So, Matt and Cat boast reviews of “the most modest of burger vans to the grandest hotel restaurants”. Burger vans have been covered, but what of those grand hotels?
Cat and Matt had some money for Christmas which they decided to invest at the Poshest Location Yet On This Website – The Farringford, Freshwater. Before you wonder if they are taking backhanders, their experience was at a seasonal discounted rate available to all who read the Isle of Wight County Press. So, in the interests of thorough research they became residents for the night, checking into the hotel’s finest room – Alfred Tennyson‘s bedroom, no less; with its four-poster bed and historical ambience. A nice soak in the erstwhile Poet Laureate’s bath preceded a visit to the hotel’s Downs Restaurant, which is also open to non-residents.
What an excellent experience the Downs Restaurant was. After Matt and Cat were shown to their table the staff moved in, draping linen napkins onto your reviewers laps, proferring menus and wine lists whilst speaking in hushed reverential tones. This was a notable feature of the restaurant: many waiters were on hand throughout the experience, always attentive but never intrusive. Before Matt and Cat even had a chance to fully ogle the menu, they were offered canapés; beautiful little morsels of chicken liver pate, and cherry tomatoes and cheese piped artfully onto the tiniest rounds of toast.
Once the last of these mouthwatering hors d’ouvres had melted in Matt and Cat’s mouths, another waiter hove into view with tiny plates of barramundi fish on the most intricate bed of foliage, “compliments of the chef”. Matt and Cat briefly wondered if their cover have been blown but it seemed that the chef was feeling particularly generous that evening as all guests were offered the same free dish. The fish was delicious; slightly salty with a hint of pesto-style sauce. The bread waiter shimmied to M and C’s table and served them small rolls of bread which they used to mop up the juices of the barramundi. You can take the reviewers out of the cafes, but they’ll still, metaphorically, lick their plates.
By this time Mat and Cat had ordered their food from the short but impressive selection on that evening’s unique menu. Fish, white meat, red meat and vegetarian were the options. Matt also indulged in a glass of Merlot, which was served “chambré” (at room temperature) – perfect. Cat’s glass of water was topped up regularly by an attentive waiter.
The arrival of the starters was perfectly timed, as the two earlier dishes and the bread had gone down nicely. Cat chose the most exquisite goat’s cheese with tomato and spinach salad, dressed with a Cabernet Sauvignon reduction. The sweet dressing perfectly complimented the slightly bitter taste of the cheese.
Matt was given smoked fished terrine with horseradish cream. The terrine was beautiful, like a stained-glass window with its clear jelly and pieces of fish in a delightful pattern. It tasted fantastic; Matt declared it to be “absolutely delicious”. This is the life!
Once again, the eager waiting staff cleared away the plates and, after an appropriate pause, delivered the main course. Matt had roast lamb on a bed of crushed new potatoes, served with roast celariac and a wild mushroom jus. Cat’s roast chicken and roast potatoes came with French beans and carrots with a creamy cracked black pepper sauce. Both meals were beautifully presented, piping hot and were lovely. The meat was delightfully tender and the sauces were both rich and tasty.
Matt and Cat had just enough time between courses to check out the other diners and the dining room itself. Having been pretty overwhelmed with the standard of their room in the old part of Farringford, they were expecting great things of the dining room. However the restaurant occupies a rather incongruous 1970s extension to the hotel, and did not have quite the atmosphere of the rest of the building. This may be due to the vast size of the room which, on the night Matt and Cat visited, was set out with about a dozen or so tables in one corner; the remainder of the cavernous hall was empty and in relative darkness. However, back to the food.
Despite having consumed four courses already, Matt and Cat were keen to squeeze in a dessert. Cat doesn’t like banana-flavoured food as a rule, such as Angel Delight, because of its seemingly synthetic banana substitute. However, she was confident that the Farringford’s caramelised banana with raspberry sorbet would be made of real bananas. And it certainly seemed to be. The sorbet was fantastically tart and served at a perfect temperature – it was just beginning to melt so Cat’s teeth were unlikely to be put on edge. The pudding was served with a drizzle of fruit coulis and a sprig of red currants and two blueberries. It was the perfect palate cleanser and was delicious.
Matt had ‘trio of chocolate’; white chocolate ice cream on a bed of dark chocolate mousse dressed with a milk chocolate sauce containing Tonka beans (so the friendly pudding waiter knowledgeably boasted). Matt’s relatively uneducated palette had trouble discerning the exotic Tonka beans, but he declared the pudding a real success none-the-less. A meal and an educational experience to boot.
Even after this welcome sweet, there was yet more to come! Matt and Cat retired to the lounge where the coffee waiter brought them a tray of coffee and petit fours which they ate and drank whilst playing Scrabble in front of a roaring gas fire.
Farringford is a place with history. With over half a century as a hotel they seem to know a thing or two about the business. As a hotel, it offers luxurious accommodation; and as a restaurant it similarly offers spectacular food, delivered with service that is second to none. As may be expected, such luxury is not cheap – at normal rates, Matt and Cat would have paid over £60 for their dinner. But nobody who has enjoyed the hospitality of the Farringford could possibly begrudge a penny of it – you might have to save up to eat there but if you do, you will not regret it.
By the way, the breakfast was a similar delight. Anyone want to know what that was like?