Dining out with us could be a bit of a chore for our friends. You’re invited out a for a fun night out, yet your dining companions are constantly fiddling with notebooks and hustling their camera phones up and down at every course. Luckily we have some very tolerant chums who’ve learnt to put up with our curious habits.
We like to play the game of trying to match the diners to the venue – finding people who are going to enjoy their evening always enhances a good meal. So imagine our delight when we asked a couple of good friends to join us at The Cottage, a new venue in Shanklin’s High Street, only to discover they’d been there twice already. A promising augury.
The venue had the air of a bistro that had recently taken all the chintzy pictures off the walls and painted everything black and white. It was minimal to the point of austerity, and although the bright lighting gladdened our food-photographing hearts, it wasn’t an overly intimate or romantic setting.
Following some warm, fresh little rolls that tasted pleasingly doughy, a ham hock and spring onion croquette was Matt’s starter; and a fine, fresh offering it was too. Served with a sprightly chilli salad it was fresh and perky throughout, demonstrating unexpectedly that a croquette really does not have to be a stodgy lump of mashed potato.
Cat’s starter was smoked duck breast which came with ‘textures of cherries’. It seems that slates as plates are still very much in vogue, but this one failed to contain the cherry juice, which was dribbling off its flat edges even before the starter had been put on the table. Along with the sweet red juice, the duck was adorned with fresh and soaked cherries, alongside a few smears of good cherry sauce. The dark fruit went well with the satisfying duck: a tender, melt-in-the-mouth slice of meat with a distinctive smoky taste.
We were starting to get the idea that there was some fairly fancy stuff going on the the Cottage kitchen. We’d chosen our co-diners well, as they were on hand to navigate the wine list and give us some much-needed guidance on pronouncing the menu. Food at the Cottage is carefully created, but without too much formality – and the successfully inventive combinations in the starters promised well for the next courses.
Ham hock starter £6.50
Smoked duck starter £7.80
BBQ short ribs £16.95
Fish pie £17.50
Lemon tart x 2 £15.00
Matt was blown away by an unassuming BBQ beef short rib stack. A simple array of ribs grabbed his attention the moment it arrived on the table. The hot, seductive smell of liquoricy smoke oozed from the blackened meat, and a powerful brown sauce soaked into the sauerkraut and radish layer below. Commendably there was a big bowl of new potatoes alongside to ensure that nobody would go away hungry. Biting in to the beef, Matt exclaimed with delight at this feast of the senses. These boneless, gristle-free ribs, cooked slowly for who knows how long, tasted as good as they smelled – and that was very good indeed. If he’d found these on holiday at a Texas roadside stall he’d have fallen to his knees with praise and bought a ten-gallon hat there and then. As it was, in Shanklin for £16.95 he made do with a coriander and chilli salad, and was thankful.
Cat chose a fish pie from the specials board. This was well above pub standard, with a promise of haddock, lobster, prawn and cod – delivering a generous supply of all. The pie arrived in a pot capped with the archetypical puff-pastry hat. We all exclaimed – surely this affectation was a thing of the past? Clearly not here, risking the wrath of pie doctrinaires by simply perching the pastry on the top of a rich fishy stew. Having been warned that the fish pie “comes with peas” Cat was a little surprised to find them not bobbing about in the creamy sauce, but in a saucer alongside, which arrived with a matching dish containing a length of piped potato. Although the pie itself was in a searingly-hot miniature saucepan, the spuds had quickly cooled, leading to a temperature anomaly. Cat resolved this by tipping the peas, pie contents and mash onto her plate and mixing them together to make an average temperature and, in her view, a better dish.
We were expecting good things of the desserts, and we mostly got them – for once choosing the same dish. A deconstructed lemon tart seemed to be more like a deconstructed lemon meringue – unless chef puts meringue into his tarts, which is always possible. Nomenclature apart, it was reassuringly enjoyable, albeit less ambitious than the previous courses.
Our meal at The Cottage had some high points that were well worth recalling. Those ribs most likely took the top spot, but – disregarding the unfortunate slate – the duck and the croquette couldn’t be ignored. There must be other things on this well-crafted menu worth exploring. The monochrome venue seemed curiously underplayed, but then maybe it was kept simple to draw attention to the meals. If so, it might have been better to do without the oddly distracting background music. But even that caterwauling won’t put us off – there is some really good cooking going on here, and we’re already wondering who to take with us when we go back to try it again.
This is the full-length version of the review that appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Good quality ingredients
- Thoughtfully presented dishes
- Tasty throughout
- Austere venue
- £17.50 for fish pie