In the heat of a summer’s afternoon Sandown Esplanade might be mistaken for the Spanish Costas with its towering beach-side hotels, miles of golden sands and the aroma of Ambre Solaire. However, on a miserable gusty evening in April it was more like Skeggie than the Costa Del Sol. Battling against the wind and under a glowering sky, Matt and Cat were positively sand-blasted by the time they fell through the door of the resort’s Reef restaurant.
This was no happen-stance visit; many readers of this website have suggested the Reef – and all in glowing terms. But although Matt has a certain historic fondness for Sandown, the town of his boyhood, The Cat has no such sentiment. So far she has been a bit underwhelmed by this coastal town they forgot to close down. But it’s not all over for Sandown, The Bay regeneration may uplift this faded dame. And, on this blustery night, Matt and Cat were pleased to find a welcoming haven.
The Reef has a commanding position on the seafront; the original building which is set back from the prom has been enlarged, decked and terraced like a ziggurat. On a sunny day this frontage is probably strewn with beautiful people watching the Girl From…er, Alverstone Garden Village stroll by. During Matt and Cat’s visit only a few die-hard smokers braved the patio.
On entering the restaurant, Matt and Cat were greeted by a waitress – always a nice touch – and they chose a table with a view of the bay. Thankfully it wasn’t so stormy that the view was obscured and Matt and Cat enjoyed watching the tankers on the horizon. This gave Matt the opportunity to regale Cat once more with his tale of the night the Pacific Glory burned in Sandown Bay. Fortunately his woeful descriptions of oil-ruined seagulls did not dampen their appetites and soon they had made their choices from the excellent menu. Matt chose haddock roulade and Cat went for chicken breast.
With the arrival of their drinks they sat back and checked out the venue. The Reef’s style is minimal and modernist; its clean interior punctuated and enhanced by trendy spiky lighting and images of peaceful beaches. The usual big TV is situated on the wall, but Matt was delighted to note that instead of satellite channels it was showing restful scenes of swimming fish and water – silently. A vast improvement on the piped pap that bar-room tellies usually inflict on diners. The whole place was more sophisticated than expected and the friendly service gave the venue a nice relaxed atmosphere. In fact Matt remarked with unaccustomed waspishness that in terms of atmosphere and being cool, The Reef felt like the place Joe Daflo’s might have become – if it hadn’t sunk into torpor some years ago.
Matt started his dinner with deep-fried Brie. A decent-sized wedge of breaded cheese was presented to him with a generous side salad and a puddle of warmed cranberry sauce. The cheese was cooked to perfection; warm and runny. Sometimes deep-fried cheese can suffer from inattention in the kitchen, reducing a nicely-textured wedge into a bready cavern with just the tiniest fermented curd remnant dribbling out. Matthew enjoyed this simple and unpretentious classic.
Deep-fried Brie £4.95
Haddock & ham £12.95
Chicken breast £8.95
For his main course, Matt had fresh haddock stuffed with garlic cream cheese and baby leaf spinach, wrapped in Parma ham and served on a bed of creamy new potatoes and fine beans. The delicate tasting fish and meat was an unusual combination which worked well and looked great.
Cat’s dish was presented with a well-deserved flourish; an attractively-served chicken breast perched on top of an exquisite combination of warm rocket and sweet tomatoes with the ubiquitous spiral of balsamic reduction. A bowl of skinny fries was also delivered – which caused a bit of a hiccup as Cat was expecting sautéed potatoes. However, this misunderstanding was soon rectified with the arrival of the aforementioned spuds – and deftly handled by the courteous waiter who instead of taking away the wrongly-delivered chips, apologised and left them as a complementary dish. Thus a small error was elegantly turned into a top-class bit of service.
The chicken seemed to have been honey-glazed, giving it a nice patina and a pleasant, yet subtle, sweetness. Its rocket and tomato nest was punctuated with discs of mozzarella cheese and the whole dish conspired to be a treat of textures. Matt, having eaten his own new potatoes and a few of Cat’s leftover sautéed spuds had no trouble with the extra chips, and polished off the third tuberous offering.
While clearing the emptied plates the waiting staff did their best to entice M&C to have dessert. Alas, The Reef’s efforts on the previous courses had been too successful; there was just no room in the innards. Well, maybe enough for coffee.
Disappointingly and surprisingly the coffee was not up the standard of the rest of the meal. In fact it fell disastrously short. The nasty-tasting coffees were delivered with a stash of UHT milk in those fiddly plastic cartons – why spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar? However, this final shortfall was mitigated by the pleasure in the rest of the meal, the excellent surroundings and attentive staff. Matt and Cat were pleased to have been directed to this great venue and concur with all those who have recommended it on this website. The Reef really is excellent, the menu is comprehensive, and the food excels in both value and quality. Matt and Cat unreservedly recommend it.
The Reef, Sandown