Little Gems





Recipes and tips

A  seven day eating holiday on the Isle of Wight

2013/14 reviews

2012/13 reviews

2015-16 reviews


PC means proprietor/chef



The Grill – Cowes (new R)

An unusual sounding menu always interests me. Will it work, are the cooking skill going to live up to their dreams and inventions. I went on my own. Eating alone is something I do a lot on when working on the mainland.

I ordered the citrus cured mackerel with cucumber, soft cheese, horseradish cream and chargrilled orange. There was a time when dishes on menus had names. Trout Cleopatra, Tornedo Rossini, Coq au vin. Now days we get a list of ingredients, cooking method, allergy potentials all but its weights and measures. My mackerel had great potential but the miniscule portion of mackerel (not the most expensive of ingredients was over-run with too much of the cheese. Get the balance right and this is a great dish.

My main of hay smoked and chargrilled venison with red cabbage puree (excellent) wild mushrooms (not so wild) parsnip puree and a superb sauce reduction was all very good.

The dessert really hit the spot. White chocolate ice cream, generous chocolate truffle, chocolate soil, pistachios and popcorn. The later was a distraction and not really necessary.

The Drill is looking to be a fine dining restaurant. Many people see this as morsels on a plate for vast sums of money and that is indeed what it is. Good fine dining must have strong, intense flavours otherwise the morsels will have whizzed past your taste buds before you know it. Fine dining needs substance as well as style.

Dan's Kitchen- St Helens (R) PC

"Best Restaurant" Award 2013

"Best Bistro Style" Award  2012

I really like consistency. There is nothing more disappointing than having a great meal one week then taking your friends back, having raved about it, only to find standards have dropped, chef has changed, the menu is significantly different. No such thing happens in Dan Maskell's kitchen. A dish this year of Roast Partridge with boudon noir was beautifully prepared and came with perfectly cooked vegetables, excellent black pudding (not the supermarket variety) and the rich sauce reduction. Dan tries the odd unusual thing which I applaud but not always successful such as the cold tomato soup with avocado sorbet. Both were good in their own right but it was a disjointed marriage. I used to make a hugely popular chilled tomatoes and red capsicum soup Recipe below. when I had my restaurant. The trick was that it had to be ice, ice cold, very fresh and strongly flavoured.

I asked him If I could mix up his puddings so that I ended up with soft wobbly ginger jelly with Rhubarb sorbet. This is an obvious and well tried combination and it was a joy to eat. But not for long because the ration was far too small. I like my puds to last more than two mouthfulls. Small portions are fine if it is a taster menu.

Chilled tomato and red capsicum soup

1 kilo sun-ripened tomatoes

2 red capsicums (halved and seeds remove

2 large onions

2 cloves garlic

1 hpd tspn marigold vegetable stock

Small carton of tomato juice ( pour the juice into an ice cube tray and freeze)


¼ cucumber

1 beef tomato

1 small ripe avocado pear

Olive oil


Roughly cut up the onion, tomatoes, capsicum and garlic. Scoop into a

saucepan and add 1 ltre cold water and the stock. Bring to almost a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until all the ingredients and really soft and squidgy.

Liquidise this mixture and pass through a mouli sieve to remove seeds and skin. Put in a container and chill.

Make the garnish no more than I hour before serving other wise the avocado with “tarnish”

Peel and deseed the cucumber. Peel and de-seed the tomato. Remove avocado from its skin. Dice these three ingredients in to tiny confetti dice and mix together.

To serve. Add the tomato juice to the iced soup mixture. If too thick add some iced water. Ladel into soup plates or bowls. Put a spoon of the garnish in the centre. Put 2 or 3 tomato ice cubes around the bowl and drizzle over some super delicious olive oil. Serve and return for seconds.

Tel: 01983 872303


Where is it? Park on the car park on the green. Walk across the Green in  the direction of Bembridge. It is on a corner, you can't miss it.

Burrs - Newport (R) PC

The food at Burr's suits the surroundings.  Burrs is intimate and very French in style. On the menu was skate with butter sauce. I love skate with beurre blanc and capers but lately I have been cautious. Skate if not super fresh develops an extremely unpleasant taste and smell of ammonia. Burrs version was competently cooked and tasted fresh. Before that I had the scallops with sweet chilli sauce. Scallops are difficult to cook and timing is of the essence – it is more a case of setting the protein rather than cooking it. Chef Matt Burr’s timing was immaculate.  The raspberry meringue to follow was very nice indeed. Matt has been running Burrs for getting on for 16 years and added he is not. Food is as good now as it ever was.]

Avoid the table by the door on a winters night you will be blasted with ice cold air every time the door opens

Where is it? East side of Lugley Street 01983 825470


NOTE to Diners. Chefs come and go quite a lot on the Island. Which is a shame because an eatery is only as good as its chef. Often proprietor/chef eateries are a more reliable option. Look out for the PC letters next to a review.

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Mojacs - Cowes (HR) PC

Top 5 2016/17

TOP 5 2015/16

"Best Restaurant" Award 2015 and 2014

Joint "Best Pudding of the Year" Award 2014

"Best Pudding of the Year" Award 2010 and 2011

One way to tell whether an eatery serves good food is when a breakaway chef rides off the back of it. A sort of back handed compliment. In the world of advertising a company will pay substantially for a celebrity to promote its products - giving it their seal of approval. However, in the world of eateries to boast that you worked in a famous Michelin starred restaurant or some other acclaimed local eatery comes, bizarrely, for free. Unfortunately such behaviour could damage their mentor by stealing trade or destroying their mentor’s reputation with poor cooking. Fortunately the public are fast learners. On a more serious level there is the issue of intellectual property theft.

I have been following Mojacs for several years and have never been disappointed. It is hard to believe that an eatery can get even better but the chef at Mojacs is constantly honing his skills. Keeping up with the latest foody fashion but making it their own. Fine dining with gusto.

On my last visit with my chum Dorene we both went for the mushroom and butter bean soup. Silky smooth, tasty and stock rich.

I then enjoyed the pink duck breast with a confit of duck leg, roast potatoes and a red berry sauce. This is the first confit of duck leg that I have eaten on the Island (I have tried many) that has been cooked correctly.

The legs should be slowly stewed in duck or goose fat that has been flavoured with mace, juniper berries, thyme, garlic and bay leaf until it virtually falls off the bone. It can then be left on the bone and grilled until the skin is crispy. If I was making a dish with it I would take it off the bone, press it into a metal, bottomless ring, pour over some thick reduction, top with a creamy layer of mashed potato, parsnip or celeriac and grill until brown. Or, wrap it in flaky pastry and make a mini pie to accompany the duck breast. I used to serve both versions at Lugley's in Wootton some 25 years ago.

Dorene had the slow braised beef with superb potato mash; it was simply flavour rich and unctuous.

Unfortunately I am stuck on their raspberry meringue. Many Island eateries have started to produce raspberry meringue in recent years but none have come up to that of Mojacs. It’s not just about meringue, it’s their meringue!

Where is it? - Top of Shooters Hill Cowes Tel: 01983 281118


Locks Lane  - Bembridge (R) PC

When I hear one of my favourite songs about, sand dunes and salty air and quaint little villages here and there suddenly flat through the air, I begin to pray that the food will be good.

At last ( I make no apologies for sexism) a female chef making her way and putting her cooking skills on the line. We have had an overload of male chefs emulating the TV gang. Now here we have a young woman putting her own take on things. Her background is chalet catering so her influences will be eclectic to say the least.

Her watercress soup would send the Roux Brothers (my influence when I was a chef) reeling in ecstasy. Watercress soup is the most difficult soup to make if you want to get it right and involves a lot of sieving. Hers was perfect with her own added touch of a tiny amount of smoked haddock.

On another visit I had confit of duck leg with a little bowl of potatoes cooked in cream. I felt this dish although perfectly cooked needed a little something else - a sauce maybe. I just know that in time this little eatery will become small and very beautiful.

That's two female cooks in Bembridge making their mark - Bring it on.

01983 875233

Where is it - In the village of Bembridge.

Thompson's - Newport (R)

TOP 5 2015/16

It has taken a long time but the Island is finally catching up with the foodies modern movement which has moved on from nouvelle cuisine to fine dining. Or perhaps there has been a change in the population demographics or in my opinion it is thanks to Master Chef the professionals. Michele Roux, followed by Marcus Wareing, Monica Galetti and the down to earth factor Gregg Wallace have opened many eyes to the fine dining concept. It is all about style and invention but in this year’s series the emphasis has been on flavour and there have been a few complaints from judges about the portions being so small it is difficult to grasp these special flavours. That said a visit to a fine dining restaurant should be seen as an experience. This sort of dining is an art form, a gallery exhibiting an installation.

Lunch at Thompson's is not as expensive as you may think. Taking into account the bread that comes with two butters miso and seaweed flavoured is free. The little sweeteners, the tower like breadstick that comes with a rich and creamy tarmasalta and the little black bowl of artichoke mouse that come before the main event are also free. I used to offer similar treats at my own restaurant some 25 years ago.

Technically the lunch can be classed as fine dining with rustic touches. Rabbit on bruchetta, slices of venison with steamed cabbage, chicken breast with chestnut pretzel (a sort of pasta).

Desserts are the star of the show. My vanilla pannacotta with red berries and red wine granita was excellent as was the cinnamon flavoured gypsy tart and the warm chocolate type fondant that oozed a nice gooey, chocolate puddle.

The big news is, Robert Thompson no longer cooks, in fact he hardly goes into the kitchen but prefers to be out front attending to the clientle. The other news is you can now pop in without a booking for a drink and a bar snack.

01983 526118

Where is it? - Opposite Morrison's



Royal Hotel - Ventnor (HR)

They are definitely back on track. Their menu is small and relatively safe apart from the chef’s obsession with soufflés. On the starters there is a Gallybagger soufflé. I have had it with a cheeses sauce delicious and on another occasion with a cauliflower puree. The former being superior. Then there is the pudding course. I have had an amazing, fantastic, raspberry soufflé with intense raspberry sorbet and recently a great, tangy cranberry soufflé with pistachio ice-cream and gingerbread sauce. Although tasting good the pistachio ice cream and gingerbread sauce did not marry well with the soufflé. Maybe an orange sorbet would have been a better accompaniment. What is so good about these soufflés is that they don’t taste eggy and I reckon there is more egg white than egg yolk in them.

Years ago I used to make a hot apple soufflé that I turned out of the mould before serving and accompanied it with a blackberry sauce. It had no egg yolk in it at all and never failed.

The menu doesn’t change that often and we the Foodie Five were offered virtually the same choice in December as we were offered in October. In October I had the Belly of Pork (what ever happened to pork fillet and pork loin). Ok so they are more difficult to cook than re-heated belly but I think it’s time to move on or perhaps back to the future. Anyway it was delicious. I also had a pigeon kebab with a parsnip puree. It was so good that we decided to book up for our Christmas do.

A few days later I was there again for a wedding anniversary meal. Cauliflower soup with a seafood cream and lightly diced scallops – fab. Followed by the best Roast beef meal I have had in years. Beef good and medium rare, a small piece of braised brisket, crispy roast potatoes, a great selection of vegetables and good flavoured gravy. In contrast the meal was rustic compared to the delicacy of the evening food. The dessert was a deconstructed trifle. I am not a great fan of de-constructions they are normally a disaster with the body of the dishes flavour lost in the scatterings. This again did not taste of trifle. Nevertheless, as a dessert it was superb particularly the jelly. A plate of the jelly with fresh fruit and cream would have been spectacular. There is a saying “Keep it simple stupid” and all the best eateries do.

Tel: 01983 852186


Where is it? Drive west along the Ventnor Esplanade up the steep hill, turn left and there you are

Olivo - Newport (R)

The menu has changed and it is smaller. What I like about Olivo is there is always a generous number of waiting staff who are there to serve with a smile and are not hiding in the kitchen. My Christmas lunch with Jeweller Nina Bully was so tasty neither of us offered a taste of each others. I ordered the calves liver with mash and crispy pancetta. It was divine. The sauce to die for. Nina had a similar view about the chicken skewers she ordered. I frequently pop into Olivo for a soup. They know how to make soup taste good.

Where is it? - St Thomas Square Newport. Tel:01983 611118

Bistro - Ventnor (R) PC

Ownership has changed but the chef hasn't. This is excellent news. Him and his wife are now working extended hours to make their eatery work. Breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. I popped in for a pudding and coffee while shopping. Glazed soft meringue with forest fruit compote and crème anglaise. the compote was more of a sweet conserve than a compote. The meringue was just how I like it and the crème anglaise light and fresh. I will be reporting on lunch very shortly.

Where is it - Top of Pier Street, Ventnor. Tel: 01983 853334

Little Gloster - Gurnard  (R) PC

What makes a gourmet burger? Is it the quality of the bun, the freshness of the salad, the juicy beef patty that has not been cooked to death but has a nice char grill flavour. Is it the variety of tomato, the dill pickle. Is it dressed with bought in or home-made mayo and American mustard. Is the bun toasted or soggy. Are the accompanying chips skinny, thick, bought in or home-made. Or is it just the fact you are being charged more for less. The problem with skinny fries is they go cold quick and it is a French concept as is the brioche bun. In a desperate attempt to justify the high cost of a gourmet burger it is has to be de-Americanised and Frenchified. I also think it is an attempt to attract off the street punters into what is essentially a high end restaurant, or is it the recognition that having money does not guarantee good taste so giv-em a burger.

The Little Gloster has a little menu selection. I like this. Large menu choices fill me with dread. How long has the food been hanging around? is it pre- made, frozen then re-heated? Is the eatery so busy that there is a quick turnover of food so a large menu of fresh food can be carried?

The disadvantage of a small menu is choice is limited (not a problem I suffer) so you need to like most things or be prepared to try something new. A slight downside is that their small menu rarely changes.

01983 298776

.Where is it? - Gurnard seafront, opposite the posh shanty town


Why do some eateries refuse to take credit/debit cards if a customer spends less than £5 in some cases £10. It's is a kind of punishment for not spending enough. In some cases they even make a profit on this customer by making a surcharge of £1.00. When all cards are based on around 1.5 %- 2% interest The charge say on a cup of coffee of £2.25 of a pound is a bit steep. I very rarely have cash on me so often where I eat lunch is dependent upon who will fine me for not spending enough. With an increasing number of solo diners it's about time these places reassessed their customer service policy.

NB. I have frequently walked out of a place after ordering soup and being told that instead of £4.25 it will cost me £5.25 if I pay by card - so, they lost a customer

Padmore Lodge, Beatrice Avenue, East Cowes, Isle of Wight, PO32 6LP