It has to be one of the most idyllic inland locations for a restaurant on the Island. Nestled in a valley just outside Newport, the ancient stones of Staplehurst Grange warm in the evening sun. A long drive down a gravel track past fields of sheep, flowery hedgerows, beehives and ancient oaks, deliver you up a grassy hill to the old farmyard and the converted barn that is Django’s.
Django’s is a jazz cafe as well as a tapas bar and, as the engaging waitress showed Matt and Ian (Cat’s stand-in for the evening) to their table, they noticed Hungarian musicians warming up nearby. Soon the violin and keyboard duo was offering up jazz lounge classics. Cat – an old hand at jazz – was really going to regret missing this one, thought the guys.
Whilst Django’s would make a decent stab at a light lunch or afternoon tea, the tapas is clearly where it’s at. The obvious choice – indeed the only sensible one – is to try all five of the seasonal dishes. The usual trick with tapas bars elsewhere seems to be to sell less food for more money. Not at Django’s – for the mind-bendingly cheap price of £25 you can get all five. That’s only a pound more than the cost of a single unadorned piece of fish at The George, Yarmouth.
The boys tucked into a generous appetiser of breads, and then the tapas began to arrive. Served in an unsophisticated, rustic style that complemented the agricultural setting, these were no half-portions. Matt and Ian put aside any fear that they would be going away hungry.
Both agreed that brassica-loving Cat would have loved the hot pile of Arreton Valley tenderstem broccoli. Crispy at the edges, but with a firm bite, it was anointed with sesame oil and seeds to give it a simple but delightfully rich smoky taste. A bowl of aloo rajma – bean and potato curry – looked deceptively straightforward. The spicy stew was full of warm, fresh flavour and texture, ticking the trendy comfort food box. Crushed Isle of Wight new potatoes were just that – and fresh out of the oven. Alongside these came promising-sounding roasted red chilli and chocolate hummus, which added texture to the spuds but not as much taste as one might have hoped.
Matt and Ian noticed the venue was beginning to fill up with jazz aficionados, sipping drinks or toying with tea and cake. There was hardly a table free. But Matt was concerned. Were these jazzy types only here for the vibe? Surely they were not going to miss out on this tapas? He needn’t have worried – they didn’t. As the evening went on the kitchen continued bringing out these delicious morsels.
Matt prodded cautiously at the Arreton valley sweetcorn yakitori. What makes corn on the cob into yakitori sweetcorn? Maybe the cute little corn-fork, or the swoosh of zingy sauce that came with it, but either way this soft, ripe sweetcorn was a local seasonal treat, and cooked to perfection. No sign of the woody, chewy stuff.
Bread with oil and balsamic £4.50
Tapas x 5 £25
The best had been saved till last. When the hoisin mushrooms with wild blackberry salsa arrived tableside the chaps couldn’t get enough of these rich, dark fungi. A powerful flavour combo worked well, with the sweet hoisin and sharp blackberry giving the wild mushroom heap plenty of depth.
Taking their coffee outside at a comfy courtyard table, Matt and Ian listened to the jazz noodling away indoors, as the summer sunset reddened the sky above. When the waitress came to offer milk to Ian, he was surprised by the choice of oatmilk or almond milk. After such a good meal he’d almost forgotten that this was, of course, like so many new venues at the moment, an entirely plant-based restaurant.
Django’s is very good. It was no surprise when we discovered that local chef-proprietor Aiden Gant worked at celebrated restaurants Terre a Terre, Brighton; and Herbies in Exeter before returning to the Island to start Django’s. The location is unique and the venue is charming, especially in summer. The jazz is enjoyable, the service attentive and friendly, and the simply-presented food is tasty and very well-crafted – a lot of thought going into the local and seasonal ingredients. Plus Django’s is also incredible value; two hungry men ate well for less than £30 on a Saturday night in August. Django’s is showing us how tapas ought to be done.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Plant-based menu
- Pretty courtyard setting
- Attentive and friendly service