Somehow, Shanklin has escaped the worst ravages the grim reaper has visited upon the hotels of Sandown. One can still stroll down leafy Queen’s Road and take one’s pick from little family-run guesthouses, boutique hotels, and bed-and-breakfasts. Sure, the inevitable blocks of flats have cropped up; but Shanklin of all the Island’s towns seems to retain a vigorous accommodation sector which would be the envy of any English seaside resort.
But what of the food? Are these coastal boarding-houses still the preserve of the stainless-steel hot tray and over-steamed vegetable? Could the reputation of English cooking be resurrected in the very place it was laid to rest? We set out to the Brunswick Hotel in Shanklin to find out.
Arriving in the plush, freshly-painted lobby of the hotel we were greeted by a smart receptionist who passed us to his restaurant colleague. We were politely escorted through the spacious dining room to a window table which, had it been lighter, would have afforded a panoramic view of the English Channel.
A plate of warmed breads appeared – two types, with embossed pats of butter. Our attentive young waiter dexterously wafted the elegantly-folded linen napkins onto our laps in a style we hadn’t seen in years. Distant memories began to stir. Do you remember when we always used to eat out? How great it was when the staff put their heart and soul into it?
To our amazement, an amuse bouche course was next on our table. And it was outstanding. Mushroom puree, a scattering of the tiniest, cutest flamed mushrooms ever, topped with mushroom crisp and a cheeky leaf of cress. Now we were starting to sit up and pay attention. This was going very well.
Matt began on maple and turmeric cured salmon with edamame beans, pickled beetroot and pickled lemon. It was an absolute corker of a starter. An audacious medley of colours, textures and flavours. Don’t you find yourself wanting to know what maple and turmeric cured salmon is like? You should. Spoiler: it’s awesome. The other starter was a vegan dish – baked cauliflower with charred mushroom, white onion puree, a parsley emulsion and a crisp the menu called beetroot but we reckoned was more likely parsnip. This was a beautiful, delicate dish; the tender flavours of the mushroom and cauliflower perfectly balanced by the mild onion puree.
Price is Wight two courses deal 2 @ £20
Sirloin steak surcharge £10
Lime meringue tart £7
Star anise panna cotta £8
Cod supreme was a dramatic main. A sizable slab of soft, flaky fish, the rough skin seared and salted, was served with sweet potato puree, a brace of Asian dumplings, and a big, aromatic chunk of braised fennel. The dumplings were steamed to blandness, but the superb fish and fennel combo was the star of the show. Matt boldly ventured a £10 supplementary charge to see how the chef would make out with a sirloin steak. This kitchen seemed to be big on applying the open flame to stuff in just the right way, and Matt’s canny guess paid off. He got a splendid steak. It had a classic salty, seared crust and just the right amount of juice oozing from within when sliced. Alongside were yet more mushrooms, two different types of confit Isle of Wight tomatoes, and a hot bucket of moreish chips.
Desserts couldn’t be missed. We were on a roll here. Lime meringue tart, with a dark chocolate cigar, was decorated with a copious scattering of lime and chocolate soil. This rich, cleverly constructed dessert was generous enough that even between us we couldn’t finish it. Not so the star anise panna cotta with mulled winter fruits, candied orange zest, and fruit shortcake biscuit. That, we fought over. A perfect fresh, soft scoop of panna cotta was laced with subtle, sweet aniseed flavour which echoed back to the earlier braised fennel.
Coffee followed. Thankfully there were no petit fours. We might have expired from delight – or overindulgence. We’d come expecting a passable hotel supper in a comfy spot, but the immaculately-presented Brunswick absolutely smashed our expectations. This was the classiest sit-down service we’d enjoyed in years, with the food to match it. There wasn’t a dud on the menu. Every item was delivered on a black tray, held proudly aloft. Every course was described as it was placed elegantly onto the linen-clad table. Everything was served, and removed, over the correct shoulder. At any moment, Schrödinger’s waiter was simultaneously near enough to attend to our every whim before we even asked, yet far enough away not to intrude on any intimate conversation we might share. Great service is one thing you can’t have delivered in a heated bag, and by god we have missed it.
Oh, and one more thing. Believe it or not, we were here on the bargain Price is Wight deal. So this was the special, reduced price menu, with two courses for £20 per head. We paid for a few extras but even with a whole additional course this amazing meal was ridiculously good value at just over £30 per person.
- Immaculate venue
- Great service
- High-quality food
- A mediocre dumpling