Matt was once described by his university professor as having a Rolls Royce brain with Morris Minor engine. Cat, who used to be pretty punctual and organised, has adopted Matt’s languorous attitude over the years they’ve been together. This lackadaisical leaning means that they have never quite managed to book a table for dinner at the award-winning Hillside Hotel, of which they’ve heard many good things. This is because a degree of premeditation is required to eat at the hotel’s illustrious restaurant; admittedly just the minimum of a day’s notice but, for slackers M&C, even that has so far proven to require too much foresight. So they were delighted to be able to swing by Hillside’s newest venture – Ventnor’s Hillside Bistro – without giving any notice whatsoever.
Occupying the site of the erstwhile Thistle Cafe, the Hillside Bistro has taken its place among Ventnor’s town centre businesses, an audacious and confident move in these uncertain times. The winding main thoroughfare is home to an eclectic range of shops and eateries, a few high-end, some a bit shabby and one or two distinctly downmarket. The recession has left none of the Island’s high streets unscathed, yet Ventnor’s entrepreneurs continue to open new places. The town is not only scorning the current economic downturn but is thrusting a hand in front of its nose, waggling its fingers and blowing a resounding raspberry.
Hillside Bistro is probably right to be confident and seems to have done its market research, astutely offering what the people want: a breakfast menu, a light lunch selection and dinner menu. The board outside the Bistro entertainingly, if cryptically, offered soup of the day, panini of the day and other undetailed dishes ‘of the day’. Still, it was enough to get Matt and Cat over the threshold.
The restaurant has been spruced up à la mode, with stripped wood-topped tables, Arne Jacobsen chairs and some lively art on its white walls. Matt and Cat took some time to settle down in the Scandinavian chairs as they looked around at the paintings and decided which they might have hanging in their homes. The friendly waitress poured chilled water from an dribbly carafe for the diners while they perused the menu.
Having missed breakfast by several hours, M&C chose from the lunch menu. It had a varied range of food, some of which was a preview of Hillside Bistro’s dinner menu. The dishes were wildly varying in price: soup of the day was a fiver but you could also have a lunchtime blow-out of fillet of beef for twenty quid.
Terrine of chicken £5.00
Beef stroganoff £10.00
Chocolate brownie (to share) £5.00
Coffee x 2 £4.00
The Hillside Bistro’s restaurant origins were very conspicuous with its linen napkins, warmed complimentary bread rolls delivered in a canvas sack, dipping oils and a comprehensive wine list. It was an intriguing hybrid: a cafe feel, with a charming waitress and some purse-friendly items on the menu, but the attention to detail, ingredients and ambience easily elevated it from greasy spoon to silver spoon.
Cat had terrine of chicken; roast chicken, Island wild mushrooms, and black truffle terrine with celeriac remoulade. This slice of meaty loaf was wonderful. It was positively dense with tender chicken, striped with fungi, and wrapped with prosciutto. It was delicious and, unlike other terrines Cat has eaten was pleasingly free of jelly. A curl of fresh salad and the accompanying ball of celeriac-slaw made this a surprisingly filling light lunch, especially when chased down with more of the bread rolls.
Matt’s impeccably presented classic beef stroganoff had been made to order, judging by the sizzling sounds coming from the kitchen. Served with thyme-infused basmati rice, the soured cream and paprika made it a splendid lunchtime melange of flavours and textures.
Having had such a relaxing and tasty lunch, Matt and Cat decided to stay for coffee and were soon persuaded to have dessert – it would be rude not to! Although the rhubarb and bramley apple crumble with custard and rhubarb ice cream looked especially tempting; chocolate brownie won. Warmed and served with white chocolate ice cream, passion fruit syrup and chocolate sauce this little cake was as good as the rest of the meal.
Sitting back in the design-classic chairs, Matt and Cat wiped their choc-smeared lips with the linen napkins and considered their lunch. The Hillside Bistro’s daytime fare served as a fabulous shop window for its evening menu and also the hotel’s restaurant. Ventnor’s food offerings have clearly been given a significant boost by this innovation, which is both an impressive start, and – with the Hillside firmly behind it – shows great promise for the future. Based on this bistro, Matt and Cat are definitely gonna pull their fingers out of the hole of procrastination and book a table up the hill – one of these days.