Going to Totland Bay at midsummer must be like going to the moon. Matt and Cat blasted off from Newport and headed in a near-straight trajectory. Reaching jowl-bothering speeds of nearly 40mph (except through Shalfleet), they went west towards the setting sun. The light from our brightest star was dazzling and, to preserve their rheumy old retinas, the astronautical pioneers lowered the sun visors on the vintage BMW. Once they could go no further, they parked up and gawped at Dorset.
Finding themselves far from the metropolitan hustle and bustle, M and C had switched to holiday mode the moment that they crossed Yarmouth bridge. It was a particularly pleasant evening; the clouds scudded across the sun in a very picturesque way, a boy played with his dog on the sandy beach and gulls pecked at random stuff. As the Waterfront was the only venue around, Matt and Cat went in…
M and C were greeted by a very friendly waitress who directed them to a table in the sun room. One seat faced the bay and the other faced the interior of the room. Taking first choice, as only Cat knows how, she plonked herself in the west-facing seat and instantly experienced eyeball burn from the reflection of the sun on the sea. She should have kept her space helmet on! Matt was happy to swap and he found no problem staring at the distant resort of Bournemouth. Let this be the first bit of advice to would-be visitors – go in the evening for spectacular sunset views; but take your sunglasses!
Offered a modest menu, Matt and Cat asked about specials. The waitress obligingly trotted off and returned brimming with the knowledge of two of the day’s dishes. A further trip elicited the rest of the selection and Matt and Cat decided to go all piscetarian as they were within a tiddler’s breadth of the sea. Matt also went all out and had the enigmatic-sounding beetroot salmon starter. He didn’t even bother asking what it was -pink and purple, probably. Only one way to find out. Actually, within a few moments the chirpy waitress returned and pointed out that what was supposed to be ‘home-cured salmon’ would today in fact be just smoked salmon. Matt was given the option to change his mind, but persisted. The dish was modestly presented with a handful of stalked capers interspersed with beetroot cubes, some lollo rosso and a little mound of smoked salmon. It was OK, as far as it went, but Matt thought it was a bit basic, although it was fresh and tasty.
The boy and his dog on the beach below provided the entertainment while Matt and Cat waited for their main course. The energetic labrador (is there any other kind?) seemed have endless enthusiasm for fetch. The boy threw a ball into the sea, the dog splashed excitedly after it. The boy threw the ball on the sand, the mutt skittered in its wake. When the boy threw the ball at a groyne the dog bounded head-first into the solid wooden structure, and cracked itself on the noggin to a chorus of ironic cheers and laughter from the Waterfront’s punters*.
The main course was duly served and what a spectacle it was! Cat had grilled rainbow trout and Matt had a brace of grilled mackerel. The fish looked great, both presented identically; laying rigid on a bed of salad with a scattering of the sweetest cherry tomatoes and a few sautéed potatoes at the plate’s circumference. The leaves were dressed with a mustardy concoction which added a good contrast to Cat’s earthy-tasting trout. Her animal’s pink flesh was beautifully tender and moist, and was easily released from its skin and bones. Despite succumbing to the Ultimate Sacrifice, the trout seemed to be grinning up at Cat with its tiny razor-sharp teeth.
Matt’s mackerel were small but they tasted good. This was very straightforward food indeed: cooked fish on the simplest of salads, done well. Food purists will find little to complain about here – although by contrast anyone seeking novelty might do. There were plenty of non-fish things on the menu, but M & C can’t comment on those, having deliberately gone for the finned food, inspired by the venue. And this was turning out to be a very good choice.
Beetroot salmon starter £4.25
At the end of the meal a trio of cartoon fish skeletons was left; heads and tails connected by spiny spines plus a pile of skin. There was something really fundamental about eating fish by the sea, knowing it had been caught off the very waters that the Waterfront overlooks. Making enquiries at the end of their meal, Matt and Cat discovered that the seafood had been truly local. In fact, when Cat asked if the menu’s crab was from Bembridge, the proprietor spluttered “No, it’s local – from Yarmouth”.
The Waterfront’s location must come in for a special mention. At the time of their visit the sun was going down so Matt and Cat were treated to a peaceful sunset in Totland’s picturesque bay. It all added to the ambience – on an overcast or rainy day the view may not be so appealing but punters could probably get their kicks by pretending they were aboard a gale-lashed ship.
A combination of a fine location, excellent local food and good polite service make the Waterfront a great relaxing place to eat. Highly recommended.
* Animals were definitely harmed in the course of this review. The dog recovered with a shake of its head, but there was no hope for the fish.
Waterfront, Totland Bay