweet and white potato dauphinoise and fresh beetroot. A splendid melange of colours, flavours and textures, it was clearly a carefully-constructed dish, yet like so much of the food here, the informal, almost playful juxtaposition of ingredients dispelled any hint of pretentiousness.
Similarly artfully casual was the service. Our waitress never put a foot wrong, keeping us well-informed and relaxed as the best professionals can. Eventually, after two absolute winners of courses, she persuaded us we were feeling keen to order some dessert. And with that, we got the hat trick. Cat’s zingy blackcurrant and cream sorbet with pineapple was the perfect light way to finish. Matt ecstatically chewed his way through a homemade pavlova – and for once, it wasn’t Eton mess or anything like it. Salted caramel and roasted peanuts was the theme, and boy, was it intense. Intensely good.
So we’re not holding back on this one – go to the Waxworks. Go there, have some dinner, and enjoy the delights that Brading still very much has to offer.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
Archive review: The Waxworks has now closed