If you want to cook your own food, why don’t you stay at home and do it? Why would anyone want to go out and pay for the privilege of preparing their own dinner? These were the questions we sought to answer when we visited Yarmouth’s On The Rocks. The schtick at this place is that each diner has a slab of searing hot rock in front of them, and gets to cook food to their liking right there at the table. And what food is on offer? Well, mostly meat, as it happens. Beef steak, lamb, cajun chicken, scallops, tuna and even halloumi for the steak-shy. There’s no vegan option, and anyone who is at all sensitive about the consumption of meat – and the smell of that process – should probably dine elsewhere. We are not such people, and so steak was what we ordered. Back in 2009, when we first visited, Cat ate fillet steak at the lofty price of £21. In 2023, we eagerly ordered the same cut of meat for £31. Is that expensive? Obviously it is, but a moment’s research on the Bank of England’s inflation calculator shows that this is exactly in line with fourteen years of inflation. So yes, it’s pricey, but at least it’s consistently pricey.
Our meal started with complimentary crusty bread to dip into olive oil – a pleasing way to begin. Along with the meal, each table gets bottomless fries and salad. We didn’t test the bottomlessness of these, as there were plenty of both. We did check the quality though, and the salad was far superior to the fries. Mixed leaves, cherry tomatoes and a generous scattering of shaved Italian-style hard cheese. Nothing that wouldn’t be found in the average supermarket, but still better than many side salads we’ve been offered. The fries though, were aggressively characterless. Yes, they were hot, fresh and plentiful, but that’s all that can be said in their favour. Steak is a dish that can be greatly enhanced by a splendid stack of mighty triple-cooked chips: soft, moist and steaming from the fryer. These thin, disappointing potato sticks were a missed opportunity: too dry, too tough and just too dull.
We ordered steak, and it arrived almost immediately, as you might expect. We were given a brief rundown on what to do, but to be honest, it wasn’t that hard. Don’t leave the hunk of meat on the rock too long, or it gets tough. Don’t touch the rock. No, seriously, don’t touch it. You also are made of meat, remember? The suggested procedure is to slice up the steak into bite-sized chunks, put these to one side, and then place them onto the rock one by one until you work out how to do it properly. This worked, although a modicum of dexterity is definitely needed. There isn’t much room for meat-manoeuvring on the little ceramic platters. The fillet steak was, as promised, a 10oz chunk of tender, lean meat. The ribeye came with more marbling. Our waiter had advised that this would be a flavoursome bit of meat and he was not wrong. Both steaks were big, easy to cut up and fun to cook on the little sizzling rocks. The taste? Steak satisfaction all round. And we got the added smugness of feeling as though we had ourselves cooked a tasty meal.
10oz ribeye steak £29
10oz fillet steak £31
House slaw £4.50
Jalapeno bites £6.50
There is a choice of sauces at no extra cost, and we chose BBQ sauce and garlic butter. The BBQ was straight out of a standard bottle – no ‘chef’s own sauce’ here. The garlic butter we’d definitely recommend. Little pats of butter were pleasing to melt on the hot rock and then baste onto the steak to give it that juicy, garlic-hinted mouth-feel. We also ordered a couple of unremarkable side dishes: house slaw and cheesy jalapeno bites. It would probably have been fine to rely on the bottomless salad.
Finishing up our excellent steaks, we decided to stretch to a dessert. Strawberry pavlova looked exactly as it had done when we visited in 2015, but unlike the meat, the price had increased way ahead of inflation from £5.50 to £8.50. It was a pleasing, if insubstantial morsel. Chocolate brownie was better, decorated with some sticky toffee sauce, and a cooling scoop of ice cream. We were offered a round of complimentary apple schnapps shots to finish the meal – we raised our glasses and knocked them back with gusto.
Two practical tips: go early, as later on the place fills up with the fumes rising from the sizzling rocks. And your clothes will smell of roasted meat for days, so don’t wear your best finery. We decided that On The Rocks is very much about the meat. Which is in fact not bad at all. Almost everything else is a distraction, and in some cases not even that good. There’s no doubt that the rigmarole of cutting up the steaks and cooking them is entertaining, and a convivial experience. It’s not really the spot for an intimate romantic meal – this is the sort of venue that you probably want to bring a gang of mates along to, have a few bottles of whatever you fancy, and enjoy the simple joy of searing meat right there on your table.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.