Sometimes, you pass a stranger in the street and do a double take. “Was that… it couldn’t be. Or is it? It is!” The stranger turns out to be someone you once knew, and underneath the new hairstyle, new spouse, new wrinkles or whatever, it’s the same old friend. Well, so it is with some eating-out venues. Quirky hardly does justice to the layout of the Seaview Bistro, being underground in a converted cellar as it is. But when we descended those welcoming stairs we were amazed by the transformation that had occurred below – and yet comforted by a certain familiarity. For this was the venue we once knew and loved as the Khrua Thai. Now profoundly restyled as a trendy vintage piano bar, it nonetheless had some tantalising details that took us back. The gnarly walls, the bizarre disco lights in the ceiling (a remnant of an even earlier incarnation), and of course the cosy alcove tables for two, set apart from the rest of the busy restaurant. We placed ourselves right in there, and as Matt sank down onto a cosy armchair, Cat peered through the lavish floral decorations into the tables beyond – a perfect spot for a Cat, hidden away but ideal for watching others.
The table was a perfect food-bloggers spot. A bright light shone down on it from an incongruous bowler-hat lampshade, lined with beaten copper, making it perfect for photos. It was also rather good at picking up a few conspicuous crumbs under the glare of the light. We hoped the food would be worthy of the illumination and busied ourselves with drinks as we awaited dinner; cidre for Matt and a fruity ‘Mermaid’s Sunset’ mocktail for Cat.
Matt’s starter was the ambitious-sounding sauteed wild mushrooms in garlic and thyme, in a Parmesan basket. When it arrived, the waft of garlic and thyme that swept across us was delicious – a great overture for the meal. The dish itself did not quite live up to the promise. The mushrooms were piled high but oily and inconsequential. The thyme made itself known by texture, but not taste, and the Parmesan basket had the consistency of leather. Like the crumbs, this was an experience best brushed aside. Luckily, things got significantly better from there on.
A simple dish well-made is often the most effective, and so it proved with Matt’s main course, a couple of chunks of roast lamb rump with roasted veg and a salsa verde. This was straightforward meat and two – and maybe three or four – veg, delivered as it should be. The lamb was freshly-carved, pink on the inside and with seared fat on the outside giving it the ideal flavour. The generously-supplied roast vegetables seemed as though they’d come straight from the oven, and the minty salsa verde was there to give it all some kind of exotic credentials – but frankly the meat and veg were good enough to stand alone.
Chicken-lover Cat was delighted to see chicken supreme on the menu. For once it wasn’t chicken ‘enhanced’ with those alas too-common staples barbecue sauce, cheese or bacon. No. Cat’s Seaview Bistro chicken was succulent enough without the addition of pork fat; sitting proudly on its nest of spinach and wild mushrooms, surrounded by a moat of Marsala gravy. It had more than a hint of garlic about it and the spinach was delightfully wilted, like a heroine in an eighteenth century novel. The dish was served with a bowl of homemade chips; at first glance they had the rustic appearance of those fancy triple-cooked efforts that any self-respecting pub or steakhouse would serve. However, some were a bit too oily for Cat, who was hoping they would have a bit of capacity to help mop up that fine gravy. Matt had no such objection and polished off the bowl.
A young couple came in and sat on a table just the other side of the alcove. Barely visible in our little retreat, we couldn’t help but overhear parts of their conversation as it drifted through the peacock’s-feathers and chintzy draperies. His tales were of the sea – how the tiller had got away from him, and the boat had lifted up. Hers were of horses – on the wisdom of buying a Shetland pony to keep the mares company. “Are you on holiday?” asked the waitress. “Oh no, we have a house in the village.” We have a house. Not “We live in the village”. That’s the difference, in Seaview. We were dining at the end of summer, but in the depths of November, venues in this little second-homers’ colony will try to endure the lean months, and look forward again to the all-too-short seasonal invasion of the canvas deck-shoes and cargo shorts.
Sauteed mushrooms £6.25
Chicken supreme £12.95
Lamb rump £19.95
Lime cheesecake £4.95
Poached meringue £4.95
Matt was even more impressed by his dessert, a poached meringue with creme anglaise, raspberries and toasted almonds. These classic elements were assembled to make a big, light-as-air meringue which drifted on a little pool of sweet cream. This isn’t a simple dish to make, and the Bistro pulled it off well. Cat, too, was particularly enamoured of her pudding and exclaimed as her substantial wedge of dense cheesecake arrived at the table. The thick dessert had a perceptible lime tang, and was further enlivened with a drizzle of passionfruit coulis and some invigorating kiwi fruit slices.
It is a courageous business in Seaview that sets itself up against the Bib Gourmand at the hotel down the road. With the Bistro’s more relaxed dining style and cosy parlour atmosphere we hope that there is room for both. When we eventually climbed back up the stairs to street-level we felt our evening had been a very enjoyable one. Seaview Bistro is an entertaining and well-appointed venue, with a steady menu. After a slightly shaky start the food had proven to be above average, and showed some real skill in the kitchen. So that journey down the mysterious steps is one that we’d recommend you take.
This is the full-length version of the review previously published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Cosy environment
- Trendy vintage interior
- Some great dishes
- Crumby table