It may be the depths of winter now, but imagine the scene: having spent all day on the beach during a rare hot August Bank Holiday, a day-tripping family tidies up their detritus.
Nan is levered out of the deckchair and Dad bounces assiduously on the hissing inflatable banana until it slowly goes flaccid and is packed away. Struggling back up the hill, the whining kids, piebald with suncream, are famished from a long day of throwing sand at each other, and Mum’s thinking with little relish about the prospect of heating up tomato soup on the Camping Gaz stove. Just then, a fish and chip shop comes into view, the tempting aroma of hot oil wafting across the pavement and drawing the hapless tourists unresistingly inside.
If our hypothetical hungry family is in Ryde, they’d do well to stop at the first chippy near Appley beach, Monkton Village’s Chipmunks. Matt and Cat have reviewed that venue favourably, but it is only one of several contenders in the town. The family could maybe step a bit further west. No, no, not to the Codfather, slightly south west and up the hill to Wights. Although a tad more than a hop, skip and jump from the beach, this chippy is well-placed at the junction of Ryde’s precinct, near a pub, cinema and bingo hall – perfect for passing hot-snack-hunters. And so it was that Wights was Matt and Cat’s chosen venue for a fish and chip supper with a visiting relative from London.
Wights is a venue of two halves: the right side devoted to the takeaway, where patient punters queued for their deep-fried manna at the stainless counter. The port side housed the restaurant where Matt and Cat’s party was accommodated at two tables, promptly pushed together by the maitre d’chips, whose courteous welcome and flourish of menus was an unexpectedly attentive touch in such a venue.
The restaurant’s interior style gave a respectful nod to the world famous Harry Ramsden’s fish and chip palace with its chandeliers and table service, although it showed its proletariat roots with its slightly less grand squeezy tomatoes.
The menu was typical chip shop fare with an abundance of fish, sausages and pies. Also on offer, exclusive to Wights, were burgers from Ryde butchers Martindale, made from ‘certified free-range 100% Aberdeen Angus Scotch beef’. Continuing the local provenance theme one was served with ‘award-winning Isle of Wight blue cheese‘. Another – the ‘Volcano’ – was adorned with jalapeño peppers. The burgers were surprising enough but the presence of a wine list was quite unexpected; it’s not often that Matt and Cat have had a sit down meal in a licenced chip shop.
Haddock and chips £6.70
Fishcakes and chips £3.95
Curry sauce £1.10
Stella Artois £2.95
Heedless of Wights’ decent menu, Matt and Cat’s London visitor – like the exemplar family of beach grockels – was determined to have fish and chips. Matt joined him, whereas Cat chose fish cakes imagining – falsely as it happened – that it would be a modest supper. Taking advantage of the unexpected drinks licence, the men had beer. Cat drank coke, which was delivered in a traditional glass bottle.
The cheerful chatter of the fryers and customers next door continued, as people bustled through the busy shop. Despite this activity, there was only a short wait for the privileged sit-down diners. The cheerful waiter soon delivered the fried offerings, which were presented nicely; with little pots of what had to be home-made tartare sauce and freshly-cut lemon wedges. Cat’s fishcakes even came on a fancy restaurant-style square plate and with a curry sauce side. The waiter remembered both the drinks and food orders, delivering the right dish to each of the diners. This level of detail – remembering who had what – is not always seen even in the Island’s most illustrious restaurants. One of Cat’s colleagues tells of the embarrassment she felt when, on a first date, a local waiter arrived at her table, dessert-laden, and shouted “Who’s the tart?”. So it was an absolute treat to be served at Wights with such attentiveness. After all, no-one wants to put their hand up to the announcement “who’s a regular pollock?”.
The proof of the pudding was in the eating and in this case the dining party was united in praise of the suppers. The quality was good, and the piping-hot food was fresh from the fryer. Cat’s fishcakes were very much to her liking. Incredibly, considering their bargain price of £3.95, they were pretty fishy – not disproportionately filled with potato as so often is the case. The curry sauce was a great addition to the delicious chips too. The chaps’ fried fish was the perfect consistency, with a generous coating of batter that was crispy on the outside but still soft within. And alongside everybody’s meal, hot, tasty and with perfect ‘bite’, the plentiful chips were beyond reproach – with that elusive mix of textures that can only really be achieved by eating the chips fresh.
Dessert was on offer – including sticky toffee pudding, no less – but nobody could fit it in. The modest bill came with a handful of mints – continuing the restaurant theme to the last. Clean plates and a satisfied family made the verdict clear: Wights is as good a sit-down fish and chip restaurant as can be found anywhere on the Island. It is highly recommended.