You might be under the impression that East Cowes is dominated by the bloat of Osborne House – and we don’t mean food-loving Queen Victoria herself. As everyone knows, the town enjoyed a great boost in fortunes when the royal household established a summer home in this northern corner of the Isle of Wight way back in 1845.
So far, so guidebook. But alongside Queen Victoria was a supportive and innovative husband, just as next to Osborne is the smaller but nonetheless impactful property Albert Cottage. And it was here we had lunch one gusty Saturday.
Part of the fun of dining at the hotel’s newly-redecorated Consort Restaurant is the approach through a long tiled tunnel, built in 1899 to connect two buildings in this part of the estate. Emerging into the dining room, we nodded appreciatively at its heritage paint colours and views across the lawn, where we watched autumnal leaves eddy and dance. Back inside the room, leaves of a different kind were swirling in a china teapot as an attractive-looking afternoon tea was delivered to a neighbouring table.
The lunchtime menu is very reasonably priced, for a chef of the calibre of the Island’s Dan Maskell – previously of the Royal Hotel and St Helens’ eponymous Dan’s Kitchen. And, as you’d expect from an elegant venue like Albert Cottage, we experienced a high standard of service.
Cat’s starter was an attractive Caesar salad, served with pressed chicken terrine rather than the more traditional grilled breast meat. With generous shavings of tangy parmesan, a couple of salty anchovies and traditional Caesar dressing on a bed of crunchy romaine leaves, this was a rich and tasty dish. The hero ingredient was the single brown wafer which turned out to be a scrummy crisp of delicious brittle chicken skin.
A pair of battered fishcakes came with the unexpected and charming addition of a couple of quail eggs. The hot, fresh fish was closer to a fillet than a fishcake, there was so much meat in it; a big bowl of homemade tartare sauce was just the thing to go with it – mild and peppery, not overpoweringly vinegary.
Pacing herself for dessert, Cat chose the light-bite crab risotto for main. Created, naturally, with Bembridge crab, the creaminess of this aromatic dish was contrasted with a bouquet of quick-pickles. Cucumber, celery and onion were all improved by their soak in a sweet bath of vinegar and added a pleasing crunch to accompany the soft risotto.
The Albert burger is rightly given a royal sobriquet. This impressive stack includes not only a fresh hot beef patty, dripping with juice, but a slather of melted Gallybagger and a slab of honey-glazed pork belly. This unexpected combo worked well. Pulled pork on a burger is so yesterday – a chunk of delicious crispy pork itself is much better. The triple-cooked chips on the side in many other venues would have stolen the show, but here even these excellent specimens were overshadowed by the mighty Albert.
Chicken terrine £7.95
Crab risotto £12.95
Albert burger £13.50
Jaffa cake £7.25
Poached pear £7.25
Of the meal’s three courses, Cat’s pudding was her favourite. Poached pear, but not in the style of school dinners. Oh no, this was a luscious dessert; nuggets of burnt cinder toffee dissolved on the tongue, a slick of acidic lemon curd was soured by blobs of cream cheese mousse. The gentle taste of the fruit slices was enhanced by more concentrated pear ice cream. A magnificent pudding full of well-matched flavours.
Our server enthusiastically recommended the ‘Jaffa Cake’ dessert. His keenness was not misplaced. The intense dark chocolate, infused with a hint of orange, and placed raffishly on a little spongy base, did indeed have a splendid hint of the classic biscuit about it. On top, a cool curl of sweet white chocolate ice cream was a welcome contrast. A great way to finish the meal.
We dabbed our lips with linen napkins and paid our bill, while the light outside started to fade. Lunch at Albert Cottage was a sublime affair, and we certainly felt as though we’d had one of the top dining experiences on the Island. The historic venue is at last delivering something worthy of its imperial origins.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Quality ingredients given the star treatment
- Popular local chef
- Superb Victorian location