olive pitstop: where to eat and drink on the Isle of Wight
Explore the Isle of Wight’s foodie scene with our top 10 guide, including local cheese soufflés in Ventnor, kitchen theatre in Newport and Scandinavian cocktails in Cowes
The Michelin Guide has recommended The Royal every year since it was first published in 1911. Since then, this Ventnor hotel has done well to maintain its Victorian feel as well as its foodie focus: an original wrought-iron porch marks the entrance, afternoon tea is served on manicured lawns, and the lofty dining room looks as if it once doubled up as a ballroom. Bedrooms enjoy the same bygone ambience (floor to ceiling arched windows are a highlight) and most are painted sky blue to complement the views of Ventnor Bay, a five-minute walk away.
Perhaps it’s the old-fashioned dining room, but we didn’t expect such clever, delicate cooking from The Royal restaurant. A cheese soufflé made from island Gallybagger cheese (similar to cheddar) was so light that it evaporated on the tongue, and pearly white lemon sole caught that day had just the right level of bite. Prune and Armagnac soufflé – miss no opportunity to eat soufflé here – was 10/10. royalhoteliow.co.uk
For a more modern menu, head to Thompson’s in Newport. Diners sit on gnarled wooden benches and watch chef Robert Thompson at work in his open-plan kitchen. Here, he produces dishes such as smoked wood pigeon carpaccio – velvety soft and dramatically presented under a glass globe that billows smoke when removed – and delicate skate wing served with rich, porky black pudding balls.
Be sure to try the ‘virgin butter’ with your bread – it comes from the Butter Vikings, based on the island, and is characteristically sharp and lemony. Another must-try is the local crab croquettes, usually served alongside white fish. Intense in flavour, with a satisfyingly crunchy shell, they’re an ode to the freshness of Thompson’s ingredients. robertthompson.co.uk
The Little Gloster restaurant with rooms, in Cowes, takes inspiration from co-owner Ben Cooke’s Danish grandmother. Set against The Solent, a stretch of water usually peppered with sailboats, it’s an unfussy little bungalow from the outside with clean, white interiors illuminated, Scandinavian-style, by candlelight.
There are three bedrooms, all large suites that have the same modern maritime feel to them: porthole mirrors, warped wooden shelves, antique chests and pretty watercolours of marine life decorate the space, and there are rugs draped over sofas for optimal snuggling. Watch the sailboats race from your very own veranda, decorated with cushions.
The Little Gloster offers a subtly Scandinavian-inspired menu. Try house-cured gravadlax with a shot of homemade aquavit (a dangerous but excellent Scandinavian spirit), or catch-of-the-day with punchy pickled cockles and vegetal seaweed mash. Even the burger comes with Danish pickles.
There are nearly 15 options on the menu for breakfast, plus leisurely brunch cocktails including The Little Gloster screwdriver (homemade marmalade aquavit, fresh orange juice, orange zest and bitters). Try thick-cut toast with imported Danish jam, or creamy mushrooms on granary bread with spiky Isle of Wight blue cheese and toasted pine nuts. thelittlegloster.com
Take in the beauty of Tennyson Down – the poet laureate lived on the island for more than 10 years – on a walk from The Needles to Freshwater Bay (be careful of the cliff edge!), then reward yourself with fat scones and cream at Julia’s tea room. If you Instagram those scones, you’ll be acting entirely appropriately: the tea room is set inside Dimbola Lodge, a stately old building that was once home to Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. dimbola.co.uk/julias-tea-room.aspx
Ventnor Haven Fishery
If you’re self-catering, plan a trip to this sky-blue fishery set on a little pier just beyond Ventnor beach. It’s run by a husband-and-wife team and sells off-the-boat seafood (including crab and lobster meat) as well as cooked whelks, skate wings and sea bass. It also does takeaway fish and chips – eat them sitting opposite the pretty winter gardens nearby. tasteofthewight.co.uk/ventnor-haven-fishery
This is a real warren of a pub, with tucked-away corners for quiet tête-à-têtes, and maritime memorabilia scattered throughout. It looks out to sea and is a good place for a pint – try ‘ale of wight’, a zesty bright blonde ale made by island-based Goddards Brewery. thespyglass.com
Priory Bay Hotel
This grand country house hotel, set within a 60-acre estate, is sandwiched between two sailing villages – Seaview and Bembridge. There’s a private beach, landscaped gardens and a six-hole golf course. If your budget doesn’t stretch to a room for the night swing by for afternoon tea instead. This is taken in a grand, high-ceilinged drawing room and includes sea buckthorn tart and cucumber and juniper sandwiches. priorybay.co.uk
Minghellas Ice Cream
The Minghella family has been making ice cream on the Isle of Wight for over 60 years. There are just shy of 250 flavours to choose from, and together they’ve won more than 80 Great Taste Awards. Our favourites include blackcurrants and cream, cappuccino coffee and ice dragon spicecream (tropical fruits, ginger and chilli). You’ll find Minghellas at parlours all over the island, but it’s best to stop by their HQ at Briddlesford Lodge Farm in Wootton. minghella.co.uk
If you’re spending the day at Freshwater Bay (a pristine beach in the western part of the Isle of Wight, with a history of smuggling) stop by The Piano café for lunch. It’s opposite the thatched church of St Agnes and specialises in sharing boards – try the garden mezze, with homemade smoked mackerel pâté, a selection of Isle of Wight cheeses, prosciutto, a tomato salad and sourdough. thepianocafe.co.uk
The George Hotel
The George sits on the shoreline in Yarmouth, a harbour town on the island’s northwest coast, tucked between a castle and a little pier. It’s a 17th century townhouse with idyllic views and two restaurants (The Conservatory and Isla’s), both of which serve local produce. Try The George fish pie at the former, or an eight-course tasting menu (including dishes such as John Dory with shellfish bisque) at the far fancier Isla’s. thegeorge.co.uk
Written by Charlotte Morgan, August 2016
Main image: Getty
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