It won’t come as any surprise to find out that we don’t cook much. We could, if we had to – but why bother when there are so many great chefs on the Isle of Wight prepared to take our money in exchange for food?
Also, we have some lovely friends who like to feed us. Even on Christmas Day we had lunch with our generous neighbour, keen to show off her culinary prowess to the Island’s food critics. For all the times that people cook for us, we are extremely grateful. Delighted that someone has taken trouble and care on our behalf. And if it’s in someone’s house, we take what we’re given and like it with good grace.
But have you ever invited someone around for dinner and been given a list of won’t eats? Not allergies, but faddiness. We have an acquaintance who won’t eat raw tomatoes (but they’ll eat cooked tomatoes), another who won’t countenance mushrooms, someone who thinks they don’t like cheese after a whey-related childhood upset, and a pal who doesn’t like cream or custard, but will eat custard creams.
Well, we say to all those people with toddler-style demands, you will hate Number 3. Stay away. Don’t bother entering this tiny restaurant in Cowes. Refuse a table when welcomed by the lovely lady. Reject the extensive wine list, and roll on the ground screaming and scarlet-faced, pounding your pudgy mitts into the floor when you discover there is no menu. This restaurant is not for you.
If, however, you like really good food and you also like the Nomad-style principle of ‘Shut Up and Feed Me’, then you will probably love Number 3. The concept of this bijou Cowes venue is very broadly the same as Newport’s latest dining sensation. You put your trust in the chef and let them do the rest. However, in Number 3, there is no trendy soundtrack, incense, nor elaborate cocktails. Heck, until we were done we didn’t even know how much the dinner was going to cost us, let alone how many courses. During our eight course meal we were only asked to make three choices. It was refreshing not to be asked – though we could have said – about our special diets or affectations.
It works like this; you take your seat and choose a drink. Then some paprika crisps arrive in a boat-shaped vessel. These are followed by slices of wonderful warm spongy focaccia which we generous slathered with the most exquisite black garlic butter; liquorice, yet sweet, as if blended with moist prunes.
We were eventually asked to make a choice – only of the starter course at this stage. Cat took crab mousse with prawns; sublime fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth seafood tempered with a tangy tomato chutney. We thought the other starter was the veggie option; goats cheese mousse with parmesan. When it arrived, it turned out that we’d misheard (the menu is not written anywhere, remember) – it was Parma ham, not parmesan. No matter. It probably would matter to some of you. However, at no point were we asked if we had any allergies, lifestyle diets or affectations. This was refreshing. We figure that, in the traditional way, if either of us had an objection to any food stuff we would have piped up – or gone elsewhere. We later discovered that everyone is welcome and yes, various options are most definitely available for those with special dietary requirements, but we’d say it would be worth asking in advance, if that’s you.
Next came some warm ham hock. The magnificently tender meat was served with a smear of parsnip mousse: an excellent way of delivering that distinctive ‘snippy flavour, without risking the woodiness which can be experienced when eating the actual root vegetable. The creaminess was sharpened with home-made piccalilli then sweetened down again with a gorgeous honey-rich caramelised apple sauce.
We were starting to understand the modus operandi of the venue. We were in good hands here – no need to question what we were having, how many courses were yet to come and how much food should we pace ourselves for.
Set menu: 2 @ £30
We got another choice for the main: cod, lamb or fillet steak. When Cat eats steak, she’ll only have fillet. The meat at Number 3 was the tenderest fillet she’d ever had. Three times she spontaneously exclaimed “This is incredible!”. It was like butter. No steak knife given, nor required; the regular round-ended table knife sliced effortlessly into the heavenly steak. A flavour shot was provided by a surprisingly concentrated wild mushroom sauce.
Matt’s lamb was pink and delicate. He was delighted by the gentle minty gravy that went with it. The meat tasted divine and was, like the steak, ridiculously soft. With the shared bowls of veg and potatoes there was plenty for both of us.
The next course it was Matt’s turn to exclaim at the white chocolate mousse with raspberry coulis served in cute little espresso cups. “I say, that is good.” he might have said. But, as it’s past the watershed we can report that he actually exclaimed, “****, that is good.”
For course seven (are you keeping up?) we were given our third and final choice. Homemade ice cream had an intense salted caramel sauce, not too salty, nor too sweet – proper Goldilocks zone stuff this. Matt’s slice of delicately soft bread and butter pudding came with a scoop of that same exquisite ice cream anyway, so everybody got some. Finally, nuggets of nutty fudge and in due course, the bill.
We’d just stepped in off the street into this magical dining experience; unbooked and with our standard expectations. If the restaurant had been all exposed electrical trunking and brickwork; if we’d been served by someone with a neck tattoo; if there had been a ‘philosophy’, we would have expected to see the place jammed with the Beautiful People, all having made reservations months before to experience food as wonderful and well-curated as this. We might have expected to be levied a substantial hipster tax. But it wasn’t and we weren’t. Eight courses: thirty quid each.
We looked at the bill. How can this be? A fillet steak as “incredible” as the one Cat enjoyed would in any other venue be around twenty-five nicker on its own. How do they do this? We don’t really know, but we loved the concept, the exceptional food and the whole goddamn experience. Go – we urge you. Leave your food lifestyle choices at the door and abdicate responsibility; nobody will judge you and you might find that you enjoy yourself at mealtimes again.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Unbelievably good value
- Top-quality food
- Cosy environment
- If you like to micromanage your meal, you won't like this (but you should)