Matt and Cat\'s Isle of Wight Eating Out Guide
At first glance, some things never seem to change. Bruce Forsyth’s hair suspiciously resists the march of time regardless of the fact it’s trampled...

At first glance, some things never seem to change. Bruce Forsyth’s hair suspiciously resists the march of time regardless of the fact it’s trampled all over his face.

Crème brulee, The Essex

Madonna remains steadfastly dewy and youthful despite the knarliness of the old bird’s fists. Godshill defies passing trends; pretty thatched cottages nestle in the valley below the picture postcard church, unchanged for decades. Or is it? Under new management, The Taverners has transformed itself into a renowned gastro-pub; alongside its famous cream teas the Willow Tea Rooms now sells tapas, and the former Loaves and Fishes is rebranded as The Essex.

The Essex has had many incarnations throughout the years; tea shop (natch), fish restaurant and now an upmarket dining establishment. Having earned a decent dinner by going for a tramp in the woods, Matt and Cat booked a table at the restaurant. They brushed the autumn leaves out of their hair and turned up at the fancy venue in time for their reservation.

Lamb, The Essex

The Essex has a civilised little bar at the front of the shop with a rather incongruous TV which, on the night M and C attended, was showing the X Factor. However, the restaurant should not be judged by its broadcasting of lowest common denominator telly. It was, in fact, a very understated venue with plain walls, fully-linened tables and attentive, well-dressed staff in pinnies who welcomed your reviewers and settled them at a table in the middle of the big dining area.

If you’re going to eat flesh – and Matt certainly is – then there’s sometimes no harm in it looking like it

Matt and Cat were the first diners in the place, but very soon others started trooping in. There’s room for a lot of people in there, and a couple of big parties were amongst the evening’s clientèle. A young couple and an older couple took a nearby table. Maybe some new boyfriend or girlfriend being shown off? Matt and Cat’s ears were well pinned back to hear. To their surprise, the young gentleman in question turned out to be anything but: testily quibbling with the staff about the table before he even sat down. Flamboyantly dressed, this chap’s querulous mithering was almost as entertaining as his feeble preening. Was he, perhaps, overcompensating in front of his new belle’s parents? Alas it was impossible to tell who the others were, as the oldsters sat in silence the whole time, obviously unable – or unwilling – to get a word in.

Turning their attention to the food, Matt and Cat were soon presented with some nice-looking and generous meals. Cat had abandoned chicken for one of her intermittent forays into beef; choosing fillet steak au poivre. Matt received a mighty roast shoulder of lamb. Both meals came with potatoes and a big and piping-hot portion of veg.

Matt loved the big chunky look of the lamb, with the bone peeking cheekily from the meat in a robust style. If you’re going to eat flesh – and Matt certainly is – then there’s sometimes no harm in it looking like it. Under the joint was a simply delicious little podium of freshly-roasted veg, splendidly caramelised onion and perfect potatoes, soaking up juice from the meat. Loading onto his plate the fresh vegetables and excellent sautéed potatoes, Matt plunged his knife into the meat with relish. It wasn’t quite as good as it looked, but then it couldn’t be, really. The slow-roasted lamb might have been better if it had been fast-roasted, as it was on the dry side and the gravy was a scant complement. But it was nonetheless a decent bit of meat which Matt enjoyed ripping into; and the accompanying veg was beyond reproach.

Cat’s steak au poivre was a hunk of fillet rolled in a profusion of peppercorns, set in a rich, creamy puddle of sauce with a scattering of even more pepper. Her steak knife soon revealed a perfect medium steak, just as she’d requested. The smooth and soft fillet was generously endowed with the fiery pepper, so much so that Cat’s delicate tongue protested, and she even scraped some of the pepper off the meat. The creamy sauce, blended from meat juices, cream and red wine was exquisite and was a fantastic lubricant to the tender meat.

steak au poivre
Matt & Cat’s bill
Roast lamb £14.95
Fillet steak £21.95
Desserts x 2 £10.50
Drinks £3.55
Total £50.95

Throughout the meal the staff were attentive without being bothersome; achieving that magical balance lacking in so many other places. As Matt’s pint glass looked like it was about to be drained he was offered another drink. A steak knife appeared at Cat’s side without prompting. All newcomers to the restaurant were greeted and seated.

Desserts were a foregone: the food was so good Matt and Cat weren’t going to stop half way. Cat’s raspberry crème brulée was a delicious and delicate dish, with even the raspberries having a slightly caramelised finish. Cleverly, it was served in a shallow, wide dish, so allowing more of the delicious crackly sugary covering. Matt predictably went for steamed syrup pudding ‘with a hint of ginger and lashings of golden syrup’. It was a great pudding, but that kind of lashing was more like a gentle tickle – more syrup, please, Essex.

Matt and Cat were replete and happy: The Essex is a good venue with extremely professional service. The food looked superb, and didn’t taste too bad either. The comprehensive menu will have something to tempt most diners, and the prices are not unreasonable – especially the veggie options which are a positive bargain. It seems that others think the same, as even on an off-season evening the place was thronged with happy diners. The Essex is recommended.

  • Emma Burch says:

    I am quite a fussy eater and always have chicken.The Essex offered a beef burger which I don’t eat but they were happy to substitute the beef for chicken.Very accommodating and lovely staff and owner.Love this place for food and atmosphere.
    There’s always offers through The Price is Wight of which I always take up.
    I am looking forward to returning tonight for a meal for two bought through PIW.
    Thanks again Essex love you guys.
    Would highly recommend as certainly one of the top 5 Restaurants on the Island.

  • David F says:

    Visited Essex Cottage last night. Had heard favourable comments from friends and was really looking forward to it. How disappointed we were!
    Although the staff were very attentive and obliging our meal left a lot to be desired. I ordered blanch bait – a fancy name for fairly nondescript whitebait with horseradish sauce. My wife had crab cakes with chilli sauce. Although the presentation was OK they lacked flavour and one was hard pressed to taste any crab at all. They were essentially potato with the sauce providing the flavour. On the main menu was lamb chops which neither of us are keen on, but liking lamb we opted for one of the specials which was seasonal lamb. When it arrived it was lamb chops on a bed of red cabbage. When I asked the waitress how does this differ from the lamb chops she said the lamb chops come on a bed of small roast potatoes! There was nothing in the description of seasonal lamb to suggest that it was in fact lamb chops in a different guise. The mashed potato accompanying the lamb was dry and uninteresting. The whole meal lacked colour and flair.
    Additionally the wine list is very limited and there isn’t , in my opinion, sufficient range to satisfy most tastes.

    The atmosphere in the restaurant was pleasant and it was busy but overall it was a most disappointing experience and we would not return. We did leave a tip but there was no acknowledgement of this and nobody saw us out or said goodbye.

  • Sean says:

    Return to The Essex, again they paid such attention to wife’s gluten free requirements (they put many places to shame) we tried the pate and homemade chutney, and prawn cocktail as starters, then mains of pork medallions and the homemade beef curry, all very tasty, although I found the choice of bread served with the curry a bit odd, kind of a wholemeal panini, I found it a bit heavy for wiping up the curry juice and had similar bread with the starter, some naan or poppadum’s would have suited me better?

    We will be returning again and they had some great deals on offer for December, 2 lunches for £10 and tea for 2 (including 4 homemade scones) for £6, just £3 per person!

    Thankyou and keep up the good work!

  • Sean says:

    Our first visit to the Essex, my wife has allergies and felt she had found a new home when being told she could choose 90% off the menu, and they had wheat and gluten free breads. Never had such a good understanding of alergies and service, we are going back soon. Thankyou Essex and as a non-alergy person my meal of soup, homemade burger and fries, and lemon possit was also fantastic. Very Impressed.

  • We’ve eaten at The Essex a few times and it’s always been lovely. Food is always fresh, well cooked and staff are attentive without being intrusive. We had their delicious Carvery the other week and having heard that The Essex is up for sale, we asked the waitress what was happening. She said that the owners are emigrating to New Zealand but that the staff, and one of the chef’s, will remain the same so the food will probably be as it is now, which is good news!

    However, we wish the owners good luck with their new venture, whatever that may be, in New Zealand.

  • Alison Randall says:

    We ate at the Essex twice during our holiday, both time with our young children. They do a really good offer where children eat free before 7pm. It was wonderful to eat somewhere with a lovely ambience and fabulous food with the children. The food was absolutely scrumptious and the portions were just right. The staf were lovely, just attentive enough without pestering and were very supportive during a difficult accident with the children. I would recommend this restaurant for families with children who want to eat somewhere with good food rather than the normal pub rubbish. I just wish I could go back and enjoy a meal with just my husband but unfortunately it is too far!!

  • Ann & Steve says:

    We agree with previous reviews about the fantastic Sunday carvery!The lamb was so tender & all the veg were tasty too,only gripe would be that the roast spuds had gone soft as lid put on created steam so caused the crispy bits to soften.
    Service was very friendly & not intrusive.It was busy but everyone was being served equally which is good to see.
    We returned for evening meals four days later & again the food was very,very good(as it always has been!)Just a shame there was only one other couple dining that evening whilst we were there,guess the lunchtime trade is probably busier being in Godshill?
    Keep up the great food Paul so we can return later in the year once we’ve trimmed off the excess we’ve just put on!!

  • The Round Table Gang says:

    Celebrating an 80th, we visited Godshill on an unexpectedly cold and rainy April day. Desperate for a warm-up we ventured in to the Essex, looking for a light but satisfying lunch. We were rewarded by really friendly service, superb filled baguettes and heart-warming leek and potato soup. We only wished we had had the time to return for one of the tempting main meals described on the boards. Reading the other comments we have obviously missed a real treat.

  • C & R says:

    Excellent! Absolutely superb. The best Sunday carvery I think we have ever experienced. Everything, the meat, the vegetables, the huge home made Yorkshire puddings, the gravy, was flavoursome and cooked beautifully. Literally enjoyed every mouthful!

  • Downsviewduo says:

    My girlfriend and I have just returned from a very good meal at The Essex. The food was lovely, reasonably priced and well presented; and the service was friendly, professional and pitched just right. The restaurant itself is very smart, and has a surprisingly modern feel considering the traditional exterior. One point of note is the portion size; both our meals were very generously sized, and we would have almost certainly struggled if a starter had preceded the main course. Overall a very positive visit, and I feel The Essex can sit very comfortably alongside the also excellent ‘The Taverners’, for they offer quite different experiences.

  • John Woodhouse says:

    We had Sunday lunch at the Essex yesterday. The warmth of the welcome, the excellent service and most enjoyable food – we opted for the carvery at £12 per head – made this a “definitely must return venue”.

  • Loren and Jo says:

    A lovely alternative to the hustle and bustle of the old smithy. Haven’t been in here before and so glad we did.
    The atmoshphere was lovely, the food was great and friendly staff too.
    We shall return!

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