It’s a little known fact that the Isle of Wight Council’s hospitality suite is open to the public when not being used for civic occasions. High in County Hall a modern, air-conditioned suite of rooms – once offices for council bigwigs – now house an urbane and civilised eaterie which can be booked for weekend and evening functions by simply enquiring at the front desk. It makes sense – after all, why should such pleasant facilities lie idle? It’s good to see our council taxes being subsidised by such commercial acumen.
Matt and Cat were invited to a small gathering in the Arthur Wakeley Restaurant one evening. The normally-bustling building was quiet except for the whine of a distant vacuum-cleaner as M & C were accompanied by the friendly receptionist to the tiny lift, which disgorged them shortly on the fifth floor, where they were met by a waiter and shown to their table. The intimate restaurant has only a few tables, but opens out onto a lovely balcony area which apparently holds more tables in the summer – a splendid prospect. Whilst looking at the simple menu Matt and Cat enjoyed the evening sun shining over the historic rooftops of Newport from the downs beyond, and even a glimpse of distant Carisbrooke Castle.
The menu was very reasonably-priced for such an exclusive eaterie. Eschewing starters, Matt selected the Isle of Wight lamb shank with Newchurch garlic, rosemary and flageolet beans, whilst Cat went for chargrilled Godshill chicken served with a timbale of rice and an Arreton tomato and basil salad. The observant reader will have noticed a characteristic of this menu is the enormous range of local produce, helpfully detailed in the descriptions.
Both meals arrived promptly – presumably brought up from the county kitchens below in the same tiny lift – and looked splendid. Matt’s lamb shank was not vast, but tasted excellent, and exuded a sweet garlic aroma as a part of a real rich mix of flavours to really bring out the taste of the meat. Cat’s chargrilled chicken was sliced freshly from what must have been a prodigiously large bird, as the copious stack of meat almost overwhelmed the small but piquant basil and tomato salad, which came with no raw onion as requested. The rice was, unusually, served cold.
Whilst allowing these enjoyable dishes to settle, Matt and Cat had the pleasure of hearing what the waiter assured them was traditional Isle of Wight folk music piped from the speakers nearby. This later became Isle of Wight brass band music, then Gilbert and Sullivan, and after a while the party began to think fondly of Phil Collins, or even Tina Turner.
The dessert menu, brought on a board made from Island slate, featured a range of produce from Calbourne Classics. Well sated by their meaty main courses, your reviewers elected to share a dish of honeycombe icecream, which proved to be a generous portion, served in a very tall glass which, like all the glassware, was made by, yes, you’ve guessed it, Isle of Wight glassmakers Glory Art.
The Arthur Wakeley Restaurant produced an unusual and enjoyable meal, served in remarkable surroundings, and certainly with one of the best inland views to be had from any restaurant on the Island. Matt and Cat are pleased to recommend it.