What a difference a week makes! As visitors to Cowes on the penultimate day of 2010, Matt and Cat were thrilled and delighted by the ‘Not New Year’s Eve’ event at the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club. The place was positively buzzing with peacocks and party princesses, jollied along by a lively band and fuelled with delicious food. Inspired by this happy atmosphere, M and C returned to the historic town a week later for more grub and revelry.
However, perhaps Cowes had burnt itself out with its famous New Year celebrations as, just a few days into the new decade, the place was a dead as Seaview post-regatta. As Matt and Cat wandered disconsolately, peering into the darkened windows of several closed venues, they were left with two choices, at opposite ends of the town. Dithering outside one of them, they were hailed by a fellow Tweep who suggested that they head to Lugley’s.
So, tugging her bobble hat down round her ears, Cat led Matt through the precinct to the Cowes branch of Lugley’s. Cowes’ proliferation of Indian restaurants were all open as was the Red Duster but M and C were keen to go somewhere new so headed past these welcoming venues to the Parade. Lugley’s was open, but unoccupied apart from a waitress who appeared to be in discourse with a disembodied pair of feet waving languidly from a deep leather sofa. This unexpected glimpse of informality attracted censure from Cat, who was not enticed. However, Matt was not to be put off by such a lapse in decorum and insisted that the two reviewers wait noisily in the doorway, huffing and making ‘about to enter’ type motions. To no avail, the trainer-clad feet still waved merrily, so he pushed his way into the brightly-lit restaurant. That did the trick. The horizontal young lady bolted, leaving the waitress to quickly adopt her professional demeanour, come forward and deal with her sole charges.
There were plenty of tables to choose from in the cavernous room; each nicely laid with freshly-laundered napkins and flickering candles. The waitress turned out to be very friendly and informative, and before long Matt and Cat had given their order. The comprehensive menu offered good meaty winter warmers plus lighter salads and fish dishes. Cat chose fresh salmon fillet on crushed herb potatoes with a prawn, shallot and white wine sauce. Matt decided on the butterfly pork steak with Dijon and peppercorn sauce, herb potatoes and seasonal vegetables. Alas, the pork was not available but the waitress kindly offered to substitute it for Matt’s second choice of sirloin at no extra cost -a bargain as the steak cost a good bit more. Items being unavailable is not an unusual occurrence but the gracious way this was handled was certainly above par. Matt and Cat were also pleased to see that vegetables were included in the prices of their meals, which was not their experience in the Newport venue of the same name.
Salmon fillet £13.95
Steak (special price) £13.95
Bread and butter pudding £5.95
Grilled ciabatta £2.50
Glass red wine £4.75
2 x coffees £3.65
While they nibbled on grilled ciabatta, Matt and Cat were serenaded by Frank Sinatra, in a style striking enough for both of them to pause in their mastication and pay attention. This old crooner was a god in his prime but, like Elvis, as his career progressed the needle on his taste barometer moved relentlessly down to ‘very dismal’. So his execrable crooned rendition of the Beatles ‘Something’ was accompanied by the faint whirring sound of George Harrison revolving in his grave. The music improved, in Cat’s opinion, with some bossa nova offerings – at least Phil Collins was nowhere to be heard.
The main courses arrived. Cat exclaimed aloud with pleasure when presented with her salmon steak. A vast length of fish resided on top of a pile of crushed seasoned potatoes. The whole lot was smothered in a creamy wine sauce which was textured with prawns and shallots. Despite having doubts that she would be able to do the salmon justice, with a slow and steady pace she managed to polish off the lot. It was delicious. The meat was fantastically chunky and moist, piping hot throughout; its delicate flavour was complimented by the seasoned spuds.
Matt’s 8oz Kemp Hill sirloin steak was cooked rare, as requested, and shared its plate with lightly-cooked vine tomatoes and a port and oyster mushroom sauce, soaked up with skinny fries. There was a bowl of vegetables for the two to share, which included whole carrots, shredded leek and broccoli.
Throughout the meal the waitress maintained a discreet distance, reappearing appropriately to offer more wine at the exact moment the tide went out in Matt’s glass. She returned to clear away the empty plates and to offer the sweet menu. Cat, who was truly stuffed, had no room left – not even in her pudding stomach. This meant that Matthew could choose what he liked for once, without the tedium of Cat’s usual plaintive cry of “let’s have pudding ‘X’ so I can have a taste”. Which, as all men know, is the mantra of their dining partners, coyly delivered before ‘a taste’ becomes a full-blown spoon-based assault as they polish off the entire pudding. Matt, unfettered from the constraints of The Cat, chose bread and butter pudding – a good manly dessert. Of course, in an establishment such as Lugley’s this traditional dish, usually made by your mum with stale Mother’s Pride, warm milk and a handful of currants, was created from brioche with a jug of warmed crème Anglais to pour over the top. Matt picked off the Chinese gooseberry and strawberry garnish before sticking his spoon into the doughy dessert. It was well-spiced with cinnamon and was quite delicious. Cat agreed to sniff it, declaring its aroma as delightful, but satiated by the salmon couldn’t even force in the most modest of mouthfuls.
Matt and Cat finished off their meals with coffee but, by this time, it was clear that they were not going to be joined by any other diners; it had just been the four of them all evening. M&C had had the undivided attention of the very professional waitress and Matt, who was facing the door, had given his companion a discreet commentary on the activities of the woman with the feet, who had been popping in and out of the restaurant like a weaver’s shuttle. Her function in the business was unclear; perhaps she was a companion to the waitress.
As soon as Matt and Cat had paid, the waitress started to cash up. Some of the lights in the far recesses of the venue were turned off and the napkins had already been tidied off the other tables. It was clear that M and C’s time was up so they slipped back out into the night.
Lugley’s had delivered Matt and Cat a delicious and beautifully presented meal in what could have been quite unpromising circumstances. A mid-week night at the beginning of January can sometimes be pretty inauspicious. However, there was no lapse in service or standard of food; far from it, both steaks had been splendid. In the height of the season, with its spectacular views across the Solent, this would be an impressive place buzzing with the glitterati of Cowes. Even in the quiet of the winter it was warm, welcoming and produced good food. Recommended.