Seeking, as ever, to encourage everyone to chip into the Island’s biggest and best collection of food reviews, Matt and Cat offer a ‘Suggest...

Seeking, as ever, to encourage everyone to chip into the Island’s biggest and best collection of food reviews, Matt and Cat offer a ‘Suggest a venue‘ page where readers can attempt to guide them towards (or away from) one venue or another.

The Matt and Cat light shines in the night sky

It’s well-used and quite a long list. Matt and Cat read each suggestion carefully – a majority of the new reviews they write stem from this fertile ground. But even so they might have set a new record for responsiveness with this, their 200th review – less than 24 hours after reader Jackie Milne posted her suggestion, they were sitting down at the table. The Matt-and-Cat-beacon shone in the night sky, and your reviewers responded in super-quick time (for once)!

Matt and Cat followed the light, pointing the MattMobile in a southerly direction. Powered only by the momentum of going downhill all the way, the car came to rest at Ventnor Esplanade. The Ale and Oyster is audaciously positioned adjacent to one of the most popular dining pubs on the Isle of Wight. But, according to one of the locals, the competition is not too much of an issue as the Ale and Oyster is positively buzzing on a Sunday afternoon when the Northern Soul DJ is in the bar. So, how did it fare on a Tuesday evening?

Ale and Oyster

The first thing that Matt and Cat noticed on entering the venue was the maitre d’s counter. This welcoming little sentry box is a good first port-of-call, not often seen in English restaurants (although an entire episode of Seinfeld is played out in front of one). The intimate venue had several free tables and Matt and Cat were offered one which, surprisingly, was showing remnants of the previous occupants – bits of chopped parsley, drinks rings and some leftover unused cutlery were scattered about.

IW fillet steak

The Ale and Oyster is a minimally decorated venue – its simplicity the polar opposite of the cluttered nauticalia of its near neighbour. Plain walls – in a confident chocolate brown and ochre – provided a backdrop for artistic photographs of the local landscape. Chunky wooden tables were set with plain silver accessories. Outside, the terrace is ideally positioned to get the most out of the sun and the spectacular view of the sea – and the silvery moon on the night that your reviewers visited.

The menu had plenty of salads plus, as anticipated, lots of local seafood dishes. Matt and Cat had agreed to push the boat out for this anniversary review, so for once their eyes fell readily onto the more expensive dishes without watering too much. Meat-loving Cat had been lured to Ventnor with the promise of fillet steak so her choice was already made. Matt was more considered in his perusal of the menu. The range of local specialities was good, and well-labelled. A range of ‘daily specials’ is clearly designed to allow regular menu changes to accommodate seasonal items. Eventually Matt decided to have Wheelers Bay half lobster thermidor. Thermidor is a byword for extravagance, usually being the top-priced item on any menu, although at the Ale and Oyster it was slightly cheaper than the IW fillet steak (which was £16.95) – both reasonably priced as such luxury dishes go. Matt had never had lobster like this before, and was interested to have a new eating experience.

Curiously, the place settings suggested that bread rolls might be forthcoming as there were side plates, butter knives and napkins. However, none arrived, the side plates remained and further cutlery was brought out. M and C watched with interest as other diners’ food arrived; there were certainly some big things coming out of the kitchen – a plate piled high with chips here, a vast creamy pudding dish there. The venue filled up and soon the sound of the chattering classes drowned out the piped easy listening classics – which included a rather groovy version of Caravan.

The dinners arrived. Cat’s rare fillet steak, served with an abundant salad and skinny fries, was smothered in a delightful green peppercorn sauce. The seared meat was fantastically soft and bloody, and a very generous portion. The juices soon mingled with the creamy sauce making an excellent lubricant for the disappointingly fast-food style chips.

Matt’s lobster thermidor had been the subject of much discussion and he was eagerly anticipating its arrival. It turned out to be a sort of ‘Welsh lobster’ – like a Welsh rarebit but with a carapace instead of toast; a cheesy crustacean concoction. Again this was served with a big salad and skinny fries. Matt liked it very much – it was not only tasty but also fun to eat.

Matt and Cat had taken a friend with them and she had the most unimaginative dish of the evening – potato frittata. Nothing particularly unusual about a potato omelette except that it, too, was served with the ubiquitous salad and chips, plus a side dish of potato salad. Three types of spud in one dish? Surely a potato overload. Matt, not one to see food wasted, hoovered up the fairly bland potato salad whilst a discussion about the merits and demerits of skinny fries was had. All three diners agreed that the uninspiring salad and chips, identical for all three meals, did not do justice to the respectable main components. What’s more, it seemed highly likely that the Ale and Oyster’s laudable commitment to local food did not stretch as far as the chips and salad. Cat, who is on a mission to eat all of the Wight Salads cherry tomatoes she can get her hands on, wondered if the two slices of tomato on her plate came from local fruit.

Matt, Cat and guest tormented themselves with the dessert menu eventually ordering two between the three of them. Café liégeois and pineapple and rum trifle. Surely that amounted to piña colada trifle, mused cocktail expert Cat?

Matt and Cat’s bill
Lobster thermidor £15.95
Fillet steak £16.95
Café liégeois £5.50
Trifle £4.50
Bar £2.70

Two puddings and three spoons arrived. Bowls piled high with cream lead to further bickering about whether or not it was the detested squirty cream. Cat thought not, but her friend had wrinkled up her nose. Fortunately, the waitress overhead the debate and was able to clarify that it was fresh whipped cream. The spoons dipped in and indeed it was. Yummy. The café liégeois was really tasty, with real coffee and beans flooding the coffee and chocolate ice cream scoops. The trifle, too, was lovely, with its chunks of fruit and sponge soaked in rum. Simple, unpretentious deserts, good value for money and obviously home-made with decent ingredients. Top marks.

So what to make of Ventnor’s latest quality eating-place? Matt and Cat were impressed by the venue, and the menu was also pretty good, with local stuff at tolerable prices given a pleasing prominence. Service was courteous and prompt, but not the most attentive, and a clean table would have improved things even further. And the food? A curious mixture of the excellent and the mundane. Steak and lobster superbly prepared and presented delighted the diners – but why fall at the last fence with what might well as have been frozen chips and bagged salad? (note: see the Ale & Oyster’s response below – M & C are relieved to say it seems as though the salad was all local after all. No word on the chips.)

After all of the food had been eaten, plates cleared up and the bill paid, your reviewers watched the moon rise above the sea whilst chatting the night away. Eventually the affable proprietor turned off the music, tidied the tables on the terrace and locked the patio doors. As he saw his guests off the premises he enquired politely whether they were staying on the Island for one week or two? Laughing, your reviewers replied that they’d willingly signed up for a life-sentence enjoying the Island’s food… and walking away they felt sure they’d hang around for at least another 200 reviews!

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  • Paul

    30th August 2011 #1 Author

    Popped into the almost empty Ale and Oyster as our first port of call (the Spyglass Inn) was completely full with the queue for ordering food seemingly interminably long. As a well-scrubbed pair in our early forties we were both surprised at the cold, uninviting reception we received by the chap serving behind the bar and by the abrupt and rude manner in which we were spoken to by the waitress. Despite looking at the menu, the frosty atmosphere inside this establishment was in such a direct contrast to the warm summer’s day the rest of the Island was enjoying, we decided to take our custom elsewhere. Unfortunately we didn’t get to find out whether or not the food was any good, but we did learn why the Ale and Oyster’s rivals were doing a lot more business, so it wasn’t a complete waste of our time.

    Reply

  • Sarah Brinsdon

    4th July 2011 #2 Author

    After visiting the Ale and Oyster a few times for lunch with friends and family, we were so impressed with the consistantly delicious food and fabulous service that we asked them to do our wedding!
    We had 60 guests for a sit down 3 course dinner with a mixed menu of local seafood and Isle of Wight fillet steak. All of our guests comented on how amazing the food was – they couldn’t believe how so many meals could be cooked to perfection at the same time – and on how well they were looked after by all the staff!
    We would recomend the Ale and Oyster to anyone! They have a fabulous menu with something for all tastes and budgets.
    We will be eating there many more times in the future!

    Reply

  • Jenny

    17th August 2010 #3 Author

    Ate here during our short stay on the island last weekend, as we were looking for some tasty local fish. We had booked a table earlier in the day but were running slightly late (due to the Ventnor carnival) so rang to notify them, which was not a problem. On arrival one of the staff chose a table for us, left us with the menus and went back to her station. We were slightly cold in the doorway, so when a friendly barman took our drink order we asked to move. He quickly cleared and wiped a table nearby and we moved over. I decided to try one of the oysters on offer as well as pan-fried scallops in saffron sauce for starter, whilst my partner had the chicken liver pate. Both starters were delicious, although slightly too much sauce on the scallops masked their taste a little (but the sauce was good!). The oyster was brilliant too! For main course my partner ordered the baked crab, only to be told there was absolutely no crab available (shame we hadn’t been informed as we sat down!) so quickly changed to the fish pie, which was topped with crushed potato…he was also offered chips/mash/boiled potatoes as a side. I ordered the cold fish selection from the ‘specials’ but was offered no side order. Again the food was delicious, and came just as the menu stated – nothing extravagant but it tasted good. I certainly could have done with some sort of carb though be it potato or bread. A finger bowl/lemon wipes and a napkin would have also been useful as shelling prawns got a little messy. Having finished up with a couple of desserts and polished off our Prosecco we were left satisfied with our choice of restaurant. There’s nothing extravagant about the place, the atmosphere and staff are friendly, the service was not overly attentive, the food is simple but very tasty and the price is reasonable.

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  • S Crossley

    26th July 2010 #4 Author

    Am very interested to know what the hidden gem down the 39 steps just past the cricket ground in Ventnor is called.

    Matt & Cat respond: possibly you mean The Boathouse? It’s another one on our list, but we haven’t been there yet.

    Reply

  • mike

    18th June 2010 #5 Author

    We holiday once or twice a year on the IOW and always drop in to the Ale and Oyster for a meal which we have always found to be consistently good. Fantastic local produce and fresh seafood. Staff, in our experience are friendly and service is prompt. Prices are reasonable. Would recommend this restaurant/pub without hesitation!

    Reply

  • David

    9th February 2010 #6 Author

    I had read and heard good reports, so went along last Friday evening, 5th Feb. Table was good, service began well, smiley but cooled off quickly once our order was in. Crab cake starters were dull and uninspiring. Couldn’t see or taste crab. We too expected a roll to nibble. Main course steak was under done, but like M & C, no-one came to ask how it was so we just got on with it. No-one returned to ask about more drinks – so we only had one! Eventually feeling a bit abandoned, we asked (twice) for the bill. It took a good twenty minutes to arrive. The host station seemed to be in a very long meeting? Finally I took it up, by then tired and wanting to go. I’d be reluctant to return and frankly if it’s like this in the winter I’d hate to go in the summer.
    Price was top end pub price I thought.

    Reply

  • Roy Bates

    23rd December 2009 #7 Author

    the best Sunday roast on the island by a considerable margin-at a very reasonable price.we have been there a few times over the last year and never been less than satisfied.the cooking is well above average.one downside:the practice of asking if you want to add a tip on your credit card.

    Reply

  • Shirley V

    26th November 2009 #8 Author

    I don’t object to being asked if everything is ok – but I DO object to the waiter/ress being half way to the kitchen before you can reply. Are they on roller skates at this point? Or do they always expect you to say “fine/lovely thanks”?
    So my tip for those asking is – act as though you care about the answer and hang around for it, maybe even let more than one person in the party have their say.
    And PLEASE act upon any criticism – don’t just say “I’ll tell chef” because we won’t beieve you and we won’t actually come back!

    Reply

  • Diner

    3rd November 2009 #9 Author

    In response to Mike B. Do you not get fed up of people asking you how your food is half way through a mouth full? I prefer it if I’m left alone to enjoy my meal!

    As for the crowds spilling out into the street, was it a Sunday? A regular, advertised event that many enjoy every week. It’s also on late afternoon so it wouldn’t spoil a Sunday lunch.

    I’ve tried a couple of meals at the Ale and Oyster and they were great, the people are great and the place has a great atmosphere. And I too like to dine without screaming children, nothing against kids but those without shouldn’t have to have their dining experience ruined.

    Reply

  • Roger

    11th October 2009 #10 Author

    Hi – We wanted to go to the Restaurant in August as seen it grow from an old Ventnor Hotel to its current status but arrived to find a boozed up sweaty crowd outside spilling onto the roadway all in half baked tee shirts. Most well tanked and shouting at passers by. Clearly the Mgt have no control but ………….. OK so its a pub by the seaside but hardly welcoming. Frankly we found it intimidating.
    We MIGHT try again next week if it is a bit quieter if not we will go elsewhere.

    Reply

  • tim

    26th May 2009 #11 Author

    but that’s the whole point! a pub should be a place where adults CAN behave like kids. frankly i enjoy the freedom to swear my arse off and not have to look around to make sure i haven’t offended young ears!! there’s a million places offering child friendly dining experiences, lets keep the rug rats out of decent boozers till their old enough to get what it is that makes a pub a pub!

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  • islander

    25th May 2009 #12 Author

    although some of the above comments have some useful information, I also disagree with the age limit…some kids are well behaved and enjoy different surrounds, dont tarnish all kids with one brush… especially when nearly every sunday there are grown ups getting drunk, taking over the pavement, swearing and on some occasions acting like kids … give me a child friendly place any time.

    Reply

  • sandy

    25th May 2009 #13 Author

    We have eaten here on a couple of occasions and have found both food and staff pleasant and well worth futher visits. I had not realised they had an age limit, now I know I shall be calling in more frequently. I fully agree that there are so many child friendly eateries that it is wonderful to find one that isn`t! With regards the chips, I love skinny ones and my “other half” likes the fat ones, as they say you can`t please all the people all the time. I do wish they had a web-site though I wanted to find out both opening times and what time food is served.

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  • Amanda

    21st May 2009 #14 Author

    I couldn’t agree more with the comment above. There is nothing more off-putting when going out for a nice meal than small children either running around or making a racket. There are more than enough establishments that cater for young families in Ventnor and as a parent myself with a teenage child, I have endured many a meal in harvester like places. What a pleasure it is now to go out for a decent grown up meal. I have eaten at the Ale and Oyster many a time and the food has always been marvellous. As a seafood lover it is a real pleasure to find a place that delivers fantastic food and a welcoming ambience. The staff are friendly, the ale is great, the food fresh and delicious and I wouldn’t want them to change a thing. Keep up the good work.

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  • tim

    19th May 2009 #15 Author

    While i understand that this must have been a frustrating experience for you mark, there are also plenty of people like myself who are fed up with the number of pubs that have become little more than a feeding station for children. i like a pub to be a pub, not a screaming mass of high chairs, crayons and chicken nuggets. families have plenty of places to eat out, let’s keep some pubs as they should be- for grown ups to relax in! it is a shame cos the food at the a&o is very good.

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  • Mark N

    19th May 2009 #16 Author

    I would love to say that having read the reviews here as well as in the local press that I had sampled the fayre on offer myself and could offer my own opinion. Unfortunately, the establishment has decided that my custom is not wanted. Why? Well, for a Monday afternoon on holiday I was smartly dressed, so a dress code issue was not the problem. Was I steamingly drunk and being abusive? No, not a drop of booze had passed my lips all day and my language was perfect. Was it that I just wanted a cup of coffee? No, that too was not the issue. Ah, I had a pushchair and wanted to multitask and whilst drinking a coffee and watching the world go by, I was going to give my 9 month old son his bottle. As I started to sit down at a table, the lady behind the bar came flying out advising me that I could not sit down. Why…? Sorry sir, no children under the age of 6.. owners policy. So, with three people sipping beer in the whole place I was hardly going to be disturbing the other diners. I would like to say it is a shame but it isn’t. Ventnor is a family resort on the seafront and in a stroke has disenfranchised a load of potential custom. It is illegal to refuse entry to people on basis of race and relgion but on basis of age (and no, the reason was not that my son may have been sneakily having a nip of early underage drinking). Well, I will not be having any child free meals there and I am sure many other people with kids but some spare change (and baby sitters) to eat out will follow suit. Shame on you Ale & oyster.

    Reply

  • Brad Thomas

    12th May 2009 #17 Author

    I think that the Ale and Oyster is a truly wonderful dining experience. In what is rapidly becoming an Island of £3 carverys or £11 frozen food brought over from the mainland it is refreshing to see people passoinate about serving high quality Island produce.
    It is one of the few places I would go to eat on the Island as I know 100% of the time the place is very clean, staff and managment very hepful and friendly, drinks are served in the correct fashion (note very good quality ale) and the food is fresh, well presented, LOCAL and very tasty.
    I would recommend the Ale and Oyster to anybody on the Island from local to grocal. Add to the mix the beatiful vista over Ventnor bay and you have yourself a real winner.

    Reply

  • Mike B

    12th April 2009 #18 Author

    Had a meal at the Ale and Oyster after reading the (mostly) favourable reviews on this site. We shared a starter of chicken liver pate with salad and toast which was nice but, then again, how hard is it to make pate?

    For £12.95 she got a measly 7 prawns

    My better half then had a prawn dish as her main which came with the ubiquitous salad and the skinny fries which were probably out of a bag from the supermarket. For £12.95 she got a measly 7 prawns which would have been OK for a starter but not for a main. Very tasty, though. (The previous evening I had a similar prawn dish at The Loaves and Fishes and got 17 prawns of the same size for a similar price and the meal was excellent.)
    I had the fillet steak which (at £17.95) was a complete rip-off; it was small, cut too thin and overcooked. (I asked for medium and it was close to well-done. There were no juices at all.) At no point did any of the staff ask how the food was and we paid the bill of £51 (including a bottle of merlot) and left very disappoined. We will not be back and will warn our friends to give this place a wide berth when visiting Ventnor. It is over-priced and the food is not very good.

    Reply

  • Anthony

    17th December 2008 #19 Author

    I ate at the Ale and Oyster a short while ago for my first time and have returned many times since. The food here is of a high standard for a pub. Certainly better than most pub food on the island and most definitely the best on Ventnor sea front, and indeed Ventnor!.
    The fact that all this food is made from local produce is fantastic. It shows real dedication to the island, not like some who choose to serve cheap food to the holiday masses at ridiculous prices.

    The management and staff are efficient and show real solidarity between each other. They work very well as a team and treat all customers with a friendly but professional manner.

    Overall I think this Pub is great. The price is very reasonable when taking into consideration the quality and sources used. This pub is just what Ventnor needed! I wish them all the best for the future and I hope it’s full steam ahead for a well run down to earth quality business.

    Reply

  • Daniel

    30th October 2008 #20 Author

    What is wrong with Skinny fries! If you dont like them dont order them! Cannot fault the Ale and Oyster, Food, beer, staff and ambience are excellent and pitched at exaclty the right level.Would always recommend this establishment without question.

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  • Caroline

    14th October 2008 #21 Author

    What’s wrong with skinny fries if they are well cooked and crispy?? I love them myself. The food is superb and it is all local. what more can you want?

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  • Ventnor regular

    21st September 2008 #22 Author

    Ate there last week and the chicken liver pate was I think the best pate I have ever had and the baked scallops for main was pretty excellent too, so a very welcome new eatery in Ventnor if just a little bit pricey.

    On slightly less positive side I would echo the thought about the fries which were a bit like McD******s and I did have identical (but nice) salads with both my starter and main.

    Reply

  • The Wildlife Gardener

    20th July 2008 #23 Author

    What was on the desert menu? Caramelised prickly pears?

    M&C respond: ooh, you’re so sharp you’ll prickle yourself. Someone ought to pay you for this editing lark. Our ‘desert’ menu has been corrected. Well spotted, Hawk-eye!

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  • jackie milne

    19th July 2008 #24 Author

    Thank you for your review of our restaurant. It is very helpful to hear your opinions and we will make note and improve the negative points.

    With regard to the comments about the salad, I can assure you that our salads are all island grown, the leaves and herbs by Ben and Sam Brown (t/as Farmer Jack’s)) and the main salad heads sourced from Carisbrooke Cuisine. All our meats are island produced by various farmers and sourced via Hamiltons, as with our vegetables which are supplied by Horringford Gardens. Our fish is sourced mainly from Hancocks in Shanklin and the local crab and lobster from local licensed fishermen.

    The “proprietor” you refer to is our part-time and very good “host” barman, Don. Our team comprises myself, Jackie(the fat controller)age not admitted!, Darren 26, my step son and chef, Jaime 27, Darren’s long-time college friend and also chef plus Kelly 25 a born and bred true Ventnorian who manages the restaurant. We are the 4 partners and this is our 1st. venture as business partners having previously run The Crab & Lobster Tap.

    Hope to see you again at The Ale & Oyster.

    Reply

  • Alexander

    18th July 2008 #25 Author

    Just read your review which is hot off the press. Congratulations on 200 reviews. I always note your comments and find the site fantastically useful. Based on this review I will probably give this new venue a miss – how can any island restaurant fail to serve amazing locally grown salads? And if a new venue cant make a bright start by clearing tables, its a slippery slope. When next in Ventnor I shall not be diverted from the hidden gem down the 39 steps just past the cricket ground….which you have yet to review.

    keep up the good work.

    Reply