Remember when Britney Spears was new on the scene? Young and saucy, with a hot routine and worth her weight in column inches, she owned the news and pop charts alike with her undeniable talent. Over time, even if her singles didn’t always make it to the top of the downloads, Britney was still a household name when it came to media attention, with her car crash divorce, head-shaving shenanigans and ephemeral nuptials. Nearly fifteen years after Oops I Did It Again, Britney’s landed a two-year residency at Las Vegas. And even though her own publicity warns fans not to expect a recreation of her music videos, they’ll still be paying a premium rate to see this mum of two lip-synching her way through her back catalogue.
So what’s this preamble about Britney Jean got to do with dinner in Shanklin’s Fine Nammet? It’s probably a laboured metaphor about expectation management. When the restaurant first opened, the word of mouth was good and tables were exceptionally hard to come by. Matt and Cat very much enjoyed their first meal in this new and friendly venue, writing back in 2014 about Matt’s “bold and impressive starter” of “prodigious proportions”. They thought the food was imaginatively served and represented “astonishingly good value”. Fine Nammet went on their list of top recommendations and they have been looking for an excuse to go back ever since.
Eighteen months or so after their first visit, M&C once again settled their knees under the simple wooden table at Fine Nammet, appreciating the comfortable venue and the same friendly and efficient service. This time round the menu had fewer items identified as locally-provenanced; there was no longer any sign of Dunsbury Farm lamb or Kemphill beef. But the biggest change was the pricing. Matt and Cat are, of course, aware that prices change and that market value of food must in all likelihood go up. A couple of years ago a meal chosen from the three course set menu would have cost £19.95. Now it’s increased to a slightly alarming £30. Still, Fine Nammet has a good reputation, partly fuelled by M&C themselves. So it could be worth the fifty per cent increase.
It was nice to be given bread and a carafe of water as a matter of course on arrival. The iced ‘chateau de tap’ was flavoured with a bobbing strawberry – a new one on M&C, who have enjoyed water variously infused with cucumber, rosemary, mint and lemon. Service and detail like this can elevate a venue.
Cat’s starter of razor clams and cockles, with on-trend samphire and sea purslane arrived as a steaming stack of the long shellfish and salty samphire. Alas there was no sign of the cockles or sea purslane, but the clams that were on the plate were suitably hot and tender. The presentation and flavours were bang on – the buttery sauce had just the right amount of chilli and garlic, and the whole lot had been anointed with a squeeze of lemon, evidenced by the wrung-out lemon segment.
The pork and brandied chicken liver terrine starter had a slightly gamey edge, and Matt was delighted with its rich seasonal flavours. Served with radish, leaves, piccalilli and burnt orange nasturtium petals, it had a wry hint of ploughman’s about it which pleased Matt greatly.
The venue has a pleasing informality, and it was by no means a stuffy dining experience. Nor, as it happens, were the the diners stuffed. Cat’s main, a caramelised onion and soft cheese tartlet, was exactly that: a tartlet. Not an actual tart, but its smaller cousin. This tiny flan was served with a wren’s nest of shredded little gem lettuce and a few sauteed spuds. Regular readers will know of Cat’s (purported) small appetite but this dish, tasty as it was, left her wanting more.
Matt’s lavender-infused shoulder of tender lamb was delicious. Served with a spoonful of the smoothest pomme purée, cheeky baby carrots, sparky fresh broad beans and a lamb fritter, it was an extremely attractive dish with the elements of a meat and two veg dinner cleverly re-imagined – in miniature (check out the mint leaf for scale).
Two courses £26
Three courses £30
Cheese board £8
Raspberries must be in season as they featured on three of the desserts. There was also an intriguing-sounding sweet called cherry soup but Cat was tempted to have the cheese. This was an absolute first for sweet-toothed Cat. Still hungry after her first two courses, she thought she’d fill up with a hearty cheese board, remembering their first visit to Fine Nammet when this dish was positively burdened with vine tomatoes, a bunch of grapes, chutneys and, of course, the trio of Isle of Wight cheeses. Again, the presentation of Cat’s board was spot on; the cheeses were interspersed with splinters of celery and apple and a single grape, thoughtfully bisected for ease of eating. There was an interesting range of crackers to help the cheese down and Cat, on the hunt for fat and carbs, thought she’d made the best choice.
Matt had a very good honeycomb and chocolate ice cream in a cute little brandy-snap basket. He ham-fistedly attempted to scoop it up with the decorative biscuit spoon which was not a success, so he used the more conventional method of eating this rich, sweet ice cream.
Fine Nammet has a great atmosphere and the kitchen has got some really good dishes in its repertoire. The wholesome, English-style menu is distinctive, and just begs to be delivered in the style of a slap-up feed. Matt and Cat had a pleasant evening. However, the kicker came with the bill. Of course they had known what to expect price-wise, but along with this price comes an expectation of satiety. The onion tart had been disappointingly small and unimaginative, particularly compared to M&C’s last visit. Cat’s meal did not remotely represent good value and she left the restaurant hungry – unheard of. Matt and Cat really wanted to show off Fine Nammet to their friends but by the end of the evening it fell a bit flat. Even the waitress noticed their lack of enthusiasm and, going round the table, asked each diner in turn if they were disappointed with the size of their dinners – they all were.
Fine Nammet, like Britney, has changed over the years from audacious and innovative to just phoning it in. The echoes of past glories are clearly still there – with some great old numbers still being belted out. But Fine Nammet charges as though they were not only at the top of their game but somehow fifty per cent better. Well, they’re not. And you’ve no idea how much it breaks Matt and Cat’s hearts to be the ones to tell you.
- Friendly and efficient service
- Some rich seasonal flavours
- Distinctive English-style menu
- Small portions
- Fewer locally-sourced ingredients than on M&C's previous visit