The Old Fort is positioned to take advantage of one of the finest dining vistas on the Island, perhaps only rivalled by the Little Gloster and Ventnor’s Spyglass. On those balmy summer Seaview nights when the sea breeze allows it, you can sit right on the seawall and stare in contemplation at the panoramic view of the sun setting over distant Ryde Pier, with the endless gentle drama of the busy Solent unfolding as you sip your drink.
We were lucky enough to get one of those seaside tables one warm Saturday in June when most of the rest of the Island was busy at the Isle of Wight Festival. A cluster of languid Seaview types were enjoying leisurely dinners around us; and out to sea, the sinking sun picked out a lone swimmer enjoying an evening breaststroke amongst the bobbing buoys. Overhead, swifts screamed as they swooped and dived for flies, and the faint smell of ozone rose from the waves lapping the shore below.
The straightforward menu had a range of main courses, salads and burgers and the specials board offered a few more treats. The Old Fort has always had a bit of a soft spot for the pub curry, a much-maligned genre that deserves more attention. Often relegated to a winter special, a pub curry done well is worth the effort all year around. The Fort commendably keeps it front and centre with a chicken curry burger and beef madras on the specials.
Matt however, was not tempted by such exotica. The straightforward American burger took his fancy, and soon enough it was there in front of him, complete with a modest serving of chips and a generic coleslaw. Now the presentation of a burger is something that many kitchens afford great efforts to get right, and to give that special, distinctive twist that marks the burger out as their own. In all honesty, the Old Fort had made few such efforts. It was an unremarkable-looking burger with uninspiring accompaniments. Matt had just seen a fetching chicken curry burger going by to the next table and felt jealous. But appearances may be deceptive. Matt was mollified when he bit into the modest brioche bun. Inside it, a generous allowance of gherkin, mustard, ketchup and mayo slipped about on top of the processed cheese slices in a gratifyingly American way. The 6oz Isle of Wight beef burger was solid, hot and tasty, and Matt was appreciative. No chance of chucking bits of this enjoyable supper to the seagulls on the waves below.
Cat’s meal was better in appearance and substance. Homemade Bembridge crab cakes turned out to be three big balls of tasty crustacean: hot, herby and delicious, with visible pieces of chilli and coriander. A little plastic pot of standard sweet chilli sauce was served alongside – Cat didn’t need it, she was very happy with the crab balls. They came on a generous mixed salad, with slices of tangy seasonal radish to give an interesting and colourful variation to the standard pub leaf-mountain.
American burger £11
Bembridge crab cakes £12.50
The sun was still reaching rays across the Solent as we finished our meal with some dessert. Cat’s lemon cheesecake looked great, arriving in a little glass, with a scoop of ice cream. It was topped with a disc of sweet gelatine which she popped into Matt’s eagerly-open jelly-hole.
Matt chose Belgian waffle with salted caramel ice cream, as recommended by the cheery waitress. This came with a trip down memory lane – who remembers that chocolate ice cream sauce that goes hard when it freezes? It turns out that is still alive and well in Seaview after all these years. The waffle went down nicely.
As it has done for years, the Old Fort proved to be a fantastic venue for a relaxing seaside supper. The food was reliably good, the service was above average, and the view, well, you’d have to go a long way to beat that – especially when the lone swimmer was joined by Sir Rod Stewart‘s backing singers, who spontaneously plunged into the sea after their own Old Fort dinner.