What if a few food wagons got together and made a food court, where you could just go along and choose from a range of takeaway food? This is an idea that is popular on the mainland – even as close as Southsea – but despite a few valiant attempts has not up until now taken root on the Island.
The reason may be that such an enterprise relies on there being enough hungry people who are willing to shell out upwards of £10 for street food, all year around. Whereas on the Island, out of holiday season – and sometimes even in it – we are blessed with parsimonious diners for whom £1.50 for a cup of tea is enough to make them look like they are sucking lemons.
Sandown Boulevard is the Island’s best attempt at a mainland-style food court yet. Located right on Sandown Esplanade at the OYO Marina Hotel, the front yard of the venue has been converted into a walk-in food arena with a handful of little kitchens set around a central bar and seating area.
The night we visited the place was heaving. Although there were indoor tables, the action was outdoors that evening. It is obviously a weather-dependent thing, but as it was a warm night it was lucky we had booked. We were greeted and shown to our table. The place was said to be Miami-themed, which sounds optimistic for Sandown, nonetheless we found ourselves sitting in a vaguely 80s pastel-shaded exterior venue that actually looked quite good. The IW BBQ Co hatch was just being closed up as we strolled in, burgers and tacos had sold well that night. But there was more to choose from.
Starters was a sharing tray of dumplings from perennial Island fast food award-winners, Dumpling Dumpling. We enjoyed classic Chinese pork dumplings; delicious, glutinous steamed prawn dumplings; and our top recommendation, the aromatic and cheesy pesto mac ‘n’ cheese fried dumplings. A side order of ‘funky fries’ was a simple and welcome addition. All of these were served piping hot, and brought to our table by Mr Dumpling himself who gave us a good explanation of what we had before us. A top Island street dining experience all round.
Cheery, uniformed staff were literally running round the venue, delivering drinks and clearing tables. Looking at the choice of food we now had, we drank cocktails as the sun sank behind us, and the lights of the boats on Sandown Bay twinkled on the horizon.
Dumpling selection x 2 £14
Funky fries £5
Chicken naan roll £10
Chicken naan bowl £10
Waffles x 2 £14
We could have had a main course from Rollin’ Pizza, but preferred the idea of the Smoking Naan. There was a choice of ‘banging’ chicken bhuna, or ‘NAW-T’ spiced shin beef madras. Chicken tempted us both, although we did have the option of naan rolls or naan bowls – so we chose one of each, not really knowing what that would be. It wasn’t too complicated – it was a bowl with the naan neatly sliced and set into it; and the roll was, predictably enough, a big naan with the bhuna rolled up inside, in the style of a soft, bready taco. We’d speculated £4 on poppadoms and chutney. These were disappointingly small and inconsequential, with the chutney a thimbleful of some slightly sweet paste that really could have been anything. The naans made up for this, with plentiful chicken bhuna inside, which was, as promised, banging. There was a lot of chicken in it, and it had a fresh texture with chilli slices, coriander and grated carrot giving it some bite.
A substantial main course, that led us on to The Urban Waffle Company offering ice creams and sundaes as well as fresh hot waffles in wraps – which is what we chose. The waffles were cooked individually and brought to our table. Each one was a big, fresh, hot waffle, packed with ice cream and decorated with various toppings.
So as the kitchens gradually put up their shutters we eventually wandered out, for a stroll alongside the beach before returning home. Sandown Boulevard had provided an entertaining evening, with a successful new dining experience and some enjoyable food. The delight of this place is that a group can dine together and everyone could eat something different. For us, the dumplings were the stars of the show, but the solid and well-made naan and waffles certainly made sure we did not go away hungry.
How the venue fares when the busy holiday season fades will remain to be seen, but as takeaways all these kitchens could still thrive even if the dining-in has to scale back. We hope this proves to be a winning experiment, and that Sandown Boulevard is a fixture of the esplanade for many seasons to come.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Good variety of decent food
- Friendly and speedy service
- Great location