It seemed like a crazy mission – to go to Cowes in the middle of August, and try to get a decent meal at a humane price. Everybody knows that you don’t go to Cowes in August, because there be yachties there, arrr! The little boutiques crank open their rusted shutters for another six week season of trading, polishing their stripped-pine floors and artfully arranging the few, impossibly overpriced items in their oh-so-tasteful windows. The streets are crowded with throngs of frolicking mainlanders wearing curious clothes, and prices for the simplest commodities escalate into the stratosphere. Or so was once believed – could such deep-seated prejudices be dislodged?
Many times friends have urged Matt and Cat to try out the Bahar in Cowes – a very well-known and long established tandoori on the High Street. Yet somehow they have left it until now to do so. How they could have resisted the twinkling lights of the charming venue is hard to imagine, especially given the number of photographs of Richard Branson in it. For be in no doubt, this restaurant is a shrine to Sir Richard, with no fewer than six massive images filling the walls and windows, depicting the famous day when he shook hands with the beaming proprietor and met his delighted family. It was at least ten years ago, judging by the clothes – generations of diners must have enjoyed their curries with the chirpy face of Sir Richard offering benedictions from the wall.
But was the ballooning knight right? Did he just pop in for a quick ruby and get caught by a keen photographer? Or was he exhibiting that curious instinct for a good thing that seems to have propelled him through his career so far? Matt and Cat were welcomed to the intimate interior of the Bahar by smiling staff. They were swiftly seated at a spacious table, and noted with approval the carpeted floors, traditional décor – and, of course, the pictures of Sir Richard. The restaurant has two rooms, and so gives the impression of being quite tiny. Out of the front window is a remarkably good view down the public slipway, allowing diners to watch the passing boats and ferries as well as hapless sailors flapping about in the channel.
The view from the restaurant
The menu is simple, with a modest range of standard items supplemented by a few unusual dishes with a Bangladeshi influence. Cat went for the former, with a chicken tikka balti, and Matt struck out with Sylet lamb.
The food arrived promptly and proved to be quite excellent – amongst the best eastern fare to be had on the Island. The Sylet lamb was remarkable, with chunks of lemon cooked in the sauce giving it an unusual and very enjoyable piquancy. The balti was equally pleasant, with the rich sauce and delicate chunks of chicken proving to be to Cat’s entire satisfaction. Unlike the canny locals who were obviously prepared, Matt and Cat had not brought a bottle of wine with them (or even, like one typical Cowes family who were observed, two pre-chilled bottles of Bollinger). For the Bahar adds to its charm by not possessing a drinks licence. With no corkage charge they encourage diners to bring their own alcohol, and elegantly serve it for you. This all keeps the bill down, of course. Matt and Cat are pleased to report that Sir Richard had it right all along. Despite their worst fears, the prices in the Bahar were well within the reasonable bracket, which, particularly for Cowes in August, means that the place is most strongly recommended.