The heroes swaggered through the huge glass doors and entered the gleaming, modernist palace. Spectacular lamps – several feet long – hung over the polished bar.
Smartly dressed flunkies shimmered into view and escorted the reviewers to a table with views over the shallow lake, reflecting the twinkle from a multitude of lights. The chairs were comfortable, the carpet florid, a psychadelic shagpile swirling underfoot. The incomers listened to understated Latin sounds; Stan Getz, Astrid Gilberta. Taking their drinks they watched the hessian-covered wall at the rear of the bar slowly revolve to reveal a map of the world etched onto a vast sheet of acrylic with Pacific locations of secret missile launchpads flashing insistently… OK, so that last bit was made up, however, entering the Lakeside Park Hotel is like stepping onto a James Bond film set.
Cat felt quite at home in the 1970s Scandinavian-styled restaurant. Her glitter platforms, snake belt and Suzi Quattro feather cut, for once, did not look incongruous. Matt, dressed as usual in his Roger Moore safari suit, enjoyed an Ian Fleming moment as he imagined the roof rolling back to reveal stolen warheads coursing into the Wootton sky. Would the party finish the evening saying Nobody Does it Better, or would it be Dr No?
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Having taken their coats, the waiter proferred menus to Matt and Cat plus junior reviewer Bill. Bill was a guest at M & C’s table that evening to thank him for his idea of the Matt and Cat’s Isle of Wight Eating Out Guide poll. Top of the poll was Lakeside, with an impressive 40% of the vote. Thanks to all of those who voted. What puppet-masters you are – your reviewers will obediently go where you send them. There will be another poll in due course.
Meanwhile, back at Lakeside there was a good selection of meat on both the regular and set menus, but little for strict vegetarians, although for those ‘vegetarians’ that eat fish, there is plenty. Matt and Cat did not spend too long studying the main menu; the price of the set menu had caught their metaphorical and parsimonious eyes (these guys ain’t no Goldfinger…). A bargaintastic £11.50 for two courses and a further two quid for three. Although there were only three choices for each course, there was plenty to whet the appetite and orders were soon placed.
Whilst waiting for the starters to be delivered, a big log of heated and polished wood arrived, the medium for three small pieces of home-made focaccia bread and a little pot of chopped olives lubricated with a splash of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The unexpected substrate theme continued throughout the meal as dishes were served on pieces of slate and what looked like vast glass ashtrays. The bread hardly touched the sides but, like any appetiser, took the edge off the hunger.
The starters soon appeared. A rabbit and shallot terrine – choice of both Matt and Cat – was beautifully presented; chunks of pale and tender leporidae sat in a ring of tiny leaves with some bits of walnut plus peppercorns for texture. Knowing that Hamilton’s, Wootton’s nearby butcher sold rabbit, Cat asked the waiter if the meat was local. He had to make an enquiry in the kitchen but when he returned it was with an impressively encyclopaedic answer: the bunny had grown fat in the meadows of France as Isle of Wight rabbits were, apparently, too blighted with mixymatosis to be served up at this establishment. It is not known whether William’s moules were locally harvested; the molluscs gaped from their tiny le Creuset-style crockpot, drenched in a delicately creamy but delightfully garlicky sauce. A shaft of focaccia bread became an excellent tool for soaking up the juices – a kind of Moule-raker, if you will.
Deftly manipulating the biggest tray in the world, the waiter carried all three main courses to the table. Cat and Bill both had the olive oil slow-poached salmon with cabbage and bacon. Matt, ignoring the lamb and beetroot stew, had chosen marinated local pigeon, horseradish mash with red wine shallots. The waiter had not seemed to struggle under the weight of his cargo, and it became apparent why – the dishes were roomy and the veg meagre; two little lengths of leek lay under a cheese sauce and a brace of beetroot parcels shyly peeped from under the lid of its little cast-iron pot home. Cat challenged the Isle of Wight’s education system by asking Bill how to divide three into two when he remarked that, as he didn’t like beetroot, the problem was resolved. So once the little leeks were frugally divvied out, the eating commenced.
The boneless salmon was very juicy, plumped up with the olive oil. Its bed of cabbage added welcome colour and the pear compote was a sweet but well-chosen complement to the delicate fish. Matt’s pigeon was really rich and tasty, and not dry. Two jaunty carrots lay across the breasts which were very well set-off by red wine sauce and a handful of truly stunning caramelised shallots. It’s not often a supporting actor takes centre stage, but these shallots were almost worthy of a dish to themselves: soft yet perfectly shaped, they were sticky with sweet juice and yet still had enough onion strength left in them to give the gamey meat a run for its money.
At this point, the James Bond mood set by quiet and mellow jazz was interrupted by the cacophonous wailings of Welsh songstress Duffy, disrupting the living daylights out of your reviewers. Less Shirley Bassey, more Garbage…
The final delivery arrived – pudding! All the desserts were presented in the most artful fashion, and for a moment the diners enjoyed looking at the handicraft before them. As Bill is only a lad, his arteries could readily tolerate the treacle tart with its generous dollop of melting clotted cream which he ate with expressions of delight. Matt and Cat both finished their meals the way they had started – with terrine. This time it was white chocolate terrine with kumquat and cranberry compote and lemon syrup. A tasty and surprisingly filling offering of fluffy sweet pâté.
Starter: 2 x rabbit and shallot terrine
Main: slow-poached salmon
Main: marinated local pigeon
Dessert: 2 x white chocolate terrine
Total 2 x three courses £27.00
2 x coffee £4.50
Tiger beer £3.40
Whilst supping coffee, the three reviewers considered their experiences of the Lakeside Park Hotel. The food got the thumbs up; interesting, well-presented and of excellent quality. The cavernous venue had undergone a sympathetic makeover, embracing its modern exterior. Despite its size, it still managed to retain some intimacy and it certainly made the best of the unusual shape of the building with its very strong design theme. Even the toilets were startlingly well-appointed – Bill was so taken with these facilities that he (unsuccessfully) suggested an entire new star-rating category just so he could award Lakeside a gold star for its infra-red urinals.
However, with a faint echo of The Boathouse at Springvale, newly-opened Lakeside’s awesome presentation was not quite matched by the the many staff. They were professional, immaculately turned out and maybe just a little too impersonally slick. There were a few minor niggles in delivery, such as the waiter having to be prompted to clean the table after he splashed a big dollop of salmon remnants on it. At the end of the meal, the bill was not offered but had to be chased. These small details would be overlooked at other places – especially at these prices – but in such a restaurant, one hopes for better.
Finally, attention has to be drawn once again to the cost of all this. Sitting in the comfortable brasserie, Matt, Cat and Bill looked across peaceful Wootton Creek where they could just spy the conspicuous signs of The Sloop, advertising carvery meals for £3.50. It seemed like a world away – but a moment’s calculation revealed the fact that, per course, Lakeside was only £1 more expensive than the bargain-basement Sloop. This truly does represent remarkably good value – the experience offered is one that would not be out of place in some of the most expensive dining-rooms on the Island.
The Lakeside was a very pleasant experience, and one that high-roller James Bond would probably have found to his liking. Matt and Cat are not only happy to recommend it, but intend to return. They’ll certainly Never Say Never Again…
Website: Lakeside Park Hotel, Wootton Bridge