There’s definitely some kind of social pecking order out in Cowes, but being from Ryde, Matt and Cat really don’t get it.
Take Gurnard, for example. Is it a wannabe suburb of the cosmopolitan hub that is Cowes; or is it actually the exclusive enclave that everyone in Cowes wants to escape to? So hard to say, or indeed to care. It’s probably both, depending on whether you’re talking to someone from Cowes or Gurnard. But one thing M&C can say with certainty concerns eateries in Gurnard. They don’t have many, but they’re very keen on the ones they do have.
So when last year a new restaurant opened in the former Outlook Bar, down at Gurnard Marsh, there was a fair buzz. The Little Gloster had some good coverage and got some favourable comments on this site – “You must, Must, MUST visit the Little Gloster on Gurnard Marsh“, enthused Mr Happy; “Delectable from start to finish!“, gushed Wendy V, and many more in the same vein. M&C did actually make a couple of attempts to visit, but got muddled with opening times over the winter, deciding eventually to come for a lunchtime session to be sure of getting it right. That undertaking finally came to fruition when your reviewers, with a couple of friends, made a foray to Gurnard one Sunday lunchtime and put the Little Gloster to the test.
It’s advertised as having a Scandinavian influence, and that’s probably a good job given the unusual building. Now M&C don’t normal extend their reviews to architecture but this one can’t be left to one side. It’s a building that it’s hard to perceive as anything but a yacht club – located by a busy slipway, bracketed by tenders and boaty junk, the fairly utilitarian structure has few windows on the landward side, although it’s been made to look pretty smart. Once the visitor gets through a fairly functional lobby the reason for all this is clear – on the seaward side, the Little Gloster opens up to give panoramic views of the Solent and nearby garden. Huge picture windows surround the diners, with the kitchen and bar area wisely hidden out of the way, creating an excellent, airy, environment.
Having confirmed their booking to the waitress who greeted them, Matt and Cat found a table and settled in, soon joined by one of their dining companions. When the waitress returned to serve drinks, she was happy to leave the threesome to peruse the menu for a little while longer as they waited for the fourth member of the party, who’d been delayed. Very obliging; but once he’d turned up it was another half an hour before the party finally had to flag down a waitress and ask to order.
The menu was a substantial one for lunchtime. A good range of seafood and specials complemented a decent array on the standard lunch menu. Matt was fully convinced by the roast dinner option, and asked for roast pork with crackling, which was labelled as Isle of Wight produce. Cat, feeling dainty as ever, asked for the Bembridge crab and crayfish fishcake starter to be served as a main – a variation which was readily accommodated.
Waiting for their food the diners chatted and enjoyed the scenery, sneaking a peek too at their fellows at nearby tables. The spacious and open layout means that there is plenty of distance between the diners, but even so M&C couldn’t avoid noticing the statutory table of well-heeled gurglers that seem to be a fixture of any restaurant in the PO31 postcode from April-September. It’s a simple and touching scene that will be familiar to Cowes restaurateurs. An ample young gal adjusts her flimsy frock and simpers at the striped shirt opposite her. He obligingly bellows unlikely intimacies into her ear before the whole table bursts into chortles of delight, waving be-signeted hands for more iced Chardonnay. In fact the whole place had a pleasingly informal but classy feel – it made sense that this was particularly successful as a lunchtime venue, especially given the view.
Crab and crayfish cakes £8.95
Roast pork £15.95
Lemon tart £4.95
Chocolate brownie £5.95
Coffee x 2 £3.90
The food, when it made its appearance, was similarly satisfactory. Three mighty slices of pork loin, cooked to a turn, made up Matt’s roast pork special. The vegetables caused expressions of delight, and one of the diners who’d opted for the similarly-served roast beef exclaimed that the carrots were the best she’d ever tasted. Matt could believe it – and the delicate green broccoli sprouts too were a master-class in how to present this much-misused vegetable. And if the gravy that came with it was slightly frugally applied, a request of the waitress brought some more soon enough – she even checked if it was to be pork or beef gravy. And yes, there is a difference. Alas the promised crackling was missing; a further request to the waitress was necessary for it to be produced.
Cat was delighted with her brace of crab and crayfish fishcakes and, having exposed one’s core, insisted on taking a photograph to record just how much seafood was inside. Unlike so many similar offerings, these tasty morsels were not bulked-up with potato and breadcrumbs; they were pretty much chock-full of crustacean. A crisp and fresh watercress salad, anointed with an excellent tangy dressing, plus a little ramekin of dill and creme fraiche set the little cakes off very well.
Although the diners were not in any hurry there was a substantial break between courses. The desserts were worth the wait. Cat chose a lemon tart with blueberry and fruit coulis; the flan was subtly flavoured with a nice creamy texture. Matt enjoyed his warmed white and dark chocolate pecan brownie with vanilla ice cream. Both sweets were beautifully presented, with a comma of sauce here and a brandy-snap sail there; and with coffee were a decent round-off to the meal.
The sun worked its way down over the Solent as the party sat and chatted in the relaxing venue. The merits of horseradish sauce, and how to make your own, was a hot topic (geddit?). Matt rashly declared that he could find a horseradish root growing wild within a hundred metres of the restaurant, but was much relieved when nobody took him up on it, as he realised that at this time of year (spring) he’d have most likely failed miserably.
Eventually Matt and Cat took their leave of the Little Gloster after what proved to be a more-than-satisfactory meal. The cooking brought out the best of the locally-sourced ingredients; the taste and presentation of the food showed great attention to detail. The laid-back atmosphere was conducive to a relaxed dining experience but this casual approach was not so welcome in the intermittent service. Forgiveable, entirely, and even if the place wasn’t the sublime choirs-of-angels experience that some of the more breathless Gurnard groupies had promised: the Little Gloster is undoubtedly worth the visit.
- Excellent menu
- Wonderful setting and sea views
- Relaxing ambience
- Service not the fastest