Have you ever worked for a big organisation? Not a rapidly-expanding kick-started hipster laser razor company, but one of those ancient creaky institutions, like the government or Royal Family. Where, over the decades, layers of policy, ceremony and administration have been added like skin round an onion, until nobody can achieve anything meaningful without getting knotted up in a Byzantine procedure. Frankly if you were to, say, create a new system of local government, you might consider destroying the existing organisation and ploughing salt into the smoking ruins for good measure before starting from scratch with something simple and straightforward.
Most new businesses don’t get the chance to begin with an entirely blank canvas. There is always legislation which needs to be adhered to, and some basic conventions. Nonetheless, the proprietor of Stripped in Ventnor took an old bank and, with that as his only (physical) constraint, considered what was actually needed to open a restaurant.
Food, and somewhere to prepare it is obvious. But what else? Tables and chairs maybe. Plates? If you insist – but only one type, and ditto with glasses. Folderols such as tablecloths, flowers, wallpaper, and trunking to hide the necessary water and electricity conduits are superfluous in this venue. It’s called Stripped for a reason, see.
Approaching Stripped might seem a little intimidating at first. For a start, its neon sign has a hint of Las Vegas about it, but you won’t actually find any actual strippers in here. Once over the threshold you are confronted with the open kitchen. Still a novelty around these parts, we actually like the way that watching the staff prepare our dinner adds to the theatre of eating out. Another unconventional feature – unless you are a monk from Quarr on a day trip to Ventnor – is the communal bench seating. De rigueur in some chain eateries (Wagamama, we’re looking at you), and a great way to make new friends if you’re that way inclined. In fact, if you really feeling like drawing attention to yourself, you could pop into the DJ booth at the back of the joint and slam on some vinyl for your fellow punters to eat to. The record selection seems to be the archive of someone who was big into 1980s synth-based pop and hair metal, but you’d be welcome to spin your own discs for the delectation of the diners.
The perennial question of where to find the Island’s best burger has, as far as Matt is concerned, been unequivocally answered.
Like the venue itself, Stripped’s menu is, well, stripped. With a basic offering of pizza and burgers, the menu is actually the size of a business card. Since our first visit, the menu has expanded a bit, both physically and in choice, and an A4 version is available (which will please the hard of looking). There’s also a special menu, which usually bears interesting and enticing extra dishes – and what they don’t tell you is that after that, there is a further ‘secret menu’. Allow us to spill the artisanal beans. There are always one or two items that are not advertised or even written down anywhere, which for some reason Stripped likes to dish out only on request.
To start, as we nibbled on complimentary homemade pretzel, the waiter recommended fried dill pickles with hot sauce, from the specials. Like many dishes in Stripped and its sister restaurant, Cantina, we had no idea what that would be like. Sometimes it is just easier to take the plunge and trust in the kitchen. In this case, that trust was fulfilled. An intriguing pile of sausage-shaped fried pickles appeared (or what the young ‘uns call #Frickles). Coated in a crispy sourdough batter and anointed with lashings of hot sauce and sweet syrup, these delicious morsels were like savoury banana fritters, and despite the zinging hot sauce it even got a nod of approval from Cat.
On the night we visited, we managed to crack the secret menu when we found out from a friend that Stripped was offering burger pizza – if you asked nicely – or smashburgers. Smashburgers? No idea, but Matt asked for one anyway, and it’s fair to say that Stripped delivered a burger that exceeded even his high expectations.
Fried dill pickles £4.50
Special plant burger £10.50
Beef chilli fries £6.50
Goat’s cheese creme brulee £7
Lemon curd meringue £7
The Stripped smashburger is deceptively simple. Meat, cheese, a smattering of salad and some sauce. And the combination was exquisite. Not one of those towering creations that you can only eat by dismantling it, this one was just about small enough to pick up and bite in the old fashioned way – which is what we most sincerely urge you to do as soon as humanly possible. The perky seed-topped bun, made in Stripped’s own Ventnor bakery, was just enough to hold in all that meaty goodness, but somehow it had not become a sad, soggy bread-sliver as so many burger buns are doomed to do. Oozing cheese, sauce and juices, the Stripped burger was made of tender beef that actually tasted of real meat. Matt was transported with pleasure; and the perennial question of where to find the Island’s best burger has, as far as he is concerned, been unequivocally answered.
Alongside our main meals we shared a side of chilli fries. A generous portion of skinny chips was smothered in a pile of warm, smoky, rich homemade beef chilli that was a meal in itself. Cat joined in the burger-frenzy and ordered the ‘plant’ burger of the day. This vegan special featured grilled miso tofu, spinach and burned spring onion mayo, alongside the Stripped signature vegan burger patty – itself a splendidly rich and moist composite of quinoa, kidney beans and sweet potato. Not here the dismal deep-fried sawdust of the classic pub veggie burger. Stripped makes its own and you’d better believe these are every bit as innovative and moreish as the meat-based alternatives, moistened with the egg-free mayo and squashy tofu. Is Stripped climbing aboard the vegan bandwagon? More likely showing some of those crusty sosmix evangelists how to really do plant-based dining.
We were on a roll at Stripped, so dessert was a given. What was available? We didn’t care by then. With all this special and secret menu business we frankly would eat whatever that kitchen wanted to give us. Cat spotted an old favourite from Cantina, Green Barn goat’s cheese creme brulee. People have been eating cheese for pudding forever, but not like this. Tapping the brulee’s crust with her spoon, Cat scooped out some of the warm cheese and layered it with the sweet sticky jam onto her digestive finger. Perfect.
Matt was recommended a lemon curd dish that he’d not seen on the menu. It turned out to be a wonderful kind of deconstructed lemon meringue pie – without the pie. A bowl of mild, light lemon curd mousse was topped with lashings of rich summer fruits and huge chunks of super-fresh meringue that melted in the mouth like candyfloss.
Stripped has deliberately used a modest budget to concentrate on developing its dishes. What’s been saved on soft furnishings has been very well invested in the kitchen. With the buns, burgers and pizza bases, plus bread, all created by the team; the focus is on very high-quality local food that has a creative and innovative style that you won’t find anywhere else on the island – and the prices are also very reasonable. If you follow our earnest advice and visit Stripped, you’ll likely be too busy enjoying the food and papping your meal for the Instagram love to take in the bare appeal of the venue.
This is the full-length version of the review that appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- The Isle of Wight's best burger
- Vegan options as standard
- Exciting environment
- Not for those who don't want to share their table with strangers.