When we were asked to write about the Island’s restaurant scene for the County Press we decided to have a manifesto. Nothing too complicated, just two points: we would cover the whole Island, and choose varied and diverse places to review. We’ve enjoyed seeking out this diversity.
Places are opening, refurbishing or relaunching all the time. We think this is a great testament to the enterprising nature of the Isle of Wight; folks really are prepared to give it a go. When it works, we all have somewhere new to eat, and town and villages remain vibrant. If a venue closes, at least they tried – and another will undoubtedly pop up in its place, sure as eggs are poached.
So what for us were the highlights of 2015? The biggie, of course, was the opening of Thompson’s. Home-grown chef Robert Thompson has finally got his name above the door in his town centre bistro. He brought the concept of the open kitchen to us provincials; diners can watch the chef and his talented team at work. The characteristic intricately-created dishes are still here, despite the informal setting. What’s more Thompson’s is satisfyingly good value.
All of the Island’s towns have a little extra dining sparkle this year; some newer places are really upping the ante. We’re almost embarrassed to tell you how many times we’ve visited the lovely Coffee Room at Skintrade, Newport, with its decent Jasper’s brew and fish finger butties. The Mess Canteen and Harbour Kitchen have got their groove on in Cowes, both offering hipster-style fast food in lively lo-fi venues. Not to be outdone, Ventnor has become quite the food destination with the genre-defying Cantina serving us everything from unironic cheese fondue to donkey salami.
Keeping the faith are the Blue Door Cafe and Seaview Hotel; neither are new kids on the block, but we love them as they are utterly reliable. In September the Seaview was awarded a Michelin ‘Bib Gourmand’ acknowledging ‘exceptional food at moderate prices’ – just what we said about their ‘Focus on Fish’ menu when we visited in March.
Missing in action is Shanklin’s Fine Nammet. In 2013 we said it was “astonishingly good value for a meal of this quality”. On revisiting eighteen months later, our delight turned into disappointment – and this Christmas the venue unexpectedly closed altogether.
But it wasn’t all fancy-schmancy eating for us. One surprise hit was Pizza Hut. Tasty comfort food that your cardiologist might frown at, but good value and the customer service is quite exceptional. We gave it four well-deserved stars.
Winding up 2015 we revisited Wetherspoons Man in the Moon – scene of our notorious zero-star review in 2014. This time it was pretty good – for a ‘Spoons. Not that they need our help to get folk in the door, but we’re delighted to acknowledge the improvement.
We’re looking forward to another great year of eating out. We love the Island’s vibrant dining scene – and can’t wait to see what 2016 has to offer.