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...

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.

Haddock roulade

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.

A small error was elegantly turned into a top-class bit of service

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.

Deep-fried Brie

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.

Matt and Cat’s bill
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.

Chicken breast

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 Reef

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

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  • Looby

    23rd September 2012 #1 Author

    Lovely meal last night, fillet steak perfectly cooked. Cajun chicken consistently good,my hubby almost always orders this. Waiter very good just the right balance of attentiveness.
    As always very busy for a Saturday night, which is how it should be for a good establishment but still nice to see. We love the Reef never had a bad meal but I would like to see the dessert menu tweaked as still seems to be an array of frozen choices.

    Reply

  • Looby

    16th April 2012 #2 Author

    Have eaten here twice in the last couple of weeks, busy busy both nights food lovely as always, not so keen on the dessert menu as this seems to consist of pretty much all frozen desserts which would suggest that they are brought in and not home made which is what put me off ordering?

    I would also like to say that the newly refurbished toilets make a huge difference to the whole experience really good refurbishment.

    Only little niggle was the waiting staff seemed slightly more interested in chatting at the bar than serving customers, pleasant enough very young staff but they will get much better tips if they are slightly more aware of customers and attentive to their needs.

    Reply

  • Laura

    18th June 2010 #3 Author

    Had lunch here today and the food was excellent. I can really recommend the steak ciabatta which came with fries and salad and, although in the ‘speciality sandwiches’ section, was big enough to be considered a meal and filled me up for the rest of the day!
    I can’t wait to go back – I liked the sound of the sweet chilli fish cakes!

    Reply

  • KJ

    21st May 2010 #4 Author

    went with the kidsto the Reef tonighton the strength of these comments..and unfortunately we are not that impressed. The wait for food stretched our tolerence and on a gentle reminder after 25minutes were informed thatour waitresswas new…which did temper our revolt. The food was…..OK. The £8.95 Chicken meals were very good, but the £14.95 sirloin,although cooked well was not good enough to be £2.00 more than the Caulkheads. The kids meals were confusing, one an adult portion of tagietelle with Chicken and bacon the other a spagboll which they did in seperate bowls as requested, but was probably to ‘adult’ season wise for a child..saying that my eldest who normally only eats mild cheddar loved the ‘parmasan’ slices…thats a first.

    The wait was disappointing and the food….OK……but not outstanding enough to have made an impact.

    Have I been spoilt by the Taverners…probably

    Reply

  • Looby

    12th May 2010 #5 Author

    We love the Reef and think its upgrade/extension is fab the only downside are the toilets they really need a revamp

    Reply

  • ghostmoth

    11th May 2010 #6 Author

    I agree with Cat and although I don’t live far away, very rarely visit Sandown. If you need a reason, there’s an episode of Duncan Bannatyne’s Seaside Rescue about Sandown showing tonight!

    Reply

  • Den Clare

    10th May 2010 #7 Author

    I can only agree with your comments, we have always had an excellent meal at the Reef and it is our favourite restaurant for our family birthday celebrations, children and all!! We are only sorry that we missed the relaunch, I was theraping!!
    Warm wishes to all.
    Den Clare 🙂

    Reply