It’s inevitable, as this blog is written by the son of a preacher man and the granddaughter of a verger, that there may be the occasional ecumenical reference.
Who can forget Matt and Cat’s inference that Ventnor’s Hambrough had the atmosphere of a place of worship? Or their review of the more humble Foundation Bakery which suggested that the café’s interior (probably not without coincidence) reflected that of a parish church?
Yarmouth’s Forresters is in a secular building that nonetheless has an unavoidable feel of churchiness about it. The restaurant is close to the town centre in a striking former meeting hall originally built for the Ancient Order of Foresters back in 1874. Matt and Cat couldn’t help but drag out their book of ecclesiastical clichés again, seeing its vaulted ceiling, mullioned and leaded windows and organ-like piano (ok, perhaps the comparison is being stretched a tiny bit here – it was just an ordinary upright). Above the front windows the hall had a mysterious stag’s head carved from stone. Matt and Cat were intrigued by the location, and also by the prospect of dinner.
Having been lured in by the menu and the sound of cheery voices tinkling down the stairs, Matt and Cat were happy to ascend. However, not everyone is as pioneering; venues which do not have a street frontage must surely be at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting casual diners. M&C remember the first time that they went to Sandown’s La Scala and also Khrua Thai Orchid – both literally steps into the unknown. One of these turned out to be, and still is, excellent. The other has closed. So one point that should be made about Forresters is that the restaurant is accessed by ascending a substantial staircase. No problem for able-bodied folks like Matt and Cat but possibly more challenging for the tentative, or people less active and those with wheels.
Matt and Cat found themselves in a large and well-lit chamber, greeted by a charming waitress who guided them to a cosy table in a corner. There was a big group in the middle of the restaurant enjoying a family get-together of some sort. Oldies were smiling benevolently on a toddler and people of various ages in between were poring over the menu. It was this party’s voices that M&C had heard from the street and they certainly helped give the venue a jolly atmosphere.
Matt and Cat were given complimentary olives and grissini, which they nibbled on while perusing the menu. Cat first had grissini in Milan (which was also the first time she knowingly ate horse, fact fans). Forresters menu had a good range of dishes – pretty much all of them were to Cat’s taste. It was the brace of duck legs and black cherry reduction which had floated her boat when they were examining the menu outside, however once she got in and gave the document her full attention the legs were trumped by the alliterative blue cheese and aubergine tarte tatin with tomato and thyme sauce. Just as Cat chose a vegetarian main, Matt – true to form – had the meatiest option: marinated sirloin steak, forestière sauce and parsnip crisps. They also chose to share a starter.
By the time Matt and Cat had given their order, the people at other table were receiving their dinners. M&C enviously eyed up the meals in eager anticipation of their own. Matt had a good view of the kitchen and soon Cat noticed that he was shuffling his cutlery – a sure sign that he’d spotted that something was on its way to them. And indeed it was. Their starter of steaming peeled tiger prawns in garlic butter with a portion of bread was delicious, with a delightful hint of the sea. Prawns can sometimes be watery and bland but these were firm and juicy; Matt saluted the chef for cooking them on the correct side of rubberiness. The bread was used to good effect to mop up the salty, garlicky butter and M&C scoffed down accompanying the rocket and cress salad.
While waiting for their main courses, Matt and Cat had a look around the venue. The high vaulted ceiling gave the place a lovely airy feel, yet the mezzanine above the kitchen and bar looked suitably cosy, for those wanting a more intimate meal. Some new customers suggested to the waitress that they’d like to dine seated on the mezzanine but she deftly suggested an alternative table in the (waitress-friendly) main dining room.
Spotting Matt fiddling with his steak knife, Cat knew that their mains were underway. Her veggie option was great: the tasty aubergine flan had zingy tomatoes and a cheesy centre. The thyme in the tomato sauce had to shout to make itself heard – it was merely whispering – but the puff pastry base was an ideal substrate for the juicy veg and cheese topping. The selection of lightly-herbed vegetables that came with the dish was excellent and Cat was pleased to see a twirl of rocket nested on the flan.
Matt’s steak had an unexpected but not unwelcome flavour of tarragon. It was a bold choice for the beef and Matt thought it was a good one. The hunk of meat sat in a puddle of tasty mushroom sauce and wore a quiff of parsnip crisps. Matt too had the same selection of vegetables which satisfyingly were part of the meal and not an added expense.
Tiger prawns £6.95
Tarte tatin £10.95
Sirloin steak £15.75
Bread pudding £4.95
Crème brulée £4.95
Having enjoyed their first two courses, Matt and Cat decided that it would be positively rude not to have dessert, especially as the puddings were such good value at £4.95 each. Cat was intrigued by the pecan and maple brulée. This classic dish – introduced by chef Oliver Stephens at a recent dinner at the Priory Bay Hotel as ‘English burnt cream’ – is usually a smooth treat under its sweet brittle crust. At Forresters, the creamy centre was punctuated with soft pecans which were well-matched with the maple syrup. A surprising yet well-executed alternative to the pure form.
Matt’s dessert was bread and butter pudding, which unusually came as slices from what appeared to be a Swiss-roll style construction, topped with ice cream. This presentation gave a touch of the exotic to this old favourite, which nonetheless had a reassuringly traditional taste and texture.
So a robust and satisfying performance from Forresters. Sensible and familiar food at attractive prices, served with an imaginative look in a very comfortable setting. If you can manage the stairs, you’ll find yourself stepping up to a very pleasant meal.