Not that long ago we wrote about how Original Phil’s Diner had reopened under its original name of Top Of The Town (since closed again – Ed). There’s a good reason for this reversion as, almost without exception, when asked for directions people on the Isle of Wight will signpost you to where places used to be. For example, “Where’s Correo Lounge?” might be met with the response, “Where Prezzo used to be.” However, it’s even more likely to be answered with that hoary old statement, “Where the post office used to be.”
And so that big Edwardian hotel in Bembridge has rebranded itself from The Spinnaker back to The Birdham, dallying with the option of The Windmill along the way. We’ve enjoyed some decent meals at this venue in the past, so popped along one balmy summer evening. While some of you may have been roasting your skin off over a barbecue, we broke out into a sweat over which of the lovely-sounding dishes to order.
Rather than being a big echoey barn, like some Island venues, The Birdham is divided into rooms. We had our starters on a high perch near the bar, before moving to the more intimate dining area when a table became available. There is also a larger conservatory, which is presumably the prime location for wedding receptions and parties.
The service at The Birdham was familiar; pleasingly chummy. It’s amazing how much of a difference that makes; customer service can transform an indifferent dinner into a decent experience, whereas a fabulous meal can be ruined by miserable treatment. The Birdham struck gold on both counts; jolly service and great food.
Like a crab’s, Cat’s eyes were out on stalks at the sight of crab rarebit – ordering it without pausing for breath. Cheese on toast is always improved when created as rarebit and, with the inclusion of aromatic local crab, Island ale and toasted brioche pimping up the recipe, it was a great beginning to the dinner. Our other starter was halloumi saganaki. Much discussion was had about the best place to eat the national cheese of Cyprus, with Cyprus coming out on top (unsurprisingly). The Birdham may be a close second, with its version having a slight Asian note, with the delicate batter, honey and sesame seeds. The plate could’ve done with a twirl of peppery watercress to pretty it up, like the other starter, but its starkness did not detract from the taste. Starting with a super-sweet accent, the halloumi then joined the party; the honey’s sweetness fading as the cheese’s saltiness took over and the taste fusion began. It was quite the flavour journey for such an unassuming-looking dish.
Alas the sticky pork shank was not available, so we had medium sirloin steak. The tender meat was capped with two colossal crispy onion rings, and served with a thick peppercorn sauce. The chips were very tasty; nicely seasoned and with good texture. A fabulous herby gremolata salad came alongside. A standard dish, well executed.
Crab rarebit £9
Seafood risotto £17
Sirloin steak £29.50
Sticky toffee pudding £7.50
Risotto can be a bit samey but Birdham-style it was a joy. The seafood dish was studded with tangible chunks of delicate salmon, haddock and cod, with a luscious foamy crab bisque. The soft rice was decorated with puffed grains which, although adding a pleasing nutty flavour, had a slight invertebrate look about them. Nonetheless, each forkful was varied and delicious.
We decided to go for the hat-trick and ordered afters. Cat’s sticky toffee pudding arrived topped with a brandy basket containing stem ginger ice cream. It was a gorgeous dessert; warm and buttery, with a decent sugar-rush cooled and calmed by the spicy ginger. Our brulee was a classic example of the genre, served with delectable smooth and mild raspberry sorbet and a couple of gurt shortbread fingers.
The restaurant was all-but empty by the time we finished our meal, but the staff were still jolly as they cleared our plates and brought the bill. It’s not a cheap place, but with fresh crab, steak and seafood on our plates, it wasn’t ever going to be. We very much enjoyed our dinner at The Birdham; it was a relaxing environment with decent service. But, as ever, it’s really all about the food – and we thought it was all marvellous.