Lockdown has thrown a shadow over the hospitality industry everywhere, but the Island is shining a few rays of light. Courageous chefs and proprietors are still launching ventures and trying new ideas. Who would have thought that the team at Ventnor’s Tramezzini – a High Street restaurant that only a year ago we described as ‘stunning’ and ‘outstanding’ – would end up running a kiosk in an obscure caravan site half a mile from the nearest road? It’s an audacious move. And with chef Adam Fendyke involved – the man who is known for his skills with Ventnor Bay lobster – we knew we’d want to try this out.
It must be said that getting to the True Food Kitchen at Castlehaven Beach Café is not straightforward. We suggest the lovely walk from the roadside parking on St Catherine’s Road up above, and if the weather’s no good for walking you probably won’t have a good time in this exposed coastal location anyway. The winding, narrow road down to the restaurant is unpaved, steep, and very rough in parts, with few passing places and limited parking at the bottom. On our stroll down the cliff we encountered two different tourist vehicles having difficulty – just walk it, eh?
Once we arrived at this idyllic location, it did seem as though we’d entered another world in this, one of the remotest parts of the Island. A scattering of traditional beachside static caravans was the backdrop to a modest grassy enclave of outdoor dining tables, suitably spaced out, all with delightful views across the English Channel as the afternoon sun sparkled on the waves below. An open-air bar was nearby with a jolly fellow shaking up cocktails, and the hatch to one of the caravans had been repurposed into what looked like a fairly sophisticated kitchen, where we could see a team busy preparing food.
Not long ago one might have expected to find mini-milks and cans of coke being dispensed from this hatch, but things have changed at Castlehaven. The main menu was available, and we could have chosen panko local gurnard, seafood Thai green curry, Vegas steak, but as it was still lunchtime by our tardy reckoning, we instead settled for the lighter daytime menu.
The Castlehaven pretzel buns are sophisticated takes on the classic burger – all served without an actual burger (although beef burgers are available elsewhere on the menu). Cat’s refreshing bun came with mashed avocado, a slice of Emmental, salad and a miso aioli, all decorated with a soft, salty seaweed garnish that reminded us very much of something we’d eaten at the Smoking Lobster.
Avocado pretzel bun £8.50
Pork steamed bao buns £9.50
Salmon poke bowl £14.50
Steamed bao buns are all the rage, and if you want a very good one, you’ll find it here. Matt’s pair of pillow-soft bao were loaded with a hot, sticky mess of pulled pork, cucumber and pickled apple, all laced with a sweet and salty hoisin sauce.
Alongside we shared a poke bowl from the range on offer. This glorified Hawaiian side salad comes with impeccable seafood credentials, and ours was adorned with yuzu and ginger smoked salmon. A riot of super-fresh ingredients was underneath. Sushi rice, sesame seaweed, perky edamame beans and a tropical fruit salsa gave the bowl substance: a great accompaniment.
The True Food Kitchen at Castlehaven Beach Cafe is an outstanding location, used very effectively. With COVID-19 it is hard to predict what’s happening next, but clearly this has to be a seasonal venue. Will this Castlehaven venture continue once warm summer evenings overlooking the sea are no longer available – which might not be long? We suggest you hurry down the little coast road to appreciate the delights of this splendid seafood-focussed menu; friendly, informal service; and most magnificent views.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Amazing views
- Seafood focus
- Great rural location
- Exposed seasonal site
- Difficult to get to by car