Matt and Cat love eating out in Cowes, but they always approach a new review in the town with a certain caution.
It seems that M&C’s style of leavening their articles with impertinence and occasional sarcasm is one that riles Cowes more than any other Island area. They welcome readers weighing in, but it seems as though Cowesians are just a little more trigger-happy with the green ink. Take Matt and Cat’s 2011 review of the Little Gloster, for example, which resulted in peevish objections to the use of the words ‘gurgler’ and ‘breathless’. Other Cowes reviews, now thankfully superseded and archived, raised hackles even further. Learned friends were consulted. Strongly-worded letters were despatched to M&C. Not that Matt and Cat pay any attention to that – and, to prove it, recently they were back in Cowes undeterred to venture boldly into what some could perceive as the heartland of trendy yachtiness, the impossibly chic new Moocow in Cross Street.
The interior of Moocow is an industrial design student’s wet dream; all rounded corners, incongruous materials – such as silicone tealight holders – and bold accents of orange at every turn. Even the toilets had a trendy plastic black chandelier, a waterfall tap and raindrop textured wallpaper. Dressing Moocow was obviously a labour of love; from the chic woodburner to the asymmetric shelves bedecked with gourmet popcorn – goats cheese and black pepper anyone – and Christian Audigier wines, the drink of choice for TOWIE stars.
The great thing to report is that it actually works – this place looks and feels quirky, modern, individualistic and super-stylish; but still comfortable and welcoming. Despite all of the trendy touches, old codgers Matt and Cat did not feel out of place at Moocow. They were warmly greeted and given a choice of tables. West-facing windows let the late afternoon sun pour in; on a less autumnal evening Matt and Cat might have sat on the terrace’s groovy armchairs overlooking the car park.
Just when they were starting to feel as though they were going to sink seamlessly into this haven of outrageously ostentatious interior design, Matt and Cat had an entertaining reminder of why Cowes is so special. A hearty fellow strode through the door, held his arms wide and bellowed ‘Bonsoir!’ to all within. And yes, he was wearing deck shoes. And shorts. Which were red. If Matt and Cat were hoping to avoid censure by not mentioning any Cowes stereotypes, they were out of luck. They couldn’t imagine him in their home town of Ryde, or strolling down Furrlongs in Newport. But let’s be clear – this is a good thing. Cowes is fun and interesting for many reasons, and this kind of character is definitely one of them.
Having gawped at the décor and been talked through the drinks options, eventually Matt and Cat got round to some food. Moocow describes its offerings as mezze. But if you think tapas you won’t be too far wrong. Matt and Cat picked out a handful of mezze dishes from the enticing menu, taking some guidance about how many might make a decent meal.
Chicken livers £6.50
Crab cakes £7.95
Patatas bravas £4.50
Pork special £7.95
Eton mess £4.50
Ice cream £4
First to arrive was sautéed chicken livers. Unlike their experiences with tapas elsewhere, Matt and Cat were slightly surprised to see that, apart from a very meagre allowance of bread and a light sprinkle of chopped herbs, this dish was unadorned. But wait – the perfectly-cooked and piping hot liver was meltingly soft, and the added garlic, lemon juice and seasonings were sublime. Matt, an offal fan in any case, was enraptured and got some serious pleasure out of this dish. Even Cat, whose experiences of eating liver were coloured by some dreadful school dinners, loaded up her plate with more. A great promise of things to come. Next to arrive was oven-roasted wild mushrooms and goats cheese. The diverse mix of mushrooms had a slight kick from the drizzled chilli oil. Matt and Cat bisected the single disc of goats’ cheese and in a moment the mushrooms were all gone, apart from a pile of woody ends – which traditionally are removed in the kitchen.
Now, M&C have eaten so-called nouvelle cuisine and understand that less can sometimes be more, but by this time they were starting to feel slightly uneasy about the mezze. A tapas dish can be a beautifully-presented little meal in itself – often with a bit of carb in the form of some pitta and maybe a handful of wilted rocket. There was none of that frippery at Moocow and M&C were wondering if there should have been. Take the next dish, crispy crab cakes. Four tiny – and Matt and Cat mean tiny – balls of deep-fried crab meat struggled to make themselves seen on the plate. Yes, the crab cakes were nice and fishy and the generic sweet chilli dipping sauce made a suitable – if awkwardly unoriginal – accompaniment, but it was a bit underwhelming. Thankfully they’d also ordered a plate of patatas bravas, which helped bulk out the meagre balls.
Matt, of course, wanted more and so they ordered one of the special dishes – “crispy pork with all the accessories”. Finally a dish arrived that looked like it might be worth the moolah. A long plate, with a pile of pork and Moocow’s take on the extras that normally accompany crispy duck pancakes in a Chinese restaurant: hoisin sauce replaced by a tasty apple and plum purée. The meat had more resistance that Cat cared for so, having gamely masticated a couple of chewy strips, she acceded the dish to Matt. Belly pork is usually tender and moist. Moocow’s version was stringy and dry. Matt enjoyed the fun of making little pancake rolls, but had to agree that the meat, even when accompanied by raw and undressed red cabbage, was like eating twine.
Matt and Cat both had dessert. Matt had an indifferent Eton mess and Cat, unexpectedly, ordered a home-made red wine ice cream. This was served with blueberries, and was a genuinely unusual and interesting eating experience. It came in a big enough portion that she left some for Matt, who loved it – although he suggested it might almost have been even better served alongside a main course rather than as dessert.
Then the thing that really brought home the difference between mezze and tapas – the bill. This was, frankly, horrific. Looking back at the costs of the individual dishes Matt and Cat realised why. A tiny bowl of wild mushrooms, or four miniature crab balls: both just short of eight quid. And they were not the most expensive things on the menu. Moocow’s prices were perplexing. Even a great atmosphere, very friendly service and the most superbly stylish interior – all of which Moocow certainly has – didn’t account for it. This venue is in a municipal car park next to a trolley bay. The food, whilst well-conceived and showing frustrating flashes of real quality, was mostly unremarkable in execution. And lest one imagines that this is an unavoidable cost of a high quality meal in a well-designed venue, what makes the whole thing worse is just how many do this sort of food differently and better. Walk up the High Street to Brawn’s to see a local example. Go a bit further to El Toro Contento or The Met in Ventnor, and get plenty of tapas for your money; or for a real fusion of excitingly trendy bar with top quality tapas-style food visit the Blacksheep Bar in Ryde.
Moocow is an audacious design statement, and a venue worth visiting for the décor alone. But the mezze food isn’t worth the price. Matt and Cat hope that they will be allowed back into Cowes after such an outburst of plain speaking. Because if they are, they would readily go to Moocow again, to enjoy a drink and chat with friends in a delightful venue. But for food they will look elsewhere.