It’s been an age since we had one of those dinners in which each course delights and confounds our expectations. However, we knew that if we were going to experience food like that anywhere again, then it would be at Ventnor’s Royal Hotel – location of so many memorable meals and events.
While other venues are dusting themselves down as they emerge from a post-pandemic fugg (blended with the current Trussonomics meltdown), the team at the Island’s most prestigious hotel has been working on its a new dining concept – Se7en.
An intimate space in the hotel (in which we last had a Valentine’s Day afternoon tea) has been given a makeover in on-trend slatey hues and modern glass wall lights, to create Se7en. Having had a drink in the bar, we then took our places at one of Se7en’s seven tables and waited eagerly for our seven-course menu with its seven matched wines. Have you spotted the theme?
Talented chef Matt Egan, along with sous chef Jacob Gough, have pulled out all of the stops to craft an exquisite dining experience of fine ingredients and innovative combinations. The hotel’s sommelier, Stefan Dobre, demonstrated his passion for wine with his well-selected pairings adding enlightening detail to this luxurious meal.
We started with a course which wasn’t even on the menu – a sneaky eight, as it were – a trio of canapes. The absolute standout of the six morsels (we had one meat and one meat-free option) was the pig’s blood macaron. The light yet authentically chewy macaron sandwiched a layer of acidic Lancashire Black Bomber cheese fondant. More cheese creativity came in the form of a nugget of the squeakiest halloumi, and a reimagining of the hotel’s signature Gallybagger souffle. Really sublime tidbits, and a great augur for the rest of our dinner.
With seven courses to describe – and, with the veggie and carnivore preferences making fourteen plates in total, plus matching wines – we will soon run out of superlatives. So here is a rattle through some highlights.
Cheese on toast – but unlike any you have eaten. A tiny brioche was bisected to reveal more whipped Black Bomber. Cheese IN toast, if you will, in a pool of buttercup. Stefan had paired this with Cat’s favourite drink of the evening, Nyetimber Classic Couvee; a pale champagne-a-like, with honey and baked apple notes.
Our hand-dived Cornish scallop was perfectly-seared, yet was chilled with the salt-specked joy of maple bacon ice cream, which quenched the wasabi fire and was studded with the daintiest ‘man-made’ tobikko roe. A visual treat; it tasted fabulous too.
The chefs had done a sterling job of simulating the meat dishes. Some, like the lemon tofu, were never going to be as gorgeous as the caught-that-day chalk stream trout, but the ginger butternut squash suprisingly held its own against the salt-aged Island fillet, both served with a delicious cauliflower puree.
Among all this gorgeousness it was hard to pick a favourite dish, but Cat’s was the koji sorbet. Created with fermented rice, it was unlike any sweet we had tasted. The accompanying pink grapefruit and black sesame biscuit all added to this complex pudding and, if that wasn’t enough, it not only arrived with a zesty Mermaid gin ‘teardrop’ cocktail, but also a tiny atomiser from which we sprayed ‘botanicals’ over our bowls, creating an aromatic rosemary vapour.
At course seven (or technically eight), we were almost flagging. The rich and velvety Californian Elysium black muscat was the perfect pair to the rich coffee and Peruvian dark chocolate dessert, so we valiantly finished our meal, thrilled at such an intensely-flavoured finale.
For all the skill displayed by the team in the kitchen in creating these intricate and stimulating dishes, the front-of-house crew was also magnificent. Like us diners, they were also participants; passionate about the food and drink, professional and charming. If this was a review we’d have to give the entire experience seven stars! We were treated Royally – and you can be too.
Matt and Cat were guests of the Royal Hotel.