There’s something quite satisfying about an establishment that has not succumbed to the refurbishment fashions of stripped wooden floors, strategically placed ‘objets’ and sunken lighting. Yelf’s Hotel in Ryde retains its old skool charm – demonstrating that carpets, a staff dress code and crooning Tony Bennett piped through the speakers have not yet had their day. In fact, with “200 years of hospitality“, under its belt, the hotel can afford to be a bit relaxed about interior design trends. Yelf’s, as a town-centre hotel, does a busy lunchtime trade as well as evening meals. Matt and Cat have visited twice to try both these, and so there are two reviews here for you to sample from their different visits.
Evening menu (reviewed March 2008)
All dressed up and ready to try the new Cinnamon Indian restaurant at the bottom of Union Street, Ryde, Matt and Cat were slightly nonplussed to find it packed to bursting. Where else on Union Street could take your hungry reviewers in? In search of somewhere at the upper end of the scale, before long they found themselves peering through the glass of Yelf’s Hotel. After a splendid lunchtime meal there last year, Matt and Cat had vowed to return and try the a la carte menu, which seemed more appropriate for an evening visit. So in they went.
A short wander through the labyrinth of Yelf’s pleasingly confusing inner rooms and Matt and Cat found a polite, uniformed member of staff who welcomed them into the restaurant area. They settled at a big table covered in silver, glass and linen of all descriptions, overlooking the bustling street.
The menu was most enticing. As a refreshing contrast to the acres of fine print found in cafes and pub menus, Yelf’s clearly showed its class with an understated list of exquisitely-described dishes, any one of which seemed to be worth investigation. For once, your reviewers were almost tempted to break with tradition and try one of the starters, but parsimony got the better of that impulse and they elected to go straight into the main course. Matt picked a duo of Hampshire pork fillet and black pudding, with a prune and Armagnac jus. Cat went veggie with a tartlet of ratatouille vegetables with a Parmesan gratin. On enquiry Matt noted that vegetables and potatoes were separate, and charged as extra. This isn’t unusual on an a la carte, but it’s still a regrettable practice. If the chef has gone to the trouble of designing a dish, it seems appropriate that the accompaniment should be selected as a part of that process. And in terms of the bill, inevitably it leads to resentment if the diners were expecting the price on the menu to be the price they pay. Much better if the cost of an accompaniment is identified up front as a part of the main dish. Putting such negative thoughts aside, your reviewers decided to share a bowl of green beans.
Gazing out of the bay window at Ryde, Matt and Cat enjoyed relaxing in the very well-appointed traditional dining-room. Although the restaurant was nearly empty, nearby the noise of locals chatting in the bar could be heard over the unobtrusive piped music, giving Yelf’s a pleasant atmosphere. Before long a complementary dish of olives and canapés arrived, shortly followed by a generous selection of bread, which appeared to be home-made. Each time the impeccable waiter carefully described what was being delivered, even down to pointing out what was in both of the different butters supplied. This was good service.
After just the right length of time, the main courses rolled up in similarly well-documented style. Both looked quite spectacular. The bowl of green beans chased up the rear and proved to have a remarkably generous helping of pine-nuts to complement the piping-hot beans.
Matt’s pork and black pudding was arranged in a long strip, topped with some flat-leaved parsley and fennel garnish to make the whole thing look most inviting. The meat was exquisite, perfectly cooked to be dry and ideal to soak up both the rich Armagnac and prune gravy, and the fat from the delicate black puddings that perched on top. A cleverly-made and highly satisfying meal.
Cat’s tartlet was pretty good, too. Any fears she had about the modest size of the portions was dispelled by the time she came to finish. The complementary bread and canapés had done their work – Cat was well satiated.
Ruminating comfortably with some cappuccinos afterwards. Matt and Cat felt remarkably well-pampered and well-fed. Yelf’s has an old-fashioned exterior, but this unreconstructed traditional style, splendidly carried over into the decor and the service, is perhaps what gives the place an exceptional quality. Despite what many new restaurants seem to suggest, recessed lighting and stainless steel do not, in themselves, make a great eating-place. Yelf’s has none of this and is the better for it. Your reviewers were convinced that this was probably the classiest meal they’d had in Ryde, and certainly amongst the best on the Island.
Hear the podcast review:
Lunchtime menu (reviewed July 2007)
Lured through the hotel’s historic doors by the promise of homemade cakes and cappuccino, Matt and Cat found themselves in a rather Byzantine set-up; rooms to the left and right, offering different types of refreshment – tea and cake, beer and a la carte dining. They poked their noses into each room and also wandered out the back to survey the very nice patio area. However, this being British summertime, they soon scurried back inside to the warmth of the conservatory.
Expecting a modest array of light meals, snacks and cake, Matt and Cat were delighted by the selection of food available. Apart from the a la carte there were sandwiches, baguettes and ciabattas offered, with fillings such as roast beef with roasted red onions, smoked salmon with mill pepper and dill and, for the vegetarians, oven roasted vegetables and garlic mayo. Starters included warm garlic and sage marinated pork kebabs, flat filled mushrooms stuffed with spinach, pine nuts and tomato, glazed with cheese. The main menu included staples like steak and chips and fish and chips as well as the sublime-sounding stuffed lemon sole with rice in a butter cream herb sauce.
Having settled on the chicken Caesar salad special, Cat at the last moment changed her mind, opting instead for the stuffed mushroom starter. Matt was not so vacillating – he plumped for the club sandwich.
Taking only a brief moment to discuss theology and science, your reviewers had little time to wait before the food arrived.
When delivering the food, the attentive and immaculately-uniformed waitress did not hover over Matt and Cat waiting for them to state which of the plates was for whom. Instead she confidently delivered the meals to the right person.
Cat’s three stuffed mushrooms were delightfully garlicky, with a hint of spinach and a generous sprinkling of pinenuts under each cheesy crust, all afloat in a sea of puréed tomatoes and topped with a salad garnish. Cat declared them very well-presented and delicious.
Matt’s toasted club sandwich, as well as containing slabs of bacon and chicken with crispy salad – all constrained in the bread with tiny wooden skewers – brought with it a moment of ‘involuntary memory‘. Matthew explained to Cat about the happy times that he had once spent in a mainland bar, regularly consuming club sandwiches. The very sight of today’s spectacular bread-and-meat-fest revived those memories in an instant. Interestingly, a similar ‘a la recherche du temps perdu‘ experience had occurred to Cat the previous evening when she stumbled upon the theme to Robinson Crusoe on YouTube and was instantly transported even further back in time. Perhaps Matt was put in mind of a bygone age by the clear success that Yelf’s has in maintaining traditional hotel standards.
With all of this navel-gazing and introspection, Matt and Cat nearly forgot to be thrilled by Yelf’s implausibly low prices. Matt’s club sandwich was a mere £5.50 and the bargain of the day had to be the stuffed mushrooms starter which was a purse-friendly £3.75, so the whole meal plus drinks from the bar cost just over £12. With service and a venue both of top standard, Yelf’s cannot fail to win Matt and Cat’s highest recommendation.
Yelf’s Hotel, Ryde