So it looks as though the cronut has passed the Isle of Wight by.
The biggest culinary fad of 2013 disappeared before we even had time to pretend to be interested. How about the slider burger? Briefly in fashion some time around last Christmas, it’s probably no disaster that the Island never took to these midget burgers. And really, it’s no surprise. Small burgers? What’s the point of that? That isn’t really how burgers work. Successful burgers tend to be large, impressive-looking, and modified with various additions to give taste, texture, and above all, loads of unctuous fat. Does anyone sell a diet burger? No. Nor are they likely to. Nobody goes to buy a burger and kids themself they are on a diet. And that’s why we love burgers: they are unapologetically big, brash and meaty.
An unexpected big hit in Newport last year was the Smokehouse Burger Co. Serving up the kind of simple hipster burger and brioche combo that has filled every cafe in Brighton and Shoreditch, it successfully deployed that particular trend to the Island. So it’s probably no surprise that the clever folk behind the Coast Bar have taken a variation on the same formula to Cowes with similar results. Matt and Cat have no fear of the burger, and one busy weekend they went to sample what is touted as “Beer, Burgers, Bourbon” at The Harbour Kitchen.
The Harbour Kitchen was buzzing with people, and so Matt and Cat were welcomed and directed upstairs to wait for a table to become free, past the on-trend open kitchen to the ‘bourbon bar’. This was a cosy room where those awaiting a table could cool their heels, whilst admiring a range of entertainingly-named bottles of whisky, whiskey, and bourbon. Nobody was drinking the title drink, but it made for a diverting wait, and Matt and Cat enjoyed chatting to some friends they happened upon up there. Soon enough a table became free – the best one in the house no less, street-side perfect for people-watching.
The menu was simple, and as expected both in content and presentation. Comically-monickered burgers, side orders, some veggie options and, of course, pulled pork. On a clipboard. Matt and Cat made their choices, and it only remained to see whether Harbour Kitchen could deliver. It turned out that it could, and on achingly-fashionable enamel plates at that. Cat took one of the two veggie options, a slow-roasted portobello mushroom with goat’s cheese, rocket and caramelised red onion chutney, in a brioche bun. This classic combination has become almost as ubiquitous as those vegetarian standbys cheese omelette and mushroom risotto but, for now, it is still a pretty yummy option. If you like goats cheese. Fortunately, ex-vegetarian Cat loves a bit of the old champignon and chevre. Harbour Kitchen’s interpretation was lovely; a shiny brioche bun barely concealed the giant mushroom. Sweet red onion chutney tempered the sourness of the cheese and some peppery rocket and rosemary added some bonus flavour. Cat finished her burger with a swig of San Pellegrino lemonade and declared herself to be too stuffed to even consider the pudding menu.
Pitched exactly at Matt, the “Big Stuff” burger came with an Island beef patty, onion ring, streaky bacon, monterey jack cheese, jalapenos, pickles, salad and sauces. It came in the usual ridiculously high stack fastened through its heart with a wooden skewer. Matt wasted no time in dismantling it. His first taste of the jalapeno convinced him to leave this powerful ingredient to one side, but the rest went down pretty well. The burger was satisfactory, and the extra order of skin-on fries were outstanding as were Cat’s seasoned sweet potato fries – this year’s voguiest vegetable.
Mr Big Stuff burger £9.95
Mushroom burger £7.50
Skin-on fries £3
Sweet potato fries £3.50
Matt and Cat’s meal at Harbour Kitchen was an enjoyable experience, and as one might expect from the Coast stable, it was a well-implemented place. The atmosphere was great, the venue very well-appointed, and the prices not outrageous. The question many have asked is how does it compare to the Smokehouse Burger Co? They both have their merits – especially good service for one. Smokehouse probably still has the advantage on the meat itself, and it certainly has an edge of genuine hipsterism in its rough-hewn edges that the slick operation at Harbour Kitchen eschews. HK takes the laurels for decor, though – gleaming white chamfered metro tiles, and the lo-fi filament lightbulbs can’t be beaten. Really, who would argue with a corded flex pinned to the ceiling? It’s poetry in interior lighting anachronism. But the veggie offerings, the secret bourbon bar, and especially the side dishes were the real stars of the show at Harbour Kitchen.
HK is a great addition to Cowes High Street that is bound to be more than a passing fad. If you like burgers, and especially if you like bourbon, you should give it a try.
This is the full-length version of the shorter review that was first published in the County Press.
- Great side dishes
- Stylish venue
- Good service
- Smokehouse Burger Co burgers have the edge on this place.