The Isle of Wight has its own annually-spinning merry-go-round. Year after year, summer follows spring; in non-pandemic times we would be gearing up for the Garlic Festival, Ryde scooter rally, Pride, local carnivals and other fixtures on the Island’s perpetual calendar.
But, for the second year in a row, we are starved of attending these kinds of mass cultural events – unless you count football.
What we are not starved of though, is decent food. While mainland towns hold their metaphorical heads in their hands, decrying the ruination of their high streets, on the Island things seem to be pretty rosy. In fact, with the exception of the stalwart Yarbridge Inn, our last six reviews (including this one) have been of venues opened since the shadow of coronavirus spread darkness across the world.
The Heron is the newest addition to Ryde’s leisure firmament, occupying the space left in Castle Street when The Alamo shifted slightly northwards. It’s always been an unusual venue; the Alamo’s basement bar, where pre-dinner drinkers were haunted by photos of dead cowboys, now has additional seating for the new restaurant, having been redecorated in sophisticated neutrals.
The team behind The Heron had their own slightly longer journey northwards from the acclaimed The Cottage, Shanklin. Now the residents of Ryde and, we predict, gourmands from across the Island and beyond, can enjoy a similar well-crafted menu.
Unsure of what to expect from oyster mushroom scallops, Cat was thrilled with the surprisingly-meaty cylinders of seared mushroom pate. The peppery note was soothed by pea purée and a twirl of affilla cress.
Matt’s representative was happy to fall on the pork sword; enjoying a starter rather suggestively named ‘pork taboo’. The meat had a soft smoky flavour, flecked on top with gems of crispy crackling. Managing to resist the temptation to lick the glass dish, Cat’s companion thought a bit of bread wouldn’t have gone amiss so that the delicious and sticky pork reduction could be fully mopped.
Starters 2 @ £4
Mains 2 @ £11
Gratin side £6
Strawberry dessert £7
Chocolate dessert £6
Grilled lemon sole was a gloriously summery affair. The pale fish and corresponding potato and celery salad were spotted with fresh-green aromatic herb oil and tiny verdant tangy shoots. The light fish had a delightful fragrance; a charming dish.
Roasted garlic has none of that acridity that its raw form exudes. It also has an agreeable soft pulpy texture; ideal for stuffing into a chicken fillet. Already flavoured with the bulb, the meat’s breading added its own seasoning. Sweet bacon jam and salty fried mushrooms took the tastes to another level; again an imaginative combination of flavours, well-presented.
Although we were more than happy with our mains – Cat’s was served with creamed kale – you might want to consider a side dish, if only to experience the vast cheesetastic broccoli and cauliflower gratin, enlivened with chopped hazelnuts.
Sometimes a meal can have a dud dish, or perhaps a chef who’s inspired with savouries might have lost creative momentum by the time it comes to the desserts. Not so at The Heron; all three courses were magnificently curated combinations of taste, texture and appearance.
Highlights of our afters were the vast disc of firm white chocolate engineered to resemble honeycomb. Honey itself was represented in an ingenious clear gel; an intriguing way to boost the sweetness of the fruit pudding. Our other dessert had a magnificent interpretation of salted caramel. Slightly thicker than the norm, this intensely-flavoured component was more toffee than sauce. Making its presence felt under the sensual almond and chocolate cremeux, it embraced a dark sponge like a soulful lover.
You can probably tell by that last sentence that Cat’s three courses at The Heron inspired her to think about love. The love of doing a job like this – who wouldn’t want to be paid to write about food? – and the love of local enterprise and awesome talent, which brought this wonderful meal to her hometown.
Eat at The Heron. You will not be disappointed. Take your date; not only will you get a superlative dinner, attractively presented and at an unfathomably decent price, you might even fall in love.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Creative and beautifully-presented dishes
- Wonderful flavours
- Incredible value for food of this calibre