There have been whispers that Matt and Cat generally keep to the Island’s scofferies, eschewing the more upmarket establishments. In fact, County Press columnist Keith Newbery congratulated them for being “real punters talking about real grub“. Is it indecision, poverty or scruffiness that keeps your reviewers out of the nouvelle cuisineries? Probably a pinch of all three plus a soupçon of idleness.
So, to prove the naysayers wrong – hopefully without overly annoying Mr Newbery in the process – Matt and Cat put a pin in the ‘posh eateries’ section of the Yellow Pages and stabbed the name of Albert Cottage Hotel with their tiny stainless steel bayonet. Did they manage to get through the door without Matt being sent home for a tie?
On what was predicted to be the coldest night of the winter, Matt put the snow chains on the the covered wagon and he and Cat hove eastwards to Monkey Town. They had taken the precaution of booking a table at the Albert Cottage Hotel’s Consort Restaurant. Rather intriguingly, when Cat rang the venue, the lady who answered the phone said “I’ll tell the kitchen”, suggesting that M and C would be the only patrons. The empty, unlit car park and big, dark building added to their suspicions. However, once they entered the lighted doorway they waited in the empty lobby for only a moment before they were greeted warmly. The restaurant proved to be a remarkably long way away, through a maze of twisty passages, all alike, and down the famous long corridor (which was cited in Pevsner) to the bar where they ordered drinks, perused the menu, and discovered that they were indeed the sole customers that evening.
The menu is changed daily and, as at Fox’s, was brief but interesting. It was an unusual experience for Matt and Cat to chose their food before even seeing the restaurant, but it was also pleasingly decadent to lounge in the pleasant bar with staff hovering discreetly in the background solely for them. Cat, despite the choice of only four dishes for each course, still managed to fuss about; should she have the chicken or steak? Melon or paté? Matt and the waiter were very patient… Cat eventually broke the rules of dining out and chose duck for both her starter and main course. Matthew mixed things up a bit, selecting salmon for starter and chicken with blue cheese sauce for his main course.
Left in the bar to their own devices, M and C strolled about and peered out through the windows to the terrace. In the clear winter moonlight it looked like it might be a nice place to sit and sip tea on a warm summer’s afternoon. One of the two waiters on duty glided forward to interrupt their reverie – their table awaited. Called to the dining room, with their drinks carried for them on a tray – this was the life – they obediently followed their beverages. The dining room was modern, and not as plush as The Terrace Restaurant at Osborne House; but it was certainly cosy. In fact, it was almost insufferably hot. What were they trying to hatch? So much for Eco Island! Matt and Cat wondered, as they stripped off jackets and cardis, whether the heating had been cranked up for their benefit or if the room was always kept at a carrot-forcing temperature. It was certainly a polar contrast from the brass monkey freezing weather outside and, noticing his patrons’ discomfort in the incubating heat, the waiter kindly wound down the thermostat and the room became a more ambient temperature.
Chairs were proffered, napkins flicked over expectant laps and Matt and Cats’ drinks were safely delivered to the table. Food followed. Cat’s starter was a discreet little pile of crustless brown toast, two slabs of delicious and smooth duck liver pate and a dainty heap of vegetation dressed with sweet honey and mustard (£4.75). It boded well for the main course.
Matt, on the other hand, was not quite so pleased with his salmon and prawn starter (£6.95). The dish itself was, tiny, tasty and beautifully presented with the salmon and prawns resting on an artful arrangement of leaves around a solid base of lettuce. He also accepted a warmed roll to eat with it. However, to his surprise the triangles of butter on the table turned out to be bordering on stale. This was not a good thing, but not really enough to say anything about, for a cheese-lover like Matt. Cat had piously left her toast unbuttered and was not able to judge this potential lapse in stock rotation. To make matters worse, the iceberg lettuce fragments turned out to have well-browned edges. But this did not spoil the taste, and Matt was game to eat them anyway.
The plates were cleared away by the ever-attentive waiter and Matt and Cat were given a moment to collect their thoughts. Whilst alone in the bar earlier, Cat had relaxed into the comfy sofa and closed her eyes, letting the piped violin music soothe her. None of your Phil Collins dullisimo dirge here. In fact, it was almost possible for The Cat to imagine that she was being serenaded by a string quartet. The classical music continued in the restaurant; how very sophisticated. Until the jarring chatter of the Classic FM DJ broke the spell. This was another very surprising lapse – the radio was on pretty loudly, too, so the diners also had no choice but to accept the benefit of a few advertisement breaks in which they could enjoy an entreaty to buy Night Nurse, borrow money at really cheap rates, or get some car insurance. However, it wasn’t quite loud enough to drown out Radio One which was playing in the kitchen. Still, the poor staff had probably been kicking their heels for most of they day so one can hardly blame them.
Starter: salmon and prawn £6.95
Starter: duck liver pate £4.75
Main: duck breast £17.95
Main: chicken breast £16.95
Dessert: choca mocha tart £5.50
Dessert: crème brulée £5.50
2 x coffee £4.00
San Miguel £2.80
Orange juice and lemonade £2.00
The main courses arrived with a flourish and the plentiful vegetables were deftly served. Broccoli, cauliflower cheese, carrots and green beans accompanied Cat’s duck breast and Matt’s chicken. The duck was extremely tender; thin slivers of meat with a slender fatty rind lay enticingly on the plate next to some tasty and hot sautéed and herb-dressed potatoes. It all lay in a puddle of sweet orange sauce. A very fine dish indeed and all for £17.95.
Matt’s roast chicken breasts were served with a blue cheese sauce. Although this was undoubtedly fine dining, for once Matthew did not complain about the amount! The breasts were good; stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes and spinach which probably added more visually than it did to the taste. As the sauce was generously supplied and had the light piquancy of blue cheese it was a good complement to the fowl. The chicken was slightly cheaper than Cat’s duck at £16.95. Both dishes were declared to be tops.
Having kept at least six staff from their beds – or Celebrity Big Brother – Matt and Cat felt that they couldn’t leave without having pudding and coffee. The waiter duly brought over the menus for M and C to choose their dessert. All of the sweets were declared to be handmade by the chefs on the premises. Pumpkin tart and the cheeseboard did not really light up your reviewers eyes. Cat, patting her tiny, yet full belly, really wanted the choca mocha tart but knew that she would not have room to stuff it in. Therefore, she ordered it for Matt: as all women know, if you eat your partner’s dessert it doesn’t count! For herself Cat chose the lighter option of crème brulée. Both desserts were £5.50.
The puddings were the best presented of all of the courses. A squiggle of fruit coulis wormed its way across Matt’s plate next to a generous slab of tart. Cat’s crunchy caramel-topped crème brulée was accompanied by a shortbread biscuit and both puddings had one of those Chinese gooseberry things artfully perched on top. It wasn’t long before Cat’s fork found its way deep into Matt’s “rich chocolate and coffee syrup tart with crème fraiche and fruit coulis”. It was fantastic and chewy although the coffee was so subtle as to be imperceptible. The crème brulée was creamy and light and the caramel topping was the perfect consistency – it cracked well and was crisp then soft. A hint of the fridge still lurked in the middle of the soft creme – perhaps the freezing weather had cooled the kitchen too.
A pot of coffee served with mints rounded off this banquet. The waiter kindly brought both a jug of milk and a jug of cream and there was enough in the pot for more than two cups.
Finally, Matt and Cat had to pull their jumpers and jackets back on and make their way back down the long corridor. Pausing to take the only photo of the evening that wasn’t done with a degree of covert fumbling, they left the building just as the lights were being turned off behind them.
The evening was an interesting one. It was remarkable that when Cat made the booking they weren’t put off to another day, being the only customers. At no time did the visitors feel unwelcome and this was quite an achievement in such an obviously empty place. The standards in the Albert Cottage seem intended to be pretty high and for the most part, this was achieved. Attention was thorough and the food was excellent. The only niggles were the radio playing; and a few minor points with the preparation of the food. The Consort Restaurant was a very good experience, and Matt and Cat are pleased to say it was worth repeating.