We were pretty much on the doorstep the day the Garlic Farm Cafe opened in 2009 and had a lovely lunch. Our one gripe way back then was “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.”
Spin forward eight years (has it really been eight years since we last reviewed this destination venue?) and boy, have things changed. Garlic. Garlic, garlic garlic. If despite the ubiquitous garlic marketing you go to The Garlic Farm and don’t want garlic, you are a fool and deserve the immersion therapy that you will get. Walking towards this place the air is filled with the unmistakable scent of garlic, and at the right time of year even driving by with the windows down the whole area is perfused with a reminder of the ubiquity and pervasiveness of this now archetypical Isle of Wight ingredient.
We arrived one lunchtime (the restaurant is normally only open for lunch and breakfast) and presented ourselves at the entrance to the little cafe, having wound our way around the piles of garlic-themed supplies in the shop. The wooden building is a light and airy barn-like structure that – you guessed it – smells irresistibly of smoke and garlic. We were promptly greeted and seated, and gave our drinks order. It was one of those tricky autumn days when it had been raining and there was a damp chill in the air which any moment could have been blasted away by the late emergence of the sun. But it wasn’t and Cat found the cafe draughty. The woodburning stove remained steadfastly unlit – but Cat had a coat so she kept cosy wrapped in that.
The menu has changed since our last visit, and our churlish complaints about the lack of garlic are wholly consigned to the past. In 2009 there were 19 dishes on offer; only five of which contained garlic – about a twenty-six per cent hit-rate. Today fully seventy-five per cent of the menu items contain garlic, as do some drinks and desserts. So, much more garlic on offer. But are they just adding garlic to familiar foods as a kind of novelty, or would the garlic actually enhance the dining experience? We were anxious to find out.
From the specials, Matt chose a spicy black pudding and bacon bun. This chunk of blood-pudding was served, burger-style, in a tasty yellow brioche bun. Smothered with molten Monterey Jack cheese, this soft and moist dish looked good and tasted better. The kicker was the Vampire Slayer chilli garlic relish which was a thin layer on the top of the cheese – boy, what a pokey start! A taste explosion that Matt loved. Similarly, the sweet potato fries, skewered in Instagram-pleasing style were big and soft. Alongside, a generous pot of garlic mushrooms was supplied with lots of buttery sauce. Garlic with everything? Well, obviously yes, but this was no gimmicky food trick. The black pudding “burger” was genuinely tasty and innovative stuff that had claimed the garlic concept and taken it to a new place.
The Garlic Farm signature sandwich was Cat’s choice. The butty contained mild-mannered egg mayonnaise and slices of smoked salmon and, what’s that? Jeezuz-christ-on-a-motorbike! Powerful hits of garlic puree, including a whole crunchy clove. The smearing of intense bulb was countered with salty capers and sweet red onion pickle in the salad. Boom, boom, BOOM! One incredible flavour after another. Cat’s eyes watered then cooled again, tempered by the garlic mayo she slathered on her skinny fries. The egg and salmon added bulk and texture to the sarnie but the often dominant salty taste of smoked salmon was almost imperceptible when combined with the other bossy flavours. It was an audacious dish.
Signature sandwich £10.95
Black pudding burger £10.95
Black garlic sundae £5.95
Cat went straight into pudding. Black Garlic Sundae was her choice, hoping to relieve her mouth after the powerful garlic puree blast of her main dish. “Does it taste of garlic?” asked Matt, hoping for a spoonful. “EVERYTHING tastes of garlic!” replied Cat unnecessarily. The sundae was fairly ordinary at first, with a dry brownie biscuit and some generic cream. But inside was a treat, a nugget of black garlic ice cream that swirled enticingly at the bottom of the glass. This brown, grainy ice-cream had a distinct liquorice-like flavour that really did work well, and once again we were persuaded that the team in the kitchen at the Garlic Farm actually does know some very cunning things to do with garlic.
This hugely popular cafe has come on a long way since its promising start. To keep those tourists fed and moved on they run a tight ship on the front of house – service is remarkably quick and efficient, and whilst unfailingly polite it felt impersonal at times. But the reasonably-priced menu is where you’ll be looking, and that’s the main attraction here. The Garlic Farm Cafe has embraced the mighty clove wholeheartedly, and is turning out clever, enjoyable and innovative garlic dishes that are truly worth trying. But don’t dine here alone. Take your significant other and then at least you’ll both be garlic-breathed pariahs together!
This is the full-length version of the review that appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Loads of garlic
- Creative menu
- Reasonable prices
- Gets very busy
- Not usually open for dinner