After considerable investment and what must surely have been a labour of love, in 2016 Sandown’s Bandstand welcomed diners through its doors. Matt particularly was intrigued to see inside this iconic building, such a landmark of his Sandown childhood. The conversion is remarkable; from an open-sided bandstand, its ironwork rendered ruinous by decades of salty air, has emerged a sympathetically-restored structure – and architectural award-winning at that. Yet despite being significantly upgraded, it retains much of the bandstand’s original character. The open sides are now draught-proofed, with vast picture windows affording views to the pier and Culver Down on the sea side and up to Brading Down to the west.
Two years on and clearly the restaurant has established itself as part of Sandown’s leisure firmament. We approached from the landward side and found ourselves emerging into the dining hall from a stairwell in the centre of the building. This bright atrium is quite breathtaking; a significant feature of the restaurant is that pretty much everyone is guaranteed a window seat. Our table was on the shoreside giving us an enjoyable view of The Bay at high tide, with hardy winter walkers briskly taking the air; drawn to the beach like folks the Island over are on a cold and blustery day.
At first glance the lunchtime menu at The Bandstand seems chock-full of standard favourites; cheese or ham sandwich, paninis and wraps. However the prices inspired us to investigate further. A wrap for eight quid might raise a few eyebrows, but when it’s stuffed with shredded duck and hoisin sauce, or brie, fig and onion chutney, perhaps not.
Of course the mains included fish and chips – with, and without batter (to satisfy the gluten-free lobby) – a burger and a meat-free pasta dish. But the menu also tempted us with breaded langoustine tail, and smoked haddock with spinach and a poached egg.
We were there with friends who had just returned from three weeks in India. It was hard to imagine being in a place so hot and dusty while watching the waves break across the groynes. We heard tales of the Taj Mahal, curry for breakfast and an elephant with a painted face. Sandown seemed a million miles away from such exoticism, yet we were in close proximity to tigers, so perhaps the two places were not so unalike after all.
As we chatted away, the waiter apologised for the wait. To be honest we hadn’t really noticed and not long after his intervention, our dishes arrived anyway. Cat enjoyed goats’ cheese and baby beets from the salad menu. It was a generous bowl full of dressed mixed leaves, peppery cress and crisp radish, plus sweet tomato. Delving further Cat discovered finely-diced peppers and cucumber. Then there were the chunks of crimson beetroot, this season’s trendy vegetable. The earthy beets went well with the plentiful tangy goats’ cheese, and the whole lot was served with well-matched onion marmalade and a drizzle of balsamic glaze. Cat really enjoyed her salad; it was as delicious as it was attractive.
On Matt’s plate was chicken ballotine, a chicken portion stuffed with bacon, cheese and spinach. This was an adequate, but uninspiring main course, moistened but not elevated by the tomato sauce and parmesan draped over it. Pub-standard fries and salad alongside were fine but didn’t really complement the chicken. Matt looked with a little envy at Cat’s goats’ cheese salad – and when he starts coveting salad it’s not usually a good sign.
As this was our first meal of the day it would be positively indecent not to have dessert. Everyone has breakfast pudding, don’t they? And when it’s laced with as much coffee as Cat’s cappuccino cheesecake, it’s definitely allowed. Cat likes coffee and she also likes coffee-flavoured food. Quite often though a coffee cake, for example, has had the rarest of inoculations and the taste can barely be detected. Not so at The Bandstand: the cappuccino cheesecake had a rich coffee flavour accounted for by the four shots of coffee that go into it, Cat later discovered. It was a light and moussey consistency, decorated with toffee sauce and served with salted caramel ice cream. You’re salivating now, aren’t you? And so you should be – it was wonderful.
Goats cheese salad £9.50
Chicken ballotine £10.50
Cappuccino cheesecake £5.75
Fresh berry Pavlova £5.75
When you read that there is fresh berry pavlova available, you need to ask yourself what this means. Pavlova, like ‘pie’, is a term that has been adopted by the catering fraternity and used for a bewildering variety of dishes, for good and for ill. In this case, the Bandstand kitchen was most definitely on the good side. This was a very well-presented dessert, and delivered the fresh berries studded into cream borne nicely upon a meringue. And not some dry old crunchy thing but soft and sticky-sweet inside, as all good meringues should be.
The Bandstand has what it takes to be a great destination restaurant; an attractive and unusual building which is nicely appointed. The menu has some good variation, yet also a few regular items for the more timid diner. One thing that the venue lacks is decent acoustic dampening. It’s surprising how much the sound reverberates around this glass shell and the noise levels can be a bit overwhelming. As a party of four, we ended up having two different conversations on our respective sides as it was too noisy to have an all-inclusive conversation across the table. There’s probably not a great deal that can be done to mitigate for that alas.
We had a mixed experience at The Bandstand. Cat really enjoyed both of her dishes, yet Matt found his main course a bit pedestrian. Apart from the acoustics, the venue itself is a good one, with an enviable outlook; but the service team seemed a tad overwhelmed on that busy lunchtime.
When Wight City and Sandham Grounds have been regenerated into sexy new seafront amenities, the Bandstand will be in the best position to capitalise on the regenerated Sandown. Even if those plans don’t come to fruition, The Bandstand is a beautiful venue worth visiting.
This is the full-length version of the review that appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Did we mention the spectacular views!
- Fantastic desserts
- Vast glass chamber can get pretty noisy