The gravy pooled on the plate; it was not piped, spotted or smeared into a comma.
There was no danger at all of bread appearing in a cloth cap, nor vegetables in a flowerpot. Even chips in a bucket seemed a little unlikely. Nothing was deconstructed – on the contrary, all the food was assembled with care and skill. If the absence of trendy menu-baiting features appeals to you, you’ll probably enjoy Ganders.
Some canny friends of Matt and Cat invited them to St Helen’s to try out the village’s long-established restaurant. It was a warm, sunny evening when M&C strolled across the wide village green. They were welcomed into the little venue and settled into a bright corner, with views across the grass to the distant downs.
The menu tempted the party with its talk of prime steak, rich Goddard’s ale sauce, and East End liquor – and that was just one dish. Also attractive was the prix fixe deal at only £21.95 for three courses. However Matt and Cat hadn’t been invited to Ganders for that – no, wine was chosen and the full menu was considered.
Cat and her friend asked to see the dessert menu before they ordered so that they could make an informed choice of starter or pudding. A difficult decision; both starters and desserts vied for attention – brie parcel or white peach tarte tatin? The chaps had none of this shilly-shallying around with a mere two courses. They went straight in for starters. Matt’s local Bembridge crab cakes were piping hot and fresh. Alongside came a jewel-like lime and chilli jelly that was startlingly and luminously limey. A promising overture. The other gentleman in the party had an unusual tandoori mackerel that was so enjoyable he generously shared a few morsels around the table. It was quite exquisite.
Matt and Cat’s companions were enthusiastic foodies – with the added bonus of being extremely knowledgeable about wine. As the sun and the level in the bottle of Pinotage went down, the group spent a considerable amount of time chatting about the good, the bad and the ugly places to eat and drink on the Island. As it happens, they pretty much agreed with each others’ assessments and, in case you might be wondering, there are no truly ‘ugly’ places, although maybe a few that could try harder with their customer service.
Two courses: £17.95 (Plaice and cheesecake)
Crab cakes £6.90
Calves liver £13.95
Summer pudding £5.50
Pinotage bottle £13.75
From the get-go and throughout the meal the service at Ganders was extremely agreeable; attentive without being overbearing, discreet yet not neglectful. Deftly delivered, Matt’s main course was calf’s liver with sweet sherry sauce. This was splendid; a big slice of liver on a bed of “bubble and squeak” – perhaps more like mash with veg. The whole dish burst (metaphorically) into life with a thick, sticky sherry sauce with caramelised onion. When the well-matched Pinotage was added to the mixture, the combo worked particularly well.
You know those fishermen’s’ tales of the one that got away? Well, that vast plaice had some how found its way to Ganders; more specifically Cat’s plate. It hadn’t died in vain; it had come to rest in a buttery basil sauce and Ganders’ chef had decorated it with a sprinkling of red peppercorns and a scorched lemon segment. Wielding her fish knife, Cat flaked the flesh away from the fish’s frame and found it to be delightful and soft. Using her share of the table’s generous pile of fresh vegetables and potato wedges she mopped up the sauce. It was a lovely dish.
Before she’d even chosen her main course Cat had already pinned down her choice for sweet. For her, Ganders was required to produce its baked Amaretto cheesecake. More like a soft tiramisu than cheesecake in texture, it still fulfilled all of coffee-pudding-loving Cat’s requirements; it had a creamy almost spongy texture which was perfect for absorbing the almond liqueur. Matt followed the atavistic instinct that so often guides him at the end of the meal. He chose summer pudding that recalled long, hot summers of his childhood, picking fruit in the sunny vicarage garden before sitting down to the soft, sweet riot of colour that was mum’s summer pudding. Ganders’ take on the classic was almost as good, with plentiful berry goodness layered on brioche slices, and ample fresh cream.
The midsummer sun – and the wine – had well and truly sunk as the party left Ganders to walk gently back across the cooling green. The lights of St Helen’s indicated that second-homers were coming in to roost on their summer migration. Matt and Cat found their evening in Ganders to be a very satisfying one. With a few nods to novelty – such as the wonderful tandoori mackerel and the lime and chilli jelly – it’s clear that Ganders isn’t afraid to gently push the envelope. Like other stalwarts such as Mojac’s and Burr’s, Ganders uses its small size and intimate atmosphere, plus some locally-sourced ingredients, to give people what they know and love, and do it very well.