Cantina has, in the past, been one of our favourite venues ever. When it arrived in Ventnor, around the time Robert Thompson was winning the Isle of Wight’s only Michelin star of the millennium, it brought an unexpected taste of trendy London cafe life to the sleepy seaside town, which we loved.
Popular with locals and tourists alike, the little venue ploughed its lonely furrow of avocado for breakfast, strange cured meats, cocktails, plant-based food and an abundance of top quality sourdough baked goods.
These days, such things are not unusual. So much so, in fact, that people might forget just what a trailblazer Cantina was in its day. Is it actually possible to eat a high street pizza that is not sourdough these days? We suspect not. But in 2012, such things were revolutionary in Ventnor – nay, the Island.
Cantina’s creator was Ventnor’s most famous German, Klaus Kuhnke. When Klaus announced that he would not be reopening the restaurant after lockdown, we were disappointed but hardly surprised. It’s been a difficult time for even the biggest and most well-known hospitality venues. But just as we were composing some suitable words to pay tribute to the Cantina years, remarkable news reached us that the cafe would return. The new venture, in the same venue, is under the proprietorship of two familiar faces on the Ventnor hospitality scene: long-time Cantina front-of-house Dita Kristopaviciute, joined by chef Adam Edmunds, a veteran of the Spyglass Inn. Naturally, we were in there very quickly to see what the new Cantina would be like.
The cosy venue is as welcoming as ever, and we walked in to feel a delightful sense of deja vu. It was almost possible to forget the strictures of the last 18 months as we were seated on the comfy banquette seats. There’s a breakfast and lunch menu, but we were there for dinner.
To start, Matt had Welsh rarebit. Could the new Cantina justify what is effectively cheese on toast? The answer is a resounding yes. In classic Cantina style, the food had more to it than the menu revealed. A slab of sourdough toast bore a lavish slathering of hot, bubbling cheese sauce, with the distinctive tang of a good rarebit. On top the cheese was loaded with plenty of prosciutto and fresh rocket, and dusted with grated parmesan. Matt ate it with delight.
Loaded hummus £6
Welsh rarebit £8.50
Turkey Milanese £16
Fish of the day £18
Chocolate and coffee delice £7
Loaded hummus was a substantial bowlful, adorned with plenty of roasted nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, queen olives and pomegranate seeds. Alongside – and this would never have been seen in the old Cantina – was a welcome selection of carrot and celery sticks to scoop the tasty hummus out with. We were starting to see a pattern here. New Cantina has an on-trend focus on comfort eating, bringing that Cantina magic to familiar dishes as well as tempting us to venture into new territory.
A popular main course – one we saw coming out to several other tables the night we were there – was turkey Milanese. This confidently simple dish is a big flattened cutlet of turkey in breadcrumbs. A fried egg was the surprising topper, with a garnish of rocket and parmesan. The soft, moist turkey actually worked very well in what was an unexpectedly subtle combination of tastes and textures.
We were getting the hang of this, and ordered the fish of the day without even asking what it was. Chef Adam repaid our vote of confidence handsomely with a splendid sea bass fillet. This is a well-known dish that could be found on a dozen pub menus across the Island, but again it gets the Cantina treatment, coming with crisply fresh steamed green beans and a generous portion of sautéed potato that was described as Romanesco. The fish itself was done to a turn. With those perfect just-browned edges, the soft flesh fell off the sizable fillet.
For dessert, a chocolate and coffee delice with hazelnut cream. A straightforward pudding that rounded off the meal.
We can reassure Cantina fans that if like us you enjoyed the old Cantina, you’re also going to appreciate the new one. However, the unexpected suffix to this is that even if you were less keen on Cantina, you really ought to try the new one too. The new proprietors have distilled the essence of Cantina, kept much of the good stuff, and added something of their own. This bodes well. Cantina is far from a mere pastiche of something gone, but a new and confident venue that has hit the ground running. We liked it a lot, and we think it’s going to get even better.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Interesting and innovative menu
- Trendy vibe
- Great legacy to build on