It’s a ‘hotly’ contested accolade; the Isle of Wight declares itself the Sunniest Place in Britain, despite some vigorous but unsuccessful chest-beating from Eastbourne.
An old sun recording machine from Shanklin is in Matt’s possession and, although the natural light in his humble dwelling never troubles its sensitive needle, he is proud to own such an important instrument.
So, if the sunniest place is not Matt’s bedroom, then where is it? Well, with midsummer practically upon us then, to get the best out of the longest day you need to head to the Island’s western shore. Yes, you could sit at the top of Headon Warren and watch the sun go down over Dorset and very nice that would be too. Or, if you were feeling flush, you could do as Matt and Cat did, and sit on the deck of The Hut at Colwell raising a glass to the sun as it casts its light and warmth across the western Solent.
For a coastal county, the Island has a surprisingly low number of eateries right on the beach. Sandown and Shanklin can probably jointly claim the crown for quantity, and Ventnor does pretty well, although there is a road between most of its cafés and its picturesque bay. But from V-Town right round to the Boathouse at Fort Victoria, you’d be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of shoreside restaurants. However, The Hut at Colwell is one such, with an envious position right on the beach.
2 x cover charge @ £2 (optional) £4
Potted crab £9
Chicken breast £15
Scallops and pork belly £17
Panna cotta £7
Although it’s only a short step from the car park, you have to walk to The Hut. And, as you do so, you can enjoy the view of the magnificent Hurst Castle plus the promontory that is Fort Albert to the north east. The beach at Colwell is pleasingly sandy and, on the day Matt and Cat visited, was busy with children swimming, a bit of rockpooling and yachts at anchor.
Compared to previous establishments on the same site, The Hut has undergone a significant upgrade. It is a hut in name only, being these days a pretty large restaurant. There are loads of seats on the terrace and also plenty indoors for chillier nights. But be assured, pretty much all of the tables are within eyeshot of one of the most spectacular sea views in the south of England. Unafraid of looking like a couple of poseurs, M&C wore their sunglasses indoors out of necessity as they chose a seat up against the window. Bread, olives and cucumber-infused water came out to start – part of the £2 per head cover charge. Remember cover charges? Matt and Cat can’t recall the last time they saw one. But there it was.
The presentation of the food at The Hut couldn’t be faulted. Matt’s starter, potted crab, was a satisfyingly simple dish delivered in a Kilner-style jar with a coiffured tangle of pea shoots. It was, as promised, crab meat in a pot. The flaky meat had a slight hint of lemon and the brown flesh was soft and tasty. It was just about possible for Matt to squeeze his outstretched fingers clutching a piece of bread into the pot and mop up the meaty juices.
Cat chose oven-baked chicken breast, oyster mushrooms, tarragon jus and and roast potatoes. The use of the multiple when referencing the spuds was technically correct; three halves of the world’s smallest roasties accessorised the dish. The creation was quite delicious. Somehow the chicken had been infused with the herb and every mouthful was a delight. Chasing the rich sauce round her plate with the lovely meat, Cat couldn’t get enough.
Matt also couldn’t get enough. By which he meant dinner. His belly pork main dish was another magnificent presentation, rich king scallops alongside a hunk of pork belly crusted with salty skin and garnished with fresh sea-purslane and an intense black squid ink reduction, all sitting on a swoosh of butternut squash purée and a little bed of seaweed. If there was any suggestion that this was a mere beach café, this superb dish blew that away. It also, to Matt’s eye, looked a bit thin on the ground. It’s not a new thing to have a main dish that is served without any carbs at all, but normally if the venue is casual enough to offer an incomplete meal, the servers will take the opportunity to upsell a few side dishes. In this case, sir might have liked a side order of chips, or roast potatoes, or another hunk of bread, or, well, anything really. M&C were undisturbed throughout the course and so the chance to get some extras was not afforded them. Because this pork was so very, very good, it seemed wrong to wolf it down. Matt made it last.
Waiting for dessert, Matt and Cat saw in action one of The Hut’s unique selling points – a passing yacht rang up, and immediately one of the smartly casual sailing chaps who staff The Hut set off in the restaurant’s own launch to taxi the dining party to shore. Perhaps if Matt and Cat had rung them up they might have cleared the table before delivering the following course, or brought some more of that bread they had begrudgingly paid £2 for. Or more likely not.
Cat had chocolate marquise for pud; a super-rich slab of chocolate that would rival the celebrated chocolate Nemesis occasionally seen at Cantina. Served with a lip-suckingly tart berry sorbet, this was a dish that Cat loved. Matt passed up the opportunity for chilled apple crumble and tried his luck with coconut and buttermilk panna cotta. It was magnificent; a silky-smooth coconut experience contrasted cleverly in both taste and appearance with a brilliant-green lime and cardamom syrup.
Matt and Cat had enjoyed one of the most enchanting seaside venues on the Island, with some magnificent food. The sun slipped further down the sky, seagulls cried, the waves lapped gently on the sand and children played in the sea below. Eventually the time came to pay up, and stroll gently back along the enchanting little bay at Colwell. Their meal wasn’t cheap, but it was worth the money. However, despite its justly-deserved restaurant pretensions the service was distinctly beach café; disappointingly inattentive to the point of indifference. But then maybe that’s how they like it down there on the beach.
A shorter version of this review appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Superb food
- One of the best sea views you'll find anywhere
- They will pick you up from your boat
- Massive terrace
- Lackadaisical service
- Not a massive meal for your money