Regular readers won’t have forgotten how Matt and Cat met celebrated Island journalist and raconteur Keith Newbery in 2009.
Keith has a standing challenge to the Island’s cooks and restaurateurs to produce a dish – or indeed a three-course meal – worthy to be called the Isle of Wight’s Official Dish. Last winter Ewen Brenchley, assisted by the Fighting Cocks, Arreton rose to the challenge with Wight Fish Pie. This summer Keith reformed a panel of judges for another sally, and so one morning M & C were invited to The Pointer Inn to try Newchurch Pie.
To mix things up a bit since the fish pie tasting, Keith had chosen a different bunch of nammit-noshers for the Newchurch Pie. Joining the veteran journalist were venerable Newchurch village stalwart and local politician, Colin Richards; legendary broadcaster John Hannam; and Malc Lawrence, Keith’s cricketing buddy and eating partner. Plus Matt and Cat, the Isle of Wight’s most rhymingly-named food reviewers.
After introductions were complete, it was very soon down to business. The pie’s aroma had been teasing them as it wafted seductively from the kitchen; and the noble judges were keen to see its source. The pie made its entrance, held aloft triumphantly by landlady Rachel Burrows, to gasps all round. The sight of the thing cranked up the salivary glands to the next level. Chef Robert had devised an ingenious and equitable way for all diners to have a coveted corner piece: the quarter pie.
Soon Rachel returned from the kitchen with a huge pile of potatoes and veg. The judging panel, expecting a modest sample of the pie, already found two conflicting points of view expressed – hearty eaters Keith and Matt were volubly delighted at the appearance of an entire meal before it was even eleven in the morning; whereas bird-appetited Malc and Cat were taken aback when it became apparent they were going to be fed a substantial lunch.
Cat and Malc should have known that their host is not a man who has any truck with the words ‘modest portion’. Matt and Keith were delighted to see their companions blanch, as it meant more pie for them! Cat and Malc realised that they play similar roles in their respective partnerships: modest Jack Spratt against their enthusiastic ‘wives’.
The table was thoughtfully decorated with fresh flowers and an itemised list of the meal’s contents including the (very local) provenance of the accompanying vegetables. The Pointer Inn seems to be in competition with the neighbouring church, with its perennial harvest festival. Unlike the harvest festivals of Cat’s 1970s childhood, the pub’s offerings did not include Vesta packet curry and dented tins of pasta, extruded to look like the Osmonds in a tomato sauce blood bath. No, the Pointer Inn invites villagers to swap their excess home-grown produce for beer; a very sustainable system. The tasting panel thanked the absent contributors. But the vegetables, however delightful, were not the main event.
Unlike those derisory pies that are essentially a casserole with a dandyish puff pastry hat, the Newchurch Pie was a proper pie. With robust shortcrust pastry sandwiching an abundant filling this was the pie of kings; or at least the pie of a bunch of people with nothing better to do on a Wednesday morning. It was finished in a pleasingly artisan style; finger-sized fluting crimped the pie’s edges shut. The top was glazed in reflective egg which, with a considerable chunk of poetic licence could be said to reflect the eager faces of the panel.
The Newchurch Pie proved any fears of insubstantiality groundless. It was both gorgeous and sustaining. The pie was stuffed with the leanest and tenderest of slow-roasted Dunsbury Farm lamb shank, Garlic Farm oak-smoked garlic and more of the aforementioned vegetables; all served in a puddle of gravy with a sprig of rosemary. There was no shrinkage of the contents, indeed the cooking process had concentrated the flavours.
The pie was universally decreed to be excellent. Within the splendid pastry it was tangy and soft and even fat-fearing Malc and Cat couldn’t have asked for a leaner piece of meat. Suddenly it was easy for Cat to forget her minuscule breakfast of low GI muesli and, in her measured way, she ate the pie. All of it. As did Malc too, and John. Keith and Matt were both delighted and maybe slightly disappointed. Pleased that the pie had been a great success, but let down by the uncharacteristically capacious stomachs of their friends. No leftovers here chaps. Really, nobody could sit in front of such a pie and leave anything but a clean plate.
The judges hardly had to retire, indeed, it would have been pointless. The verdict was unanimous and loudly proclaimed. This truly was a worthy contender for Keith’s coveted Isle of Wight’s Official Dish.
What’s more, you don’t have to take Matt and Cat’s word for it. Delighted by the feedback from the judges, the Pointer Inn announced their intention to put the Newchurch Pie on their menu, at a similar price to their existing pie items. So you can – and should – go and try it for yourself.
Do you fancy yourself as the author of another Island Dish candidate? It’s not too late – read Keith Newbery’s column in the Isle of Wight County Press, (online too) and send him your suggested recipes. Matt and Cat may get to try them out too!
There’s more, no really, there is. Listen to Isle of Wight Radio on Sunday 12 September 2010 to hear what happened when John Hannam met Matt and Cat.
John says “The Island’s most famous dining out reviewers, Matt and Cat, have agreed to make a very rare public appearance. Their real identity is still very much a secret. Will they wear masks, so that John doesn’t recognise them, or even disguise their voices. All will be revealed on Sunday September 10. It’s likely to be compelling listening.”