The Isle of Wight is delightfully unsophisticated despite the regular and steady influx of DFLs (Down from London), downsizing to experience the mellowness that is Island living (see Guardian article ‘Let’s Move to Ventnor’). The Island’s esplanades are empty of metrosexual man’s preening narcissism, his skilfully dishevelled hair refusing to budge an inch in the blustery seaside conditions.
As well as the cosmopolitan man, other urban trends have also remained an abstract concept. Thankfully the Island’s streets are not littered with the corpses of recently stabbed youths; celebrity tarts in pink velour tracksuits remain, like their personalities, satisfyingly two-dimensional on the pages of Heat magazine and property prices continue to rise, despite the rest of the world heading for a global economic downturn.
So, it was with some trepidation that Matt and Cat entered Ventnor’s Met Bar, imagining it to be populated by zealously groomed young men with bodies hard from their gym workout or orange-hued women with nylon hair cascading down their tattooed backs. Thankfully, they discovered that The Met is a name derived from the eminently respectable Metropole Hotel! Phew!
This cavernous tavern occupies a south-facing corner plot of the new Metropole development, which rose out of the proverbial ashes of the Victorian Metropole Hotel. Although Matt and Cat arrived on a windswept stormy night, it was not hard to imagine the place on a sunny summer’s afternoon. In fact, the obliging barman explained that the previous Saturday, which had indeed been a very sunny winter’s afternoon, had seen The Met fill up with coffee-drinking locals taking advantage of the clement weather. No such crowds on this January evening though; M and C were the only punters.
The Met cannot boast of being the Island’s only tapas bar as there is another one just around the corner in Pier Street. For those unfamiliar with tapas, the menu offers a selection of small dishes of rich Mediterranean food, plus appetizers such as olives and rustic bread.
As M and C’s arrival had doubled the population of the establishment, they got the full works from the barman and the chef, both of whom spent some considerable time chatting amiably about the business, the food and places to eat in Ventnor and Ryde. It was an enjoyable and relaxing conversation over the bar, and Matt and Cat, needless to say, were interested to hear a professional’s take on rival eateries.
Your reviewers were given a virtual tour around the menu; most dishes were described and alternatives were offered. They were even encouraged not to over-order as tapas can be deceptively filling. Even allowing for the empty restaurant this was pretty good service. With this in mind, they chose two dishes apiece; Cat the lamb meatballs in tomato and basil sauce and chicken satay with peanut sauce; Matt the smoked ham and mushroom frittata and salmon and juniper rolls. They also ordered a bowl of olives stuffed with garlic, a coke and a splendid bottle of Ventnor Brewery Admiral’s Ale.
There are plenty of seats in The Met; some by the vast picture windows overlooking the English Channel, others snug in the interior of the bar and yet more on a dais. This is where Cat chose to sit as it suited her regal pretensions. The chairs and tables were satisfyingly solid, hard-wearing leather and wood. The walls of the bar were plainly rendered but with rustic brick detailing and the piped music was an eclectic mix of progressive jazz, torch songs and what sounded like a theramin! A very nice environment for a laid-back evening meal.
Matt and Cat carried their drinks to the table and the tapas was delivered shortly after – five dishes of different but complimentary food. Matt and Cat’s first experience of tapas was in Portsmouth, and they thought it overpriced nonsense. The Met, by contrast, provided decent-sized portions. There certainly seemed a lot more food than can be had at La Tasca in Portsmouth where £3 buys you a couple of olives and an anchovy. Cat was particularly taken with the lamb meatballs. They were very tender, not at all fatty or gristly and had a good lamby taste. The thick tomato and basil sauce deserved to be mopped up with some bread but she made do with scooping it up on the frittatas, which was very dense, if slightly rubbery. Matt found the salmon rolls reminiscent of rollmop herring, and in no need of the extra lemon slices that were provided. The salmon looked interesting and there was a generous amount. Cat thought she had discovered a fish scale, but it turned out to be a piece of chopped bay leaf – there was quite a bit in this dish which may have added aroma but was alarmingly crunchy.
The chicken satay was the only disappointment as the meaty sticks were just like the ones in the supermarket. They were very resistant to being removed from the wooden skewers and had to be eaten like meatsicles. However they were redeemed by the peanut sauce which was lovely and smooth and went well with the lamb as well as the chicken. There was plenty of fresh lettuce and two pert strawberries finished off the garnish.
As Matt and Cat paid up and fought against the wind (!) on their way back to the car, they reflected on another good tapas meal in Ventnor. Strange that there are only two tapas bars on the Island, and they are within spitting distance of each other, and both pretty good. Matt and Cat wondered if The Met would be so accommodating on a busy summer’s day when the DFLs are cruising in their droves, checking their reflections in the big picture windows, sunglasses perched in top of their well-coiffured heads, braying into their telephones. Perhaps they’ll make a return visit to find out.
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