We’ve noticed a quiet phenomenon on the Isle of Wight. While street food hucksters, single-issue menus and bourbon boutiques pop up (and sometimes down again) other venues go about their business without fanfare or fashion.
Each town has one or two restaurants that seem to have extraordinary staying power and ongoing appeal: Ganders in St Helens and Newport’s Burr’s, for example. Each serves its clientele all year round with a good percentage of local regulars keeping the places going in the winter. These stalwarts of the Island’s eating out scene keep on keepin’ on because they are consistently reliable and have a decent menu disregarding foodie folderols and fripperies.
Like Mojac’s in Cowes, Yarmouth’s Blue Crab and Michelangelo in Ryde, these steady horses are here for the long ride – and so too it would seem is Shanklin’s Morgan’s, a place that we consider worthy of being added to the roll-call of dependables.
Shanklin is, of course, a seaside resort. And, although its high street is some distance from the coast compared with, say, Sandown or Yarmouth, it still has that seasonal vibe. When we visited Morgan’s just before the summer onslaught, it was nonetheless pretty chocca with holidaymakers. We briefly engaged our dining neighbours in some idle chatter – mainly to admire a lady’s huge plaice – and we established that they, and the couple on our other side, were all visitors. Still, that doesn’t stop us locals from popping in for dinner, lured by Morgan’s juicy beef burger which we’d heard had a decent local-source pedigree.
Years ago you could go into a restaurant and be assailed with all sorts of clutter and soft-furnishings, carpets, raffia-sheathed chianti bottles and fish tanks – even the walls might’ve been larded with peaks of artex, like a royal icing-encrusted Christmas cake. Nowadays it’s all wooden floors and linen-less tables, which must be easier on the laundry bill but makes a slightly austere environment. Morgan’s falls into the latter camp – good job too as nobody’s ready for the ironic return of the 1970s interior.
The menu at Morgan’s had an impressive local twist: Island-sourced tomatoes, shellfish, meat and chicken all featured, including some ingredients with a specified provenance such as Ventnor Bay crab and Isle of Wight blue cheese. To be honest, it was hard to concentrate on the menu when our eyes had been boggling at the aforementioned plaice. It really was a spectacular fish dish; so vast it seemed easily enough for two, but our neighbour heroically made her way through the whole thing.
Morgan’s does seafood with enthusiasm, and there was plenty to choose from on both the regular menu and the specials board. However, Matt was definitely gunning for the beef burger and Cat, on seeing chicken on the menu, eschewed the fish in favour of local poultry.
The staff sallied backwards and forwards with bread, cutlery and drinks orders. The service was all impressively efficient; throughout the meal staff were at our elbow within moments of our cutlery licked clean and clattering onto our plates.
Cat’s roasted Isle of Wight chicken breast was a spectacular construction of rosti potato nest, moist skin-on chicken and a thatch of long-cut parsnip crisps. Around the outside in a moat filled with delicious merlot and thyme jus was a flotilla of petit onions. The jus was incredible; rich and sweet, sticky almost like pre-set jam. It was an unusual sauce for chicken but not incongruous; its intense flavour sorted out the meat.
Beef burger £13.95
Chicken breast £14.50
Onion rings £3.50
Matt’s still scouring the Island for that perfect burger, and although he would normally have gone for something a little more upscale off such a menu, the word had got to him that the Morgan’s Isle of Wight prime juicy beef burger was something worth trying. Indeed it was. Burgers have got over-complicated, but here, the simple ingredients were put together in a most satisfactory way. The Monteray Jack cheese was cleverly grilled onto the buns, which enclosed a stack of patty, bacon, relish and leaves. The meat itself was plentiful, with the bacon being especially good – a thick, sweet rasher that was just the thing. Alongside, Matt had Morgan’s signature side dish, which was a small mountain of freshly-battered onion rings with homemade piri-piri mayonnaise. These were indeed freshly-battered, so a far cry from the standard frozen onion ring beloved of short-order cooks in pubs across the land. But light and soft they were not: so well-battered were these that Matt was almost defeated. Realising the futility of offering any to Cat, he resolved to bring a chum next time to share them.
To finish, Cat nursed a cup of Americano, whilst Matt partook of the satisfyingly sweet Pavlova. Morgan’s had acquitted itself pretty well. Contented, we were soon strolling along the streets of Shanklin, mingling with the tourists. Like many of them, we’d enjoyed a decent meal. Morgan’s is a feature of the High Street that we think will be pleasing the crowds for years to come.
A shorter version of this review was first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.