You’ve got to have some sympathy for The Hambrough. Everything the venue subsequently does is compared to its early triumph with Robert Thompson at the helm. The talented chef won the Isle of Wight’s only Michelin star this millennium at The Hambrough in 2006, aged just 23, before going on to even more impressive work with Thompson’s restaurant in Newport and his latest project UBChef, which looks to be heading for national success. That inevitably leaves The Hambrough, even fifteen years later, in the tricky position of having to reinvent itself as the place that is no longer anything to do with Robert Thompson.
The latest chef to take on this challenge is Matthew Tomkinson, himself a former Michelin star holder on the mainland. Matt and a friend took advantage of a break in their busy Ventnor Fringe schedules to see what Mr Tomkinson could offer.
The dining room at The Hambrough has the same slightly ascetic feel as it ever has. Sprays of artificial flowers and neutral decor tones are all that is needed, as the whole room focuses on the magnificent views across Ventnor Bay. Our dinner began with a couple of warm, cheesy gougeres, nocellara olives, and ‘house nuts’. Soon after, hefty chunks of very palatable homemade fresh sourdough turned up, then the amuse bouche of set Parmesan custard with truffle foam and pumpkin seeds. This was a clever and appropriately amusing way to start – and all this before we even got to the menu.
Terrine of confit rabbit was a substantial starter, a pleasing melange of textures and tastes. The terrine successfully mixed rabbit, prunes and parma ham. A puree of what might have been capers was a good light, sharp foil for the meat, with wafts of truffle dressing alongside.
Rabbit terrine x 2 £24
Stone bass £32
Roast pork £23
Strawberry sorbet £10
Chocolate delice £10
Choices for the main course were focussed on the traditional, and Matt pondered roast lamb and pork belly, before taking the seaside option of Cornish stone bass with Jerusalem artichoke puree. This lovely-looking dish did not disappoint. A gentle red wine sauce emphasised the mild flavour of the white, flaky fish; which was surrounded by serrano ham, Isle of Wight tomatoes and some lively sprigs of watercress.
Matt’s companion chose pork, which was a classically-presented chunk of perfectly tender meat, with the correct salted crackling, a couple of apple slices and a pleasingly herby black pudding.
Dessert for Matt was dark chocolate delice. A buttermilk ice cream oozed over the top of the rich, almost savoury chocolate, and the marmalady burnt orange puree alongside was a good counterpoint. Some curious crumbs of what appeared to be muesli were apparently pistachio crumble, but they were maybe there for visual reasons as the delice had no need of them. A strawberry sorbet with strawberry jelly was an assemblage of pink things, a refreshing, fruity panna cotta type affair.
An enjoyable evening was spent in Ventnor, and we can confidently say that The Hambrough is back in action. The meal was good, and the menu delivered everything it promised. If Tomkinson’s current scope and ambition felt a bit limited, that was perhaps more to do with echoes of the past than any criticism of the present. We hope The Hambrough makes a success of this new start, and we’ll be keeping a keen eye on what comes next from that famous kitchen.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Reliable standards
- Some clever and appropriately amusing touches
- Beautifully-presented food