One of the reasons we started Matt and Cat’s Isle of Wight Eating Out Guide was to give ourselves an incentive to dine away from our own particular beaten track. You probably have your own special favourite eateries too. That Indian takeaway where they know your order off pat. Your local pub, where the bar staff line up your drink without you opening your mouth. You probably even have a preferred restaurant where you take prospective love interests; where the waiting staff can be trusted to be discreet (although, this being the Isle of Wight, even if this is way out in the West Wight you are bound to spot someone you know).
But we digress. We live in Ryde and for years have trod a well-worn route to Wight’s, the town’s high street chippy. We gossip there before Ryde Film Club, we pop in after work, and we eat there during the times we really ought to have a bash at cooking our own tea – but simply can’t be arsed.
Nonetheless, one day, we decided to try a different chippy. Tony’s to be precise. We had last visited a few years ago, such is the constant appeal of Wight’s. However, one day when Matt was getting his ears waxed at Karizma the barbers‘ shop (he’ll give you all the gory details if you ask – including the director’s cut, where he swore as the hairs were ripped out of his delicate lugholes), he looked steadfastly out of the window to distract himself from the pain – and spotted Tony’s.
Cat met her newly-shorn eating partner once his grooming was complete and they stepped into the chippy so that Matt could show off his reshaped beard and test if it still acted as a kind of hairy bib.
The first thing that strikes you about Tony’s is the cheerful and lively staff. As we approached the counter, we were given a very nice welcome. There were about three people waiting to serve; talking chummily to customers and bantering among themselves goodnaturedly. Cat enquired as to the system, and was advised to order with them, then take a seat. Which we did.
There are two dining areas, plus a length of two-seater tables opposite the fish and chip counter. We sat in the front parlour, with a view across Minghella Square, back to Karizma. While we waited for our suppers, a fellow diner who was leaving handed us that week’s County Press saying, “I always read it in here; then I don’t have to pay for it.” We took the paper – after all it had our review of Jade Garden it in, plus Matt’s own column. Loyally, earlier that day we had already bought our own copy – after all, doing so pays our wages.
Cutlery and a bottle of chilled tap water and two glasses arrived. Although there was ketchup, plus the other more standard condiments on the table, we were given the option of having others. Cat asked for mayonnaise – she likes her chips in the continental style – plus tartare sauce. The tartare arrived in an endearing little fish-shaped ramekin with a teaspoon to dollop it come the time.
Mindful of the pandemic virus, we took it in turns to go and wash our hands before eating our dinners. We wouldn’t normally add this level of prosaic detail to our reviews, but the tidiness of what can only be a newly-refurbished toilet is worth a mention in despatches. Also, on the wall we enjoyed scrutinising an illustrated map, produced by the long-decommissioned Isle of Wight Publicity Council. The map had quite a literary bent, featuring Keats, that bloke who wrote about the Dairyman’s Daughter, Dickens and probably Swinburne and that other guy from Bonchurch.
Back at the table the dinners arrived. Cat had the cod and chips half-portion, good value at £4.50. Matt’s meaty haddock was a fine specimen, tasty and moist, but let down by a soggy layer of batter underneath. Nobody wants damp batter on their bottom, and Matt is no exception. The chips were generously allocated, and actually not too bad. Last time we visited Tony’s (many years ago) we rather overplayed the fact that quite a few of our (takeaway) chips were quite small and fragmenty. This time they were proper chip-shaped and Bristol fashion. However to be as good as the chips in Wights is a very high target to reach, and these ones did not quite reach the mark.
Matt had also ordered a portion of onion rings. These were not made of actual battered slices of onion, but were finely-chopped onion integrated with batter to make tiny oniony ring donuts. Cat likes these ones; with their pleasingly uniform onioniness (try saying that after two glasses of prosecco).
Half cod and chips £4.50
Haddock and chips £6.80
Onion rings £1.80
Cat’s cod was a fair sized piece of fish for a half portion. The cod was skin on – so clearly not made of reformed fish – and she deftly extracted its soft and tasty flakes from the dark skin. Her batter was moister than she would have preferred, and the chips slightly drier, but that’s not a criticism, just personal choice. And there were plenty of condiments to lubricate the potatoes if she felt it necessary, plus a wedge of lemon to add that familiar acid note to the fish.
As we shared the last onion ring, we noted that there was lots of jolly chat, not only among the team behind the fish bar, but also with the waitresses as they kindly fussed around their charges in the dining room. It seemed a very happy place.
Diners came, takeaway customers went, but we stayed a while, browsing the property pages in the County Press, fantasising about buying a manor house in Whitwell or wherever. Come on, you’ve all done it! We could’ve been charging our phones too, at the convenient-height USB/three pin sockets.
We enjoyed our dinner at Tony’s. It was a lovely environment enhanced by cheerful friendly staff. We liked the little touches of detail, including the tartare sauce boat (or should that be ‘sauce fish’?). Our dinners were good value and the dining room was a pleasant place to sit and watch the world go by. Plus, by the time we’d left, Matt’s ears were back to their usual colour – and all was right with the world.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
Coronavirus: this review was written and published in the County Press before the coronavirus lockdown of restaurants and bars came into force. As Tony’s remains open as a takeaway, we decided to publish it anyway. But obviously, while the lockdown is necessary, you won’t be able to eat in, here or anywhere else.