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
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.
Posh, of course, is
all very well. But it’s the crab pasties from Wheeler’s Crab Shed (01983
852177) at truly lovely Steephill Cove that leave the most powerful lasting
impression. Squidging with fresh crabmeat, they’re made fresh every day by
Mandy Wheeler from crabs landed by husband Jimmy. The recipe is a
closely-guarded secret, but I’m getting sweet leek and a dangerous quantity of
butter. Each one is adorned with a delicious little pastry crab. I think only
Stephen Harris, chef of the renowned Sportsman in Kent, treats this prince of
crustaceans with similar genius. A fistful of one of these ambrosial pies,
munched from a napkin while gazing out to sea is as close to heaven as you’ll
get. It’s the very essence of British seaside. In pastry.
We didn’t find the too-cool-for-school Isle of Wight. Yes,
it genuinely is there if you want it – at September’s Bestival, or in a
super-chic classic Airstream caravan from Vintage Vacations, or Steephill Cove’s Boathouse
Restaurant. But, frankly, we deliberately didn’t look for it. It’s rumoured
that not long ago, at first sight of the island’s green shores, ferry
travellers were encouraged via loudspeaker to set their watches back a few
decades. As a stressed-out city-dweller, it sure works for me.
The article 'Postcard from Isle of Wight, Great Britain' was published in partnership with BBC Olive magazine.