Soup of the day at Fox’s was potato and leek. We knew without even asking that it would be potato and leek. Potato and leek soup tells you a lot. It tells you to expect warm, simple fuel. It tells you that you might go away feeling quietly satisfied and comfortable, and that the kind of people who regularly dine here like to do that too.
We last reviewed Fox’s, Bembridge ten years ago. Evening dining in Bembridge can be an odd experience, as the local market seems to be strongly skewed towards the older generation – perhaps no surprise as, for resident oldsters, Bembridge is to the Isle of Wight what Florida is to the USA. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but does provide a few unusual features. The first time we visited one Bembridge hostelry we clambered past a flotilla of parked mobility scooters to observe behind the bar a calendar provided by the local funeral director. In Fox’s, we found ourselves seated alongside garrulous old couples catching up on each other’s gossip.
Fox’s interior, like its menu, is pleasingly predictable and regular, and most of it is beige. To start, Cat ate toasted granary bread laden with button mushrooms and spinach, delightfully lubricated with a pleasing white wine cream and enveloped by melted Emmental. She enjoyed this substantial dish, especially the nutty cheese and creamy sauce. Matt went hyper-local with Bembridge crab, smoked salmon and king prawn salad. This was, in effect, a grand prawn cocktail and, in case there was any doubt, it came with a huge spoonful of Marie Rose sauce. This was for Matt the dish of the night; he loved the fresh, juicy crab, perfectly picked and matched with the rich salmon and gentle prawns.
Our neighbours were reminiscing about the past – comparing it favourably to ‘these days’, of course. “You made your own entertainment” claimed one lady censoriously. “Not like folk on their phones all the time”. We blushed. Perhaps people photographing their food is still frowned upon in Bembridge. Her older companion started an unlikely tale expounding on the extraordinary camaraderie that was around during the war. We were hoping that ‘cameraderie’ might be a euphemism for casual sex but alas we were unable to hear the conclusion of the story as our main course arrived to divert us.
Matt’s calves liver and bacon, like all the main courses came with options for vegetables and potatoes. He unthinkingly chose chips but was soon put right by the wise waitress, who steered him gently towards the creamy mash. This good bit of service paid off when the impressive stack of liver, bacon and onions arrived. With chips this would have been a pale shadow of itself. As it was, the substantial, well-cooked slice of liver was doused in an excellent red wine and onion gravy, and topped with a big stack of onion. The juices soaked delightfully into the traditional creamy mash base. A bowl of classic veg alongside completed what was a great piece of comfort food.
Mushroom starter £5.95
Crab starter £7.50
Sea bass on crab risotto £15.50
Liver and bacon £14.95
Creme brulee £5.25
Apple tart £5.50
Cat’s sea bass fillet on Bembridge crab risotto, like Matt’s starter, had a generous crab allowance – Bembridge crab really is very good, and there’s nowhere better to eat it than in its town of origin. The big piece of white fish on top was also up to scratch. This was a menu that floated Cat’s boat; both her chosen courses were cooked in cream, nowadays an underrated ingredient, with the need to offer dairy-free options for the lactose-refuseniks. At Fox ‘s Cat got the cream and, spying it on the pudding menu, went for the triple.
The dessert menu could have been devised by the great Fanny Cradock in 1970 and was none the worse for it. If there had been Black Forest gateaux on the menu, we wouldn’t have been surprised and Cat would’ve definitely ordered it. As it was her pretty apple tart was lovely, with Briddlesford cream adding an enjoyable local touch. Vanilla creme brulee was Matt’s choice, and the home-made vanilla concoction met with his approval.
We were the last to leave Fox’s. Having bickered in the tradition of Mrs Doyle about which of them would pay their bill, our aged dining companions were long departed home to cocoa and slippers. We shut the door on the welcoming little venue and slipped back into the twenty first century. Fox’s is not in any way retro or vintage, but it nonetheless managed to evoke those gentle dinners we used to enjoy before the ubiquitous clipboard menu, slates as plates, and being called ‘guys’. The restaurant delivered on our initial expectations of a classic meal, with good, local ingredients and friendly service. We didn’t try the potato and leek soup in the end, but not to worry, we can have it next time – it’s bound to be there.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.