As well as its regular holiday-makers, four times a year the Isle of Wight is inundated with a concentrated number of visitors. Thousands cross the water for both major music festivals which bookend vehicle enthusiasts’ events. The late August Bank Holiday sees an influx of scooterists buzzing around Ryde but at the beginning of that month Cowes says “Hello sailor” to international yachtsmen and women who make their way to the historic coastal town for Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week.
Matt and Cat visited Cowes a week or so before it all kicked off to get a flavour of the place pre-Cowes Week. They emerged from their car to a tattoo of samba music, which gave the precinct a carnival atmosphere. From the floating bridge to Cowes parade, people were erecting marquees, putting up banners and the price of their goods. Or were they? It’s a popular supposition that during Cowes Week food and drink prices are hiked up more often than those canvas doodads that sailors hoist up the mizzen or whatever. Matt and Cat were on a fact-finding mission to either prove or debunk this theory.
Despite Matt and Cat’s obvious love of food even they couldn’t try out all that Cowes had to offer, so their refreshments survey was undertaken in a more objective manner. Strolling east to west, from Manuel’s to Watersedge, Gurnard, they scrutinised menus, considered common themes and compared prices. You can see the results of their research in this handy guide which covers five popular foodstuffs: breakfast, burger, chips, coffee and tea.
Matt and Cat were surprised at the range of prices on offer. One thing is clear – you most definitely can get good value food and drink in Cowes at the height of summer. If the British Legion have hiked their prices, for example, they must have been paying people to eat in the winter. Equally there is some top-quality food and drink that commands high prices – this isn’t necessarily a bad thing either, as M&C always believe that really good food is worth paying for. It’s also true that there are some good offers to be had, and a simple price comparison doesn’t always bring these out. So read on to see some more details and highlights of what’s on offer this year in Cowes Week.
Before long it became obvious to Matt and Cat that there are a lot of eateries in Cowes, nestled in alleyways, tucked between bigger shops selling distracting trinkets, and double-decker venues which are out-there and on parade. Sauntering about the town, they peered at dozens of menus and bills of fare, photographing them as they went. They discovered a massive range of food for all tastes, purses and appetites. For a light bite there are plenty of cafes, many with al fresco seating. If you’d rather eat on your yacht, try a ready-made picnic from the Food Hamper – pipe aboard half a dressed Bembridge lobster salad box for £10.99 or an excellent value Bembridge crab sandwich for £2.99.
If you’ve got a long day’s sailing ahead of you or need to recover from a heavy night, then you’re spoilt for choice about where to have breakfast. Matt and Cat’s breakfast-o-meter calculates the average cost to be £6.52. Eegons ‘Regatta Platta’ (above right) comes in at a wallet-welcome £5 and includes toast and a free drink too.
New for this year is mu-mu at Shepards Wharf, a pop-up offering “artisan food at affordable prices”. As well as a restaurant (evening dinner at £15 per person, plus dessert) and al fresco dining, mu-mu brings the DIY crew breakfast (up to £7.95), complete with your own toaster at the table. If you fancy oysters and Champagne or langoustine and clotted cream quiche, check out Oyster Grill and Bar (OGB), based at the Yacht Haven (we actually went there and had what can only be called an unusual experience – see review). Although a temporary venue, this year The Deck wine bar and restaurant on Cowes Parade will be here for its third Cowes Week. Check out their website for some special offers.
The temptations of these new kids on the block shouldn’t turn your head away from the established Cowes eateries. Matt and Cat are big fans of the Red Duster, whose three course set dinner costs a purse-pleasing £17.95. Reading the boards outside the Red Duster made Matt and Cat’s tummies rumble and even devout carnivore Matt had his head turned by the interesting vegetarian offers such as sesame-battered aubergine fingers on sweet pepper confit (£12.95). M&C loved their most recent visit to Mojac’s and the comments on their review confirm that it’s a fab place to eat.
After they’d promenaded up and down Cowes High Street checking out the fine dining, cafe fodder and pub grub, Matt and Cat flopped outside Plaza Ices. Cat lapped up her Ben and Jerry’s ‘Cherry Garcia’ cone (£2.50) and Matt had a cornet laden with Beechdean butterscotch fudge ice cream (£2). Ruminating over their ices and their menu analysis, Matt and Cat concluded that, like any other island town, you can pay a king’s ransom for your dinner or you can eat within modest means. Certainly Cowes Week visitors needn’t worry that they are going to be taken advantage of – set yourself a budget, you won’t have any trouble sticking to it.
Matt and Cat’s Cowes Price Watch: Your views and observations are needed!
Matt and Cat will doubtless be back in Cowes some time to see how things are going during the festivities. But they need help from sharp-eyed readers. Are the prices going up? Any special Cowes Week deals? What are your own examples of great value – or poor value? Please leave your comments here, and give details of any menu items, and costs, that might be of interest!
NB Like all posts on this website, Matt and Cat have not been paid to write this article.