It never ceases to amaze us that so many people are willing to step forward and open new dining-out venues on the Isle of Wight. Admittedly there is a strong tradition of hospitality on our Island but even so, in the current difficult economic climate, it is a delight and an inspiration to see the exciting, different and sometimes just plain bonkers projects that get launched. Often as not we’ll nod sagely like proper locals and say ‘It’ll never last’. And how we love to be proven wrong.
New in Cowes High Street is an unlikely conversion of the former Totties fish and chip shop. From a fairly prosaic chippery has been wrought a delightful little venue with some unusual features, and an interesting menu. Run by the people who manage nearby Captain Pizza, The Garden is an Italian-style venue serving what is known as ‘small plates’, as well as a few pizzas, naturally enough, given its origins. The venue looks tiny on entering, but keep exploring and you will find further spaces, leading out to a surprisingly roomy courtyard at the back which gives the venue its name. This does involve winding out past some service areas but it is worth the journey. This is a garden that will be worth a visit when the weather is more clement – and when it isn’t, there are tables indoors too.
We settled in the front of the restaurant and had the menu explained to us. Matt anxiously enquired about the size of the ‘small plates’ – having been caught out in such places before. He was reassured to hear that two or three plates was a decent meal, and so it proved.
Starting with a wintery Forager cocktail, we noticed that this menu – served in December – had plenty of seasonal touches. It looked as though it might be possible to assemble the components of a traditional Christmas dinner so we thought we’d have a go at that. We could watch our dinners being prepared in the nearby open kitchen with enthusiasm and skill, which was a great reason to get a table in the front of the venue – we’d suggest you do the same if you’re not going into the garden.
First out of the gate were zucchini fries with truffle oil and Parmesan, which were moreish salty morsels that we eagerly scoffed. Sautéed brussels sprouts came with fried lardons and a creamy sauce, making what sounded like a side dish into a substantial and tasty portion that we squabbled over. It would be hard to resist cauliflower three-cheese-stuffed Yorkshire puddings, and we didn’t. These light puds were loaded with a gooey, cheesy mass of sauce and cauli. A clever and enjoyable treat.
Goats’ cheese tartlet: £9
Cauliflower Yorkshires: £8
Zucchini fries: £7
Roasted root veg: £7
Panna cotta: £7
The soft, perfectly-textured ring of aromatic slow-braised beef brisket was redolent with star anise and cloves, a heady, spicy delight. Densely-flavoured grilled goats’ cheese tartlet came with chutney, a honey-roasted fig and even roasted chestnuts. We didn’t ask if the chestnuts had been roasted on an open fire, but we did order a side of roasted root veg to make the perfect festive spread. It was almost impossible to get it all on the little table, but our waitress did her best, and we helped out by eating our way through what turned out to be a great dinner. We finished off with gelato and a splendidly wobbly panna cotta.
This was a very enjoyable meal out. Cowes has got an interesting and very promising new venue that we’re definitely going to try again. The food is worth exploring, and if the service is a bit casual that’s not always a bad thing. We just hope they’ll be offering a waterside catering truck during Cowes Week so they can promote it with the slogan “Come into The Garden, Moored“.
48 High St, Cowes PO31 7RR
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.