Postcard from Isle of Wight, Great Britain
Crab pasties from Wheeler's Crab Shed are made fresh every day. (Gareth Morgans)
We’re tearing through water, headed for the best places to fish lobster out of the bracingly cold sea. In a tribute to the Swallows and Amazons feel of the Isle of Wight, we’re off on a lobster safari. Never mind the lions and the tigers, this is plenty fierce enough for me.
Our new chum Lucy Strevens, who runs the safaris (oceanblueseacharters. co.uk), knows exactly where to go to haul out the ferocious creatures. Not only is the whole experience distinctly enlivening, but we get an astonishing view of the green slopes and elaborate Victorian architecture of this pretty island. Excellent, freshly-landed fish and golden chips from the Ventnor Haven Fishery (01983 852176) reward our efforts because, although we’ve landed several lobsters, we can’t quite bring ourselves to kill the beasties.
The powers that be on the Isle of Wight are having a bash at repositioning it as a destination for the cool and youthful – citing the likes of Kate Moss and Russell Brand as recent visitors. But there’s nothing about the bijou little time warp that is Queen Victoria’s beloved Ventnor, streets lined with antique shops and sweetie shops, to indicate there’s any danger of an infestation by the Primrose Hill set.
Its star – in both the big fish and Michelin senses of the word – is The Hamborough. Here, Robert Thompson – who won a Michelin star at the ridiculously tender age of 23 – wows locals and visitors into something of a stupor, if the hush that envelopes the plainly decorated dining room is anything to go by. He is undoubtedly a serious talent – it’ll be a long time before I forget the gorgeousness of his roast saddle of deer, pink and pillowy as a marshmallow, with a celeriac gratin, red cabbage and the musky sweetness of Medjool dates – but it’s all a little crooked-pinkie. I prefer the informality of his little Pond Café in virtually comatose Bonchurch, but the cooking is several notches away from its big bro’ up the road.
Godshill is the kind of sun-dappled village that foreigners get properly misty-eyed about. It could have been designed by Disney. We’re here for The Taverners, a proper old-school, rambling boozer – it’s not a gastropub, right? It’s a Pub and Eating House – that renders us every bit as soppy as any nostalgic expat. There are pies and roasts and triplecooked chips fatly plonked into butties; simple dishes like a gooey, calorie-laden mac’ and cheese, and more elaborate but equally good specials such as slow roast Moor farm pork cheek, faggot, mash potato, red cabbage & sage. Their ‘eat local’ adherence would shame far trendier outfits. And you should see the size of their lemon meringue pie. Staff are friendly and efficient, there are roaring fires in winter and a big garden for warm weather: is this the blueprint for the super-pub?
In Yarmouth, a town so teeny it’s doing a good job of masquerading as a village, lovely, stone-flagged 17th-century The George has Liam Finnegan in the kitchen, who’s garnering something of a reputation with dishes like line-caught local sea bass with parsnip ginger purée and roast chicken and ginger jus. We sit in the lovely brasserie looking out to sea as the rain lashes the huge windows. The sun arrives again in time for pudding, so we wander down to a little shack on the water’s edge to slurp the famous Minghella ice cream. The Oriental ginger with honey is justifiably legendary.