Matt and Cat visited the Bell Bar in December 2005. A nice sunny Bank Holiday weekend in 2008 saw Cat revisit the place. Read the latest review below, followed by the 2005 review beyond that.
May 2008 Review
England in the summer time, eh? Whilst the rest of the country braced itself for a wet and windy Bank Holiday weekend, the Isle of Wight basked in glorious sunshine. The Big Green Picnic was not the washout some had feared, the Minghella ice cream van at Brading Down was almost overwhelmed with customers and Cat and her mother, Gill, having spent a busy morning perusing the ‘antiques and collectables’ at Medina Leisure Centre were keen to have some lunch.
Snubbing her nose at the daily rise in the cost of crude oil, Cat took Gill on the scenic route from Newport to Ventnor; past fields of asparagus, flowering verges and the Wroxall Donkey Sanctuary. Although the sun was shining on the Island, there was a cool breeze a-blowing. However, Ventnor, with its unusual climate, was spectacularly warm and windless. Keen to show off the view of the English Channel, Cat directed Gill to the Winter Gardens’ Bell Bar.
Curiously enough, despite being an infrequent visitor to the Isle of Wight, Gill bumped into some old pals in the doorway of the bar! What a small world. “Small”, declared Cat, “but I wouldn’t like to hoover it!” The Bell Bar is a popular place – and rightly so. Its friendly atmosphere and simple menu draw in the crowds but its Unique Selling Point is surely its south facing terrace with views across the rugged coastline. The inside of the bar is equally visually diverting; pictures of Tommy Steele and Joe Brown jostle for attention with what must be the most eclectic array of kitsch ornaments seen outside of the morning’s ‘antiques and collectables’ fair. A Scottie dog mug wobbled its googly eyes at a porcelain can-can dancer who, in turn, waved her legs at a be-horned vessel with Canadian Moose Milk scribed on the side. On enquiry, it transpires that these bizarre ornaments are gifts of a regular patron – and all donated from her personal collection…
Anyway, to the food. Having lunched the previous day at Newport’s Blue Door Cat and Gill had a taste for al fresco eating. Gill chose a baked potato with cheese and Cat, scanning the sandwich menu decided on tuna. Both meals were very reasonably priced. Drinks had to be bought from the bar, which was a bit annoying as it meant queuing twice but, as they were in no hurry it didn’t really matter.
Taking their seats at one of the many tables outside, Cat and Gill warmed up in the sun, like the spectacular Ventnor wall lizards. Lunch arrived. A huge baked potato piled high with grated Cheddar and with a generous side salad was given to the astonished Gill. “I can’t eat all that”, proclaimed the demure old duck, as she proceeded to polish it off. Cat’s tuna sandwich was more modest but no less tasty. The bread was wonderfully soft and fresh, the side salad crunchy and the whole experience very relaxing.
After they finished their meals, the relatives took a stroll in search of wall lizards; it wasn’t long before they found some of these fascinating herptiles. Ventnor has some great places to eat and, although the waitress of Matt and Cat’s 2005 review seems to no longer work at the Bell Bar, it’s still worth a visit for the good value freshly prepared food and, of course the view.
December 2005 Review
Ventnor is a long way from anywhere, by Island standards, so when you get there, you’ll probably be wanting a nice cup of tea. If so, you could do a lot worse than the newly-refurbished Bell Bar at the celebrated Winter Gardens – a venue that is quirky and slightly intriguing.
Like much of Ventnor, the Winter Gardens is more or less set into the side of a cliff, and provides fantastic elevated views over the English Channel. The Bell Bar is perfectly laid out to provide a huge panoramic view of this all year around. It’s a bit grand to call it a restaurant, but after a fair wait Matt and Cat enjoyed a good hot snack there, and some very nice tea. It is also clean and stylish, and did we mention the views? One thing you probably won’t want to do is drive there, as there is no parking to speak of. However there are plenty of other places to park nearby and a walk either up the cliff or down it will soon bring you to the Winter Gardens, and work up a bit of a thirst – they have a bar too.
Perhaps the most endearing feature of the café was the remarkable entertainment provided by the staff. Our waitress was of northern origin by her accent, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Julie Walters. She delighted and bemused diners with a seemingly endless monologue as she darted with curious bird-like movements back and forth from the servery. It’s beyond the feeble powers of the internet to further describe the content of this performance, suffice it to say that when Cat fell into conversation with a lady at a nearby table it was revealed that she and her friend regularly drive across the Island solely to enjoy the impromptu show.
An enjoyable snack in unusual surroundings – worth the money for the views and entertainment alone.
Ventnor Winter Gardens, Bell Bar Cafe