Just what the heck is going on? If you’re under forty, please indulge M and C for a moment of rose-tinted nostalgia. If you’re...

Just what the heck is going on? If you’re under forty, please indulge M and C for a moment of rose-tinted nostalgia. If you’re old enough please join in. Do you remember, back in the day, when all you had to do was ride around on your chopper bike, casually brushing your feather cut from your eyes as you squinted into the searing sun which beat down on the melting tarmac during the long hot summer of ’76?

Garlic Farm Cafe

A time when a holiday meant a week on the Isle of Wight, not a month-long sponsored hike through the Peruvian mountains in aid of charidee. Well, it seems that those halcyon days may be about to return. This summer will be scorchio, the bike’s tyres are pumped up and the English holiday is tipped for a resurgence.

Matt and Cat have combined their individual memories of seaside holidays to make one nostalgic emulsified lump of sunburn, sandy sandwiches and tar on the beach. Thankfully the Island’s beaches have undergone a transformation since the polluting disaster of the Pacific Glory. However, apart from the unlikely eventuality of Gary Glitter being number one in the hit parade, the other thing which will definitely be different this time around is the holiday café. This English institution has undergone an almost unrecognisable transformation since 1976. Some, perhaps now a minority, remain unreformed: in 2006 Matt and Cat ate at Sandown’s Kate(s) Cottage and were transported back to their childhood holidays. When they visited another café, they found it about as far from squeezy plastic tomatoes as you can get…

Asparagus and poached egg

Opened a matter of weeks before Matt and Cat’s lunchtime visit, the Garlic Farm had already made a bit of a name for itself. Prominent and enticing advertising on Wightlink TV, plus the High Sheriff’s opening, secured this new venue a place near the top of the must-try list for M and C. On a dazzling Monday lunchtime, they drove over the down to the Garlic Farm and, on their arrival, saw the car park was full to bursting.

Seafood parcel

Anxious that they would not be able to get a seat, M and C bypassed the interesting-looking courtyard interpretation boards and scuttled through the well-stocked shop to the airy café. A friendly chap was ready to greet the couple and offered them a pleasant table near the open wood-burning stove, indicating the specials board and drawing the wine list to their attention. A maitre d’, specials board and wine list… in a café? This was starting to look like something other than a greasy spoon.

Sweet potato cake

As Matt and Cat studied the menu, they considered their recent visit to Chale Green Stores. Seemingly just a village shop, the café within was an unexpected gem. With the CGS lamb pie still a vivid and pleasant memory, first impressions at the Garlic Farm suggested that the rural café has entered its renaissance. Padded menus have their place, but it’s not in a giant brass paperclip engineered into a hand-crafted wooden garlic-bulb with the artisan’s name on its base, as adorns each table at the Garlic Farm.

Looking around at their fellow patrons, Matt and Cat saw elderly wine quaffers, Baby GAP-clothed children and a wholesome couple in natural fibres. Geographically Newchurch is about five miles from Sandown but its café culture is a world apart. At the Garlic Farm café fried eggs are dusted with smoked paprika, meat pie is re-imagined as seafood parcel; and the word gravy is consigned to the distantly-remembered menu of the proletariat.

the yolk was entirely runny, and gushed out of its wibbly white sack

Although the grilled goats cheese on rocket pesto tagliatelle sounded pretty scrummy, Cat chose asparagus and poached egg with Hollandaise sauce. Matt looked with interest at tomato, chick pea, chorizo and potato stew with smoky paprika fried egg; and grilled ham steak, crushed new potato champ and sweet tomato chutney. However, his ignorance of what being faced with a new potato champ might entail meant he went for the less opaque option of puff pastry filled with salmon and crayfish in a pimento and tomato sauce with ripped leaves. The order given, M and C sat back and enjoyed the heat from the fire.

The meals arrived. Cat’s lunch looked beautiful; a neat little bundle of asparagus spears surrounded by a yellow puddle of Hollandaise sauce. Rimming the sauce was an artful drizzle of balsamic reduction and atop the creative pile sat a poached egg with, for visual interest, two tiny curls of red and yellow pepper, flat leaved parsley and chives. It was a skilful arrangement and it seemed a shame to disrupt it. However, Cat was hungry so she stabbed at the egg. As it had been cooked to such accurate perfection, the yolk was entirely runny and gushed out of its wibbly white sack, cascaded over the veg and blended with the sauces. The asparagus was very nice, not at all woody. It was also not at all absorbent and, despite her best efforts fumbling with the cutlery, the egg yolk and Hollandaise sauce remained on the plate resisting all attempts to be scooped up and eaten, dripping wilfully through the fork’s prongs every time. This was a crushing blow and, having just decided that nouvelle café was the way to eat, The Cat considered that a nice hunk of bread (or the foodie equivalent, a disc of focaccia) or even a handful of chips in the old school way might have been the perfect egg-soaking accompaniment.

Unlike Cat’s dish which was lacking in carbohydrate, Matt’s meal conformed to the rules of the balanced nutritional plate. Although it was pretty small it was very tasty; flaky puff pasty almost hidden beneath a spoonful of piping-hot salmon and crayfish sauce. For once, the crayfish really did appear to be crayfish, freshly pulled from their shells. It’s not unknown for king prawns or even scampi to make an appearance, especially when the whole lot is cooked in with something else, but the Garlic Farm proudly displayed the authentic crustaceans on the top of the heap.

Matt and Cat’s bill
Asparagus & egg £5.95
Seafood pastry £8.95
Chocolate brownie £2.75
Sweet potato cake £2.75
Tea for two £2.50
Total: £22.90

Puddings were called for and there was a good selection of cakes. Cat was talked into having the chocolate brownie by the maitre d’ who sold it with the promise of a dollop of mascarpone (which alas did not arrive, and after Cat made representations this was substituted at the last minute with single cream). These afters were very nice. Matthew had sweet potato cake, an unusual variation on carrot cake, complete with standard issue walnuts and very non-standard squiggle of strawberry compote. This was all successfully washed down with a nice cup of tea, poured from a china pot into tea cups with saucers and fresh milk – no sign of plastic cartons!

For a new venue, the Garlic Farm café was certainly geared up to deliver. The staff seemed attentive without being overbearing, gently probing the punters and undertaking some very discreet conversational market research and soliciting direct feedback. Towards the end of their meal the waitresses’ interest in Matt and Cat’s dining well-being waned somewhat and, being in a hurry M and C had to chase up the bill. However, this probably reflected more on M and C’s desire to get back to the office rather than any overt slackness on behalf of the Garlic Farm staff.

This rural café has high aspirations and may not appeal to those wanting a quick and cheap lunchtime feed. It can only be a matter of time before they also serve a dinner menu as frankly, much of what they offer might sit equally well or better there. The menu unexpectedly made no mention of local produce – other than the farm’s own chutney – and hardly any of garlic; which seemed a bit of a wasted opportunity. Perhaps Cat’s asparagus was brought in? Surely not. And really, when will a kitchen get a better chance to offer some crazy garlic-themed specials? It’s just waiting to be done.

For a relaxed and interesting meal in pleasant surroundings you’d find the Garlic Farm café hard to beat. Still, Matt and Cat hope that the farm will go further, and capitalise on its unique position. It’s well placed to stand out from what is becoming an increasingly competitive rural café market.
Garlic Farm Café, Newchurch

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  • matt

    15th May 2014 #1 Author

    I went to the garlic farm the other day and had a great meal. I read through your review for the cafe and it seems a little dated – time to re-visit?

    All the best

    Matt

    Matt and Cat reply: Hi Matt, thanks for your comment. We’re glad that you had a great meal at the Garlic Farm; we only hear good things about this venue. You’re right – we should revisit!

    Reply

  • Sue&GeoffTheVeggies

    20th December 2012 #2 Author

    Another great meal at the Garlic Farm. Our “office Christmas lunch” for us two retirees – who sometimes pretend to still go out to work – just to relish in the luxury of early retirement …. after 40 years’ work. Anyway, to the Garlic Farm for our year-end performance review, over a tasty lunch.

    From the well thought-out Christmas menu, Mr A chose Bruschetta with Smoked Garlic, Parma Ham and Caramelised Red Onion Hummus (without the Parma ham), and I had a Pot of Melting Rosemary & Hazelnut Brie with Dipping Bread & Cranberry Chutney. Then main courses of Red Lentil & Aubergine Moussaka Glazed with Garlic, Nutmeg & Parmesan Yoghurt / Gnocchi with Parmesan and spinach cream sauce. Like most people our age (and probably some younger), we ate half way through each dish and swapped over.

    During lunch, primary school pupils, presumably from Newchurch School, came in and performed (and I mean “performed” !!) a selection of carols, old and new. What with the Red Squirrel and Cockerel on one side of the window, and the singing kids in the centre of the Cafe, it certainly made for an entertaining lunch. We nearly forgot to go through our Office Agenda of Annual Appraisals, and aims and objectives for next year.

    Just managed to scoff a few mince pies with coffee before heading home through the flooded lanes of Newchurch.

    An excellent meal, good value, and well thought out by perhaps one of the few chefs who doesn’t seem to hate vegetarians!

    Reply

  • MintyMat

    18th April 2012 #3 Author

    Great recommendation on the veggie breakfast. I love veggie breakfast challenges. They vary widely. I’m working on my own personal favourite. Will check out Garlic Farm in the meantime. TOP WORK Sue&Geoff!

    Reply

  • Sue&Geoff The Veggies

    18th April 2012 #4 Author

    Probably the best so far in our continuing search for the ultimate Veggie Breakfast!

    Just had a brilliant Veggie breakfast at the Garlic Farm. So well thought out, and beautifully presented. Roasted Sweet Potato, Spinach, Cherry Tomatoes, Button Mushrooms, Fried Egg on farmhouse granary bread. Someone has actually given the veggie option some thought, instead of the usual hash brown or pretend sausage Thank you Chef.

    Lovely service as well from waiting staff, plus fresh coffee/tea with top ups included in the price, so very good value at £7.95 each.

    Probably the best so far in our continuing search for the ultimate Veggie Breakfast! Any other eateries up for the challenge?

    Reply

  • James P

    29th January 2012 #5 Author

    Having recently been disappointed by Bluebells café and the Pointer inn, it is nice to be able to report positively about a dining experience, especially as it was to celebrate a couple of birthdays, one of them mine.

    The Garlic Farm is a lovely spot, even in winter, and we were delighted to find that it had started to do Sunday lunches the previous week. We reserved the big square table in the middle, where we could park a small grandchild and pram (he hasn’t quite reached the roast beef stage) without getting in everyone’s way.

    Very sensibly, the GF has a relatively limited menu – much better to do a few things well, IMHO. The family all had roast beef or pork, but I settled for the day’s special, which was a variation on Chili con Carne, with extra garlic, natch.

    Personally, I was quite pleased not to be offered drinks the moment we had sat down, but then I’m not that keen on shop assistants saying ‘can I help you’ as soon as I walk in either! It’s not difficult to ask when you’re ready, surely?

    The GF is a newish building, but somehow manages to have acquired a comfortable, almost old-world atmosphere; the log stove and peacocks and red-squirrels outside the windows probably help, but it is something sadly lacking in most modern eateries. Pubs often go overboard trying to manufacture it, but it hardly ever works.

    The food, I’m happy to say, was faultless. My 14-year old said his pork was ‘sublime’ which is not a word he uses very often about anything, and the chocolate brownie cheesecake I had for dessert was fabulous, which is not a word I overuse, either. The others had apple and apricot crumble, and being unable to decide on custard, cream or ice-cream as accompaniment, ended up with all three!

    My compliments are also due to the piano player, whose agreeable repertoire included some of my favourite pieces by Debussy and just added to the general quiet classiness of the event, and was so much nicer than Musak. Thoroughly recommended.

    Reply

  • Bushy

    3rd July 2011 #6 Author

    Having enjoyed light lunches on the terrace a couple of times, we thought we would give the ‘proper’ Friday evening restaurant menu a try.

    In fact, the menu is essentially the same as the cafe version, with the addition of a couple of specials (steak and seabass, both around £15).

    The Garlic Cafe is a delightful setting on a summer’s evening, and we were entertained by a cabaret from the red squirrels.

    Sadly, though, as a restaurant it shows its ‘cafe’ limitations, and they seem woefully understaffed to cope with serving proper sit-down meals for groups of people. The wine list is just about OK for a cafe but very limited for a restaurant -especially as our first choices of both red and white were unavailable.

    They also committed the cardinal sin of failing to offer drinks when we first sat down, and in general the staff seemed to be playing ‘catch up’ the whole time.

    The food is fine, but they need to up their game by employing a few more staff and better management if they want to make it as a proper restaurant.

    Reply

  • Fat Dave

    22nd May 2011 #7 Author

    It’s a lovely spot – sometimes serving the best lunches on the Island. Sadly they do seem a bit hit and miss with some menu items.

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  • sniggup

    13th May 2011 #8 Author

    Found ourselves at The Garlic Farm today for the first time, looked like a really lovely place. We liked the look of the menu and ordered garlic mushrooms on foccacia and the garlic mezze dish. The Focaccia was so tough and stale that we could not cut it, combined with rotten lettuce in the side salad, meant we were not impressed by the food at all. What a shame as it is a lovely venue and the service was good.

    Reply

  • JTat

    4th April 2011 #9 Author

    We make a point of having lunch here when on the island and it has never disappointed on our 3 previous visits in the last 18 months. On Saturday I had the lamb burger while S had noodles with ginger. Service and food were excellent, the only issue is I always get lost trying to find it!

    Reply

  • Loobs

    29th March 2010 #10 Author

    Went today with friends, service a touch slow(it was busy) I had crab&salmon cakes nice enough but could do with a bit more seasoning.

    Toilets could be better, I know its a farm but with the money they are charging I would expect a floor…. although they were clean

    Reply

  • Eleanor Bell

    27th December 2009 #11 Author

    We ate lunch with two small children during the Christmas school holidays and chose a mix of items to share – hummous, garlic bread, fries, olives, pate and chunks of bread. It was a perfect lunch. No one else has mentioned the red squirrels but perhaps they have only recently managed to attract them to the feeders just outside the window. We have visited the Island at all times of the year 5 times now and only glimpsed a squirrel once at the Bontanic garden but here we saw 4-5 different fellows every couple of minutes as they munched on the hazelnuts. The kids loved them! Be sure to ask for the Squirrel table if you are booking – its also just across from the open fire. Highly recommended!

    Reply

  • Paul

    29th November 2009 #12 Author

    Well all I can say is that the food was in short supply when we went there VFM…. No!!!! + the staff tried to remove the plates when my wife was still eating!!! Sorry garlic farm we wont be visiting again as a family nor recommending to anyone else.

    Worse to come my company has only gone and booked it for a xmas dinner! I hope things have improved both in terms of VFM (Value for money) and staff training!

    Reply

  • D

    9th November 2009 #13 Author

    I had afternoon lunch with the family here in the summer. The menu was surprisingly good and the food was well executed. I had a seafood gratin which was small but lovely. I’m sure the head chef is after making a name for himself as you really wouldn’t expect to get this quality of food from what is basically a caff in a tourist attraction. The prices reflect the quality and are probably set to rinse the tourists of their hard-earned dough rather than being indicative of the portion sizes so don’t expect a full belly on the cheap. Another small downside was the slightly strange service – I was not allowed to walk through an open doorway by one of the waitresses as it was the ‘wrong way’. Annoying. Overall great food, not so great prices and the odd waitressing may have been a one-off. Take heed Garlic Farm – with a few tweaks you could be brilliant!

    Reply

  • ringo

    26th October 2009 #14 Author

    Tried the Garlic Farm on Saturday and were very impressed. Food imaginative and tasty, staff pleasant, keen and not a little camp. No wonder it was packed. (Because of the tasty food, I mean, not the campness. Not that there’s anything wrong with campness… I’ll stop now.)

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  • Jan

    6th August 2009 #15 Author

    Four of us went to have lunch at the garlic farm cafe today and we booked as we could see it was popular.
    The food was nice, but the specials boards hung along a beam inside the dining area is a pain as you have to stand behind people who are eating to see the individual blackboards and they all appeared to be mains.
    We decided to go for a main course and a pudd and had varying sizes of food, though beautifully presented my filo wrapped tiger prawns (from the specials)were the sort of thing I can buy in Iceland! and seemed more the size portion for a starter, my sisters hummus was also presented in a very pretty way but was not substantial, only a large egg cup of hummus and no carbs were in evidence apart from a piece of flatbread with the hummus ( which was on the main course proper menu ) My husband had the crayfish snadwich and that was fairly substantial doorstep kind of thing with nice bread. My brother in law had the island beef which looked and tested delicious and came with a stack of round sautee type potatoes. We had to order a bowl of chips and some garlic bread (which was melted butter on crusty bread slices with thinly sliced garlic on top and a bit too garlicky for my taste) The puddings were lovely, lemon cheesecake for me garnished with a raspberry coulis and a raspberry and strawberry on top, though it wasn’t actually a cheesecake it looked like one and was light and fluffy.

    Food very good if a little mean on the portions for the money, service a bit iffy.

    The choc pots with mascapone and strawberries turned out to only have one strawberry but was great.
    The main problem they seem to have is none of the waiting staff seems to have had any customer service training or knows anything about the menu. One spilled a drink in my sisters lap while pouring it out and when they brought cutlery wrapped in a paper napkin to the table the waitress said not to worry that they were a bit damp, they wet them a bit to hold them together when they are folded and that they hadn’t spat on them. We had to bite our lips and not laugh at that but most of the waitresses are young girls who presumably are doing this as a holiday job . They all had very tight low neck teashirts on with the garlic shop logo which made the place look a bit downmarket in my view. Its nice to see waitresses dressed like waitresses.
    Tables weren’t cleared very quickly and we spent quite a while looking at our dirty plates and had to ask staff to remove empty bottles from the table.
    Overall we enjoyed our lunch and were told at the till that they never get any complaints.
    Food very good if a little mean on the portions for the money, service a bit iffy.

    Reply

  • Helen

    6th June 2009 #16 Author

    Service poor,food dismal- even the watercress garnish had seen better days and should have been thrown away rather than put on a plate!

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  • bushy

    5th May 2009 #17 Author

    Had a very pleasant late lunch here on Saturday in delightful surroundings – the peacocks were especially entertaining! They’ve obviously taken Matt and Cat’s comments to heart – there were a number of garlic specials on the menu. The vegetarian in our group was also impressed with the choice.

    My only criticism is that they’e obviously becoming victims of their own success. When we left they were turning people away because they had a waiting list for tables. We weren’t in a hurry and the slightly harassed but very pleasant staff brought us another round of drinks while we were waiting, but I imagine the delay would have irked some people.

    Looking at the place with a more critical eye, the kitchen area seems rather small for the number of tables they have, plus there are numerous doors and steps that the staff have to negotiate – not the ideal layout for serving the numbers that turn up on a sunny bank holiday Saturday! Maybe they should consider separate areas for the tea/coffee and ‘sit down meals’ trade…?

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  • Suzie

    19th April 2009 #18 Author

    We had a family visit to the Garlic Farm for lunch over the Easter hols. We all enjoyed taste-testing the garlic chutneys and preserves (we even bought some), and very excited about buying IOW asparagus to take home with us.

    We had a great lunch in the courtyard area. Local sausages with bubble & squeak, garlic bread (for fussy 4 yr old), tiger prawns in filo pastry (for more cosmoplitan 7 yr old) and goats cheese with pesto tagliatelle. The kids enjoyed checking out the chickens, looking for the peacocks and pheasants and finding feathers.

    I do recommend the Garlic Farm as a local shopping / lunch destination.

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  • Anna Pocock

    5th April 2009 #19 Author

    I recently had a very disappointing lunch at the Garlic Caff – but the way you describe the menu here makes me think I should give it a second chance.

    On the day I went with a girlfriend, they had an almost exclusively meaty menu and although I’m not a confirmed vegetarian, I just wasn’t in the mood for saddle of rabbit or lamb tagine. I opted, perhaps foolishly, for the Ploughmans – hoping I think that this ubiquitous lunch dish would be given the full garlic treatment. But other than a miniscule pot of garlic chutney on the side, the only remarkable thing about my offering was it’s ordinariness. My lunch mate had the garlicky chicken salad and again, felt she could have eaten such a creation in pretty much any cafe anywhere in the country, let alone the Island.

    I loved the setting, decor, shop, surroundings but felt I could have eaten better at home.

    Still, after your glowing words, I shall give it another try…

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  • Wendy

    5th April 2009 #20 Author

    I’d heard about the queues from other people who’ve tried the Garlic Farm Café, but not much about the food. Sounds worth trying.

    The fashion for rural cafés continues: I notice Briddlesford Farm Shop is opening its own café soon.

    Reply