It’s been exactly a year since we were urged to Stay at Home, Protect the NHS and Save Lives. A year of restaurants doing the are-we-open-no-we’re-closed-again hokey cokey (Hovid-Covid?) A year of intermittently eating out, but mostly relying on our latent cooking skills, with variable results – hello seafood chowder, toodle-oo lettuce and cornflake curry (not Matt’s finest hour in his pinny).
The takeaway food industry, on the other hand, was not subject to the same restrictions as its eat-in kin. For example, with seemingly just a few tweaks to its ordering and collection system our local chippy was doing what it did best, feeding Ryde with deep-fried delights.
Also employing a little bit of creativity, many of our favourite restaurants repositioned themselves as takeaway. Cartons were procured, apps or websites upgraded for online ordering and social media spanked to showcase dishes to hungry doomscrollers.
But what if, when plated, your best dishes are a stunningly-crafted edible artwork; a construction of spiralised vegetable twirls, decorated with squiggles of jus and scatterings of sesame seeds? How will the meticulously positioned garnishes of your ramen travel from your kitchen to the customers’ table, without submerging the artfully bobbing toppings? Or leaking out of its container completely. Nobody wants a car footwell lapping with pork bone broth.
Hearing that one of the Island’s best venues was dipping its toe into the takeaway market intrigued and delighted us. Our own instagram feed was becoming the repository for many golden starches: chips, fried chicken, battered fish, more chips. What we – and our camera – crave is colour, detail. No! Sushi!
Sushi box £15
Main and dessert 2 x @ £20pp £40
Smoking Lobster did not disappoint. With the appropriate packaging, we were able to safely transport our three-course meals from Ventnor to Ryde without spillage or homogenisation.
Beginning with the hot dishes, we nibbled cartoonishly at grilled corn with garlic and nori butter. These moist, perfectly-cooked hunks of corn were richly-smoked, moist and easy. The kind of viscerally-satisfying flame-grilled taste that Burger King attempts to simulate but never will. After this, Matt applied himself to the heap of hoisin baby back-ribs. These mild, sweet ribs were impressive. Cooked to perfection the bones literally fell out of the meat, which was plentiful. A subtle hoisin taste perfused the pork, with richer notes on the bones, which invited – and received – a good sucking.
It turned out that our aspiration to sidestep a fried dinner was not entirely fulfilled, as Cat’s choice of katsu vegetables dictated. Any comparisons between finger-lickin’ chicken and SmoLo’s breaded avocado were soon swept away. The avo took to the treatment well; its smooth flesh retaining that distinctive texture. Understated coriander and peanut noodles revealed their own intrinsic flavours. The unexpected peanut crunch gave these Asian classics a great new Smoking Lobster touch.
Then it was on to the sushi. Let’s just take a moment to appreciate the fact that freshly made, delicious and authentic sushi dishes are available here on the Isle of Wight. No, it isn’t cheap. Yes, it can involve some raw fish. Some people will complain about those things, but those people are fools to themselves. If you don’t like sushi, don’t eat sushi – but if you do, this is the sushi to try. With a ten-piece box to sample, we both had plenty to explore. Our favourite was the sublime smoked teriyaki tuna nigiri, closely followed by the aromatic Korean chicken taco.
Pudding? Yes, there was pudding. A white chocolate mousse actually tasted of rich, white chocolate, almost butterscotch in its caramelisation. On top was a fresh mango and passionfruit salsa that cut through the sweet mousse perfectly. We nodded in appreciation – this was a great way to round off the meal.
Smoking Lobster has got a hard job to equal their usual exquisite presentation and ever-changing fresh menus in the time of takeaways. Luckily, the day when we can eat out is drawing close, and the SmoLo, like many other venues, will be reopening from 13 April for outdoor dining as well as takeaways. Our meal was one of the more expensive ones we have had this lockdown, but we would have readily paid this much or more for the same food eaten in the restaurant. If you want to experience one of the best fine dining takeaways the Island has to offer, this is where to find it.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Beautiful sushi
- Asian-inspired flavours
- Travels well