For a county with nearly seventy miles of coastline, there are surprisingly few venues with a sea view. Pretty much the whole of the south west coastline has nowhere punters can enjoy a bite to eat and a glass of something stimulating while contemplating the English Channel. Even the Island’s northern shores have a dearth of coastal venues apart from a few isolated cafes and a prestigious hotel here and there.
If you want a guaranteed sight of the sea while you enjoy your supper you’re best off heading eastside. In the olden days, Sandown and Shanklin were neighbouring resorts but the marketeers have conflated and rebranded the Island’s favourite bucket-and-spade coastline as The Bay. Despite this arguably misguided attempt to put the sizzle in these venerable resorts’ sausage, the beaches remain beautifully sandy and, sure as eggs is eggs, the tide continues to ebb and flow.
Like Sandown, Shanklin is a town of several parts – a high street elevated from the shore and an esplanade with typical seaside amenities and hotels. Shanklin also has the picturesque Old Village and the wonderful Chine, not to mention its very own Elvis Presley memorial.
Matt and Cat caught up with some old colleagues in the Waterfront Inn. With the lights of distant boats twinkling on the horizon, M&C and friends had dinner and a good old gossip. The Waterfront Inn has recently had a change of management. Has anything else altered in this popular eatery?
M&C first visited the Waterfront in 2014 and had an extremely pleasant evening which included “the best rice pudding Matt had ever eaten”. That night there was barely a table available as it was the beginning of the summer onslaught. On the coldest night of the winter, things were slightly different, although the venue was far from empty. Eschewing the terrace (although it did have some of that unsustainable electric heating) the party was seated indoors, by a seaward-facing window.
The Waterfront Inn is a guest house with hotel pretensions – offering table service and beautifully-presented food. It certainly felt like a welcoming, family venue, rather than just another dining pub. M&C and party were served courteously throughout their visit but hey, let’s just cut to the food. Although they didn’t order the walnut, blue cheese and pear salad, one of their friends did and it looked wonderful. Slivers of pear were arranged in a radial configuration and the heart of it was piled high with fresh mixed leaves, chunks of diced blue cheese and red amaranth, a sort of beetrooty micro-cress. Matt’s crayfish cocktail had a late substitution of prawns. He was initially disappointed but his chagrin was expelled when he saw the splendid creation that arrived. The meaty prawns gave the dish a nostalgic feel which old-school Matt decided he preferred.
Regular readers of M&C’s Isle of Wight Eating Out Guide will know that Cat loves chicken and Matt’s benchmark dish is burger. The Waterfront’s menu contained both of these ingredients and, unlike Jay Rayner who has admitted “heading for where the trouble is” Matt and Cat conformed to type.
The smothered chicken dish was presented as a stack, as is the modern way. The base layer was created from a hotchpotch of boulangère potatoes, followed by the meat. The whole lot was dressed with a creamy mushroom sauce and distinctive truffle oil, and adorned with the same twiddly maroon shoots as the pear salad. The dish was right up Cat’s street. The only complaint – and it is a minor through relevant one – is that the lighting in their corner of the restaurant cast a pinkish hue over all of the dishes, which made the chicken look unappetisingly under-cooked. However, it was most definitely cooked; the two pieces of skin-on chicken were piping hot and fabulously moist. With the veg of the day it was a tasty dinner.
Matt’s burger came with the choice of a wide range of extras – at a modest additional cost. He had picked bacon and cheese, and this combo worked pretty well. The burger itself was a big, home-made patty with chunks of meat and onion throughout; served at what Matt judged to be the perfect temperature, allowing the cheese to melt invitingly over the top, but still with plenty of meaty juices inside for Matt to discover. Alongside came a robust salad and a pile of what had to be home-cut chips. This was a classic burger that Matt was delighted with.
After Matt’s glorious pudding of their last visit, neither he nor Cat would be deterred from dessert. After prawn cocktail and burger, Matt decided to complete the hat-trick and ordered an apple and cinnamon crumble with custard. Cat had the same, but with vanilla ice cream. They assumed – correctly – that a kitchen that could please them with English seaside hotel cuisine so well would not slip up here. The crumble was like the rest of the meal and indeed like the whole venue – a satisfying, comforting and ultimately very enjoyable experience.
The Waterfront Inn, from the outside, looks similar to other seafront eateries that can be found on the esplanades of the eastern Wight. But diners would be wise to look a little closer – the personal service and hotel-like welcome set this little venue apart, and when paired with some good cooking and very reasonable prices this is a place with more than a spectacular view.
A shorter version of this review appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on the 30th of January 2015.