Matt and Cat\'s Isle of Wight Eating Out Guide
Note: the Smart Fox is now closed and was replaced by the Dark Horse, which itself closed and was replaced by Kynges Well. Brading...

Note: the Smart Fox is now closed and was replaced by the Dark Horse, which itself closed and was replaced by Kynges Well.

Brading is one of the Island’s quaint tourist towns, where, in the daytime, the coaches disgorge bemused oldsters to totter from tea shop to toilet and back again. Yet, unlike some such towns, Brading still retains a little unique character and life. Not every other house is a second home. There still are real people living there, who buy things in shops and drink beer in pubs. The canny visitor will perhaps enjoy Brading at times when the tourist hordes have departed or simply retreated to their hotels and caravans, such as evenings, or even off-season.

Matt and Cat set out for Brading one summer evening with a specific goal in mind. A new eatery has opened on the High Street, boldly labelling itself as a ‘gastro-pub’. Having read much of such food, your reviewers had never been quite certain whether or not they had ever eaten any. Does good pub grub count as ‘gastro’? Or is it something else entirely? The answer was there to be discovered, and thus Matt and Cat strolled into The Smart Fox.

The Smart Fox

Wooden beams, wonky walls and low ceilings made it quite clear that The Smart Fox, despite its new status, is set in an old building. However, this setting has been used to very good effect, giving a comfortable and stylish mix of old and contemporary with intimate corners, interesting and varied furniture, and real wooden floors. No laminate to be seen – that’s smart.

Matt and Cat were courteously greeted and seated at a table close to the bar, where they noticed a prominent sign which lifted their hearts – the Smart Fox is a no smoking pub. At this point the reality of the gastro-pub began to become clear. The Smart Fox is a pub, with a few regulars drinking at the bar, but it is also a restaurant, and delivers food and service to match.

After some careful consideration of the varied and very tempting menu, and some good advice from the knowledgeable and cheerful waitress, Matt chose the curry of the day, which was lamb passander. Cat for once took the bolder decision, and elected to try a chicken supreme with potato gratin and sugarsnap peas in lemon sauce. Being in a pub, and in sight of the beer pumps, Matt was unable to resist ordering a pint of real ale to wash down the curry.

A friendly local who chatted engagingly to your reviewers whilst they awaited their food was aghast at their conservative choices. He gushed a fulsome recommendation of just about every dish on the menu, saving his greatest praise for the fillet steak which, he posited, should be served to the sound of celestial trumpets by winged seraphim. Just as the diners were beginning to think that they had been cheated by their own cautious menu choices, Cat’s cunning questioning of the fellow elicited the fact that he was not entirely unconnected with the establishment. The entertaining debate was interrupted by the arrival of the meals, and any fears about the choices made were put to rest in a instant.

Splendidly presented, both meals were generous portions of excellent food, well devised and perfectly executed. Matt’s passander was made with tender chunks of real lamb in a coconut sauce, filled with the texture and flavour of fresh herbs and spices. Mild but tangy, it was an education in the art of the curry – and all for less than the price of a similarly-titled dish in many curry houses. Cat’s chicken and potato gratin was an aesthetic arrangement; the sauce dribbled in a considered fashion and the food piled in an artful stack. The potato was delicious – an intriguing mix of flavours, possibly swede, definitely peppers and a hint of onion. A generous portion of oven-cooked chicken stuffed with tasty mushrooms was beautifully tender and its lemon sauce was sublime. Although your reviewers were too satiated to try one of the delicious-sounding puddings on offer, they did have coffee with the bitterest of chocolates – which were surely homemade.

Matt and Cat were very taken with this unusual and enjoyable dining experience. Relaxing and stylish, it was a very comfortable way to enjoy excellent food, and good company. Expecting to pay a significant premium for the gastro experience, your reviewers were pleasantly surprised by the reasonable prices. The friendly and efficient service also gives the Smart Fox something that puts it above the competition – it’s a place that is unreservedly recommended.

UPDATE: Matt and Cat would draw your attention to the comments below about the wait for service – it’s something they have experienced too. Ray Harhar has commented:

Good idea to have patience and a sense of humour if booking a meal here.

Matt and Cat agree with his analysis and reckon he’s about right – but, if you possess both of those fine qualities, you are still strongly recommended to try it, as the wait is worth it! Although the Smart Fox appears to suffer from teething troubles, what with lost bookings, creative billing, mix-up over meals, etc, Matt and Cat’s experience of this eatery is that the staff are always courteous and keen to right their wrongs. As a gesture of goodwill for various mix-ups on a very busy night, M and C’s party had a reduced bill, free pudding and free vegetables when dining there recently with friends.

Note: the Smart Fox is now closed and was replaced by the Dark Horse, which itself closed and was replaced by Kynges Well.