Anyone who has been to Ventnor recently will have been impressed with how the town has picked itself out of economic malaise. Where once were junk shops and empty windows, now there are coffee bars, emporia and restaurants. And even though 2012s Arts Festival-goers heard a particularly impassioned discourse about Tesco’s arrival in Ventnor from Nearly Naked Chef Hardeep Singh Kholi, the ruinous old Ventnor International stores has nonetheless been replaced by a shiny new Tesco Express.
So Ventnor is definitely open for business. Even the troubled Winter Gardens has flung open its doors again. In fact, if you want to relocate your cup-cakery, camp coffee parlour or pop-up burger joint to the town youd be hard-pressed to find room.
In an attempt to spread the love beyond the town centre and the delightful esplanade, the culinary team behind the popular Ventnor High Street venue Tramezzini has popped up in the Wellington Hotel. After making a name for themselves with their classy café with its fabulous Italian-inspired lunches, they have ventured into riskier but potentially more prestigious territory. Can the successful formula be transposed to a hotel environment?
It goes without saying that the charming Wellington Hotel is on a cliff facing the sea – frankly if any hotel is not orientated to the south in Ventnor then it is doing something wrong. Matt and Cat were directed from the reception to the restaurant down a couple of flights of stairs. This was a simplistic way of describing the Wonderland-style trip through passageways, unlabelled doors and a lot of stairs. A bit more overt signage would help blundering diners avoid the possible embarrassment of rattling on bedroom doors as they made their journey to their table.
But it was worth the trek. Matt and Cat emerged from the metaphorical rabbit hole into a world of linen-clad tables, handsome stripped-wood floors and a spectacular terrace with enviable views of the English Channel. The French doors were invitingly open so, despite it being one of those grey summer days, M&C popped out. The terrace was vast and, had it been sunny, they would most certainly have claimed one of the many tables. As it was, there was plenty of room inside.
Tramezzini at the Wellington Hotel has a decent dinner offering, which Matt and Cat got a tantalising glimpse at as they perused the lunch menu. There was a surprisingly diverse range of dishes under the modest headings of ciabattas and burgers, salads and light bites. Having made their choices M&C surveyed their surroundings while sipping at chilled water; a carafe of which which had been brought to their table unrequested.
The dining room seemed a versatile space and, they concluded, would be a great venue for a private party – with almost as much room outside as in. On the cooly-neutral walls there were some rather dauby paintings that caught Cats critical eye. They looked like place-fillers rather than your actual art, but with a view of the sea and some extremely well-presented food to draw attention, they were only a minor distraction.
Ahh, the food. Matt ostensibly had ham and egg, but boy, it was unlike any ham and egg youd normally expect. A perfectly-runny poached egg was anointed with a the merest drizzle of truffle oil and a dusting of pepper. This was perched on a mound of thinly-sliced ham over a slice of ciabatta, all in the middle of a big, lively fresh salad rich with the earthy tastes of fennel and beetroot. Just right for lunch on a hot summer’s day.
Cat was offered a starter from the dinner menu as a special. And it was indeed special: Parma ham, chicken and chorizo terrine, with goats cheese and creamed bean salad. In its appearance the terrine reminded Cat of one of her favourite childhood sweets – nougat – with its soft body studded with little coloured morsels of coarsely-chopped vegetable and chorizo. A tangle of peashoots waved their tendrils atop the dish. The delicious loaf was wrapped in sweet Parma ham, and served on a bed of leaves, Parmesan crisps and mildly-creamed beans.
Tempura calamari starter £6.50
Parma ham chicken £6.95
Honey and mustard salad £8.95
Croissant pudding £4.95
Limoncello brulée £5.95
Cat ordered raspberry and peach croissant summer pudding dessert. It turned out to be an interpretation of bread pudding made from croissants, with a strongly vanilla-flavoured ice cream and garnished with a real vanilla pod. “EAT ME” it silently urged. No, she couldn’t possibly eat all that, she exclaimed. Matt nodded knowingly, and as soon as she tasted her first mouthful, his expectations were confirmed. This dessert was impressive stuff that, despite her protestations, Cat eagerly consumed to the last mouthful. Matt had an uncharacteristically dainty portion of limoncello brulée, with fresh strawberries and, oddly enough, cracked black pepper shortbread. The limoncello and indeed the black pepper were both pretty subtle in this creative mix, but it worked, and Matt was appreciative.
When the bill arrived, it was surprisingly modest. Matt and Cat and two companions had lunched for less than £60, and everybody had enjoyed two courses. For food of this standard, that’s very attractive. And to be honest, it needs to be. This is a courageous venture by the Tramezzini crew, because although the Wellington is a very well-established hotel, it’s not had a big name for dining in the recent past. What’s more, it’s a bit out of the way, and up against some mighty competition in the behemothic forms of the Royal Hotel and The Hambrough, just a few steps along the road. But Tramezzini at the Wellington Hotel is starting off strongly. Very strongly. The food is beautifully presented and extremely tasty, the menu is exciting and different and the dining room – once you find it – elegant. On this showing, Matt and Cat would say Tramezzini at The Wellington is a major new development in the town that is already a top eating out destination.