Matt and Cat\'s Isle of Wight Eating Out Guide
Update May 2009. Matt and Cat revisited the Apple Tree café at the suggestion of a fellow Tweeter. Read M and C’s comments below,...

Update May 2009. Matt and Cat revisited the Apple Tree café at the suggestion of a fellow Tweeter. Read M and C’s comments below, with earlier efforts below that.

Apple Tree Café

Having waxed lyrical about the café at Afton Nursery, Matt and Cat were surprised but pleased to get a request suggesting that they go again. There are plenty of as yet untried places on M and C’s ever-expanding list of suggested venues but, as they were out that way, they decided to once again try the delights of this wholesome little place, which has changed hands since the first review was written.

Crayfish sarnie

What struck them about their previous experiences was the extreme localness of the food; salad grown on the premises with apparently home-grown nasturtium flowers scattered artfully atop the other foliage, and a riot of home-made chutneys and sauces. This time the menu seemed just as wholesome as before and included a range of gluten and wheat-free cakes, plus the café’s “own prize-winning sausages”. Your reviewers chose a couple of sarnies and a pot of tea to whet their whistles.

Sitting under the unexpected and disappointingly unsustainable patio heater (although it wasn’t actually on), Matt and Cat cast their eyes about as they waited for their food. The garden was looking pretty, insects buzzed (although there was no sign of the promoted hives) and lambs gambolled in the paddock.

Mediterranean sandwich

Before long, the sandwiches and tea arrived. This time around, Matt had the crayfish with lemon and dill mayonnaise and Cat chose the Mediterranean sandwich. Both came with “gourmet leaf salad”, tomato salad, vegetable crisps and couscous. Although their sarnies looked very tasty, the supermarket-standard sliced white bread was a bit pedestrian and the salad did not appear to have come from the kitchen garden, as boasted about on the café’s website. However, the cherry tomatoes had a touch of Wight Salads about them, so Brownie points there for the local provenance.

Cat’s sandwich was a good combination of creamy mozzarella and tangy chorizo. She particularly enjoyed the vegetable crisps and the cous cous was a nice touch. Matt looked carefully at the crayfish tails – surely these were not of local provenance too? Pretty unlikely as native crayfish are a protected species. Still, they were enjoyable, and the lemon and dill dressing was entirely appropriate. The accompanying salad was fresh and pleasant, but looked and tasted little different from the nice big bags of washed salad that one can buy in supermarkets. You know, the ones near the white bread.

After they had eaten, Matt and Cat bimbled around the garden. The apple trees prevail and, at the time of Matt and Cat’s visit, were in full plumage. The beds weren’t quite the riot of colour expected, more a muted grassy look. The story-telling willow dome seemed to have long outgrown its shape and looked more like a pile of sticks. However, the saddest sight of all was the plant sales area. Like elderly dogs at Battersea, a few trees and plants were forlornly waiting to be rehomed and, peering over the fence into the nursery, M and C saw a barren desert of dessicated plants and unmanaged poly tunnels. If there was a kitchen garden working here it was well concealed in a season’s-worth of weeds. No wonder the salad was brought in.

Let’s give some credit – this is a big operation, with not only a nursery, an orchard, a shop but also a café. M & C are only looking at one part of the project. It’s also great that somebody has taken it on and seems to be giving it a go.

Afton Park has been out of action for a while and it will take more than a season to get it going to full strength. But when it does, M & C really do hope that the extraordinary localness and eccentricity that marked the previous café out will be recreated, or even bettered. Otherwise, it’s going to remain just another decent but undistinguished watering-hole on the West Wight tourist-trail.

(First published Nov 2005. Updated Aug 2006)

The Apple Tree Café
Hot beef sandwich with salad,
including nasturtium and other leaves
straight from the garden.

Set in Afton Park Nursery, this lovely little café is just like sitting in the garden, or if you prefer, the conservatory. What’s more, the food is very good indeed and good value. There’s nowhere else like this on the Island. Must-have is the apple juice from the orchard right there in front of you, and the beautiful, colourful and varied home-grown salads which come from the nursery and taste fresh enough to make you remember why iceberg lettuce really isn’t a good thing.

They specialise in wheat-free and gluten-free meals, also doing vegetarian and vegan options. But if you like a decent bit of meat, you won’t be disappointed by Matt’s favourite, the ham salad, either. Not to mention the five different mustards you get to choose from! In fact, on every table there seems to be a different sauce or dressing, all of which you can try and then, if you like them, buy in the nearby shop.

On a recent visit Matt chose the hot beef sandwich, and Cat enjoyed a goat’s cheese tartlet on beefsteak tomatoes. Both were swiftly produced and exquisitely presented, and although the portion sizes were modest the very high quality of the food, especially the fresh salad, was a real treat.

A good stop for lunch or a nice cup of tea, they also do evening meals but we haven’t tried that yet. They are open March-Sept every day, and some other days in between, but it’s all on their website (click link), so check before you go. Because go you should.
Afton Park Nursery / the Apple Tree Café

  • da yw wyth says:

    Everything was beautifully done, unusual and lovingly prepared. Wide and interesting selection in shop. Gorgeous setting outside to drink your tea and that apple scone was a revelation…

  • I’ve given this another go.
    Cream tea was fine for the price… one large warm scone with jam and cream (and butter, oh dear!)Choice of tea. Friendly service. But where were all the customers… in July!
    “Not bad but not especially good” would be my summary.
    The small shop has a reasonable display given the shortage of space.
    I haven’t written this off yet.

  • David D. Ballard says:

    When the new owners first took over everything seemed fine… and no entrance charge for the garden! I’m really sorry to read the latest comments. We didn’t visit Afton last year but have always rated it highly. This needs watching and approaching with care! So disappointed to read this.

  • JP says:

    What has happened to what used to be a beautiful place to go. Dirty toilets. Bucket filled with cigarette butts in the eating area. General grubby atmosphere. Gardens once beautiful now left to go pretty wild. Animals never seem to have water.
    Evening meals earlier this year were delightful with friendly and helpful service. Day time is in complete contrast with stale salad, and hugely overpriced small portions. Won’t be back.

  • Dr P.Phillips says:

    I have been a regular visitor to afton park over the last 8-9 years, and sadly i can honestly say that i will never be going back. Since being taken over by new people, the park seems to be on a downward slope, the passion that used to be shown by the old team has completely gone. No longer can you expect the golden service or food that was once there, the gardens have completely lost there flare on a whole the place looks like a junk yard, and you are greeted by a gruby man who is only intrested in his fags and your money! What a shameful downfall. Bring back the old afton gang!If anyone can tell me where to find the old chefs and staff, please contact me it would be wonderful to see them again and taste there new recipies.

  • Rebecca and Kevin McNamara says:

    Having had a wonderful lunch of locally caught fresh mackerel we decided to use the cafe as a wedding reception venue. Everything was perfect . The food was superb as was the wonderful welcoming atmosphere. So wether lunch, evening meal or wedding! Afton will not disappoint

  • neil julie helen chris bullock says:

    A lovely spot to lunch with really unusual choices and the best apple juice!

  • Kevin and Jeanette (visitors) says:

    We visited here at lunchtime on 10th July 2007. We had a very agreeable roast beef sandwich with hot horseradish very well presented with flowers, etc. Would definately go back but would prefer a bit more horseradish next time!

  • Sammy says:

    What a wonderful little cafe, I love it. the food is so pretty whan it arrives it almost seems a shame to mess it up by eatting it, and with a glutten intorerant son its great that he can always have something there even if its only a sandwhich. I really cant praise this little place enough the sfatt are very polite and friendly, the service is quick and the locally produced food (even garnished with flowers from the gardens) is really lovely.

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