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Welcome to the new season of reviews for 2014/15

Criteria for inclusion in the Wight Good Food Guide

TOP 5 -The top awards this year-for doing more than what they say they will

Highly Recommended (HR)- Very good food and succeeding at doing what they set out to do

Recommended (R)- Good food we encourage them to better things

YOUR COMMENTS ARE ALSO WELCOME - SO PLEASE SEND AN EMAIL

angela.hewitt@btclick.com

 

The Rules

All my reviews are my own personal choice. No one has asked me to review them and no one has paid me to review them. Reviewing an eating establishment is not easy. I might like two of the three dishes or they may have an off day - which is basically unacceptable, but it is not my intention the be harsh. I think I have the skill to judge potential even in the Summer when kitchens are stretched and they are pushing themselves past their limit.

I have been given some disastrous food cooked by Island Chefs, often inedible - an insult to my taste buds. I have wasted a lot of money because I rarely complain at the time - a bad chef/cook is not going to miraculously transform into a good one by the next dish. Besides, it would ruin my outing even more and I always ask the question is the complaint being passed on to the right person. I do however, write and tell the proprietor, particularly if I think the place has potential and is trying, I give them the benefit of the doubt. They are normally apologetic and sometimes offer me a free meal which I never accept. And, sometimes they complain about me even when I have given them a good review - there is just no pleasing some people.

The Wight Good Food Guide is completely independent and not sponsored in any way by the establishments reviewed

Do I Qualify as a reviewer of Island Food?

My passion for eating is as strong as my passion for the Isle of Wight, so it saddens me when so many restaurants, cafes and pubs get their catering so wrong, in some cases seriously wrong. It lets the Island down. The aim of my reviews is not to criticise the bad but to praise the good, in possibly, the vain hope that the others will aim higher. It is probably arrogant of me to think I can achieve this, but if I don't try through this the Wight Good Food Guide, I won't ever know.

I have lived on the Isle of Wight for 44 years and as a lover of eating out I have eaten in almost every establishment on the Island. I was chef proprietor of the original Lugley's (TM) Restaurant 1980 - 1994. It won awards from Egon Ronay, The Good Food Guide, AA Good Food Guide, and Michelin. I closed the restaurant mainly due to sheer exhaustion. Over the subsequent years I wrote Isle of Wight Cookery published by Dovecote Press and What's Cooking on the Isle of Wight, published by Travelling Gourmet Publication. I also wrote, What's Cooking In Oxford, What's Cooking in the New Forest, What's Cooking in Brighton, What's Cooking in the Cotswolds, Cooking on the Move and Herb Growers Cookery. I have appeared on national TV promoting Island Food and written articles for the national Taste Magazine, Healthy Eating magazine, Taste of Britain magazine and Trailfinders.

 

Comment 2016

The Wight Good Food Guide is a response, the antidote, to paid for and commercially funded food reviews.

Good food guides are essential to the diner who wants to eat gourmet food and also to the chef who wants to be different and produce gourmet food that stretches the boundaries and achieve recognition for the excellent cooking skills. Being in such guides also means that they will attract the right sort of customer. Otherwise they will be taking bookings from people who want Lamb shank, Scampi, curry of the day, not forgetting the burger. Which brings me onto the Gourmet Burger? I have yet to eat one that is massively better than one may get in a regular pub – and, for a gourmet restaurant to serve bought in chips is a no, no.

The difference between The Wight Good Food Guide and the national ones is I eat in the reviewed eateries more than once a year I don’t accept advertising and I don’t have to make a profit from it. That is not to say there is no benefit.

It costs a lot of money to produce a Food Guide. Inspectors have to be paid. Meals have to be funded, (although visits are often only once every 2 years) travel expenses covered and then there is the writing, editing, marketing and printing costs. The guides are heavily reliant upon sponsorship, advertising and book sales. Book sales are crucial. One way to guarantee a certain amount of sales is to include as many recommendations as possible. They know that every eatery reviewed will buy at least one book.

There is no direct profit to be made from the WGFG. In fact it is all cost. I have a different objective. That of promotion. By visiting the WGFG web site one might be curious to visit one of my other sites. I do now ask for a tiny donation but to date no one has.

So there you have it.

This years guide has seen similar issues in 2016 as in previous years. Cold plates, bland food, eateries that can’t make up their mind whether they are a pub or a restaurant, credit card charges - more later -over cooked risotto, fruit crumble that isn’t. Fruit crumble s a traditional British pudding that is cooked in a particular way. It is not a dish of hot stewed fruit with some pre- cooked crunchy mixture on top. On one occasion my crumble was topped with broken biscuits! A true crumble has to have the fruit base seeping into crumble topping making a central line of deliciousness. Call it fruit crunch or crisp but not crumble. The trend to deconstruct doesn’t always work.

Thankfully the trend to serve food on a wooden board is dying. Wooden boards are a medieval concept. They were banned from catering kitchens for hygiene reasons so it was bizarre that they were introduced to serve peoples food on.

The Credit/debit Card Problem - very recently I was made to pay 30p extra for my cheese toasty because didn't have enough cash on me - their limit was £10. I rarely carry cash. In this instance they actually made a profit from the charge. They told me when I queried it that they were being hammered by the banks. I made the comment so you respond by hammering the customer. Solo eaters are the ones most at risk of this unfriendly sur-charge. It is only eateries that make these charges and it is a disgrace.

Comment 2015

We have always been a nation of self-employed but in 2015 statistics showed numbers had grown to an all-time high. The number of over 65’s self-employed has doubled. There are more men than women self employed but the growth in women self-employed is greater. We have also seen numerous high street shops collapse but not so eateries. It is true some have lost their way by changing the way they were – but generally speaking they have survived and grown. Mary Portas was indeed right. For a shop to survive it a) has to keep up with the times and b) to grow it has to offer something extra (added value). Bookshops now have a coffee shops attached, craft shops offer instore activities and demonstrations, fashion shops encourage people to come in for a chat, to socialise. With so many people working from home – a solitary existence – they need to go out to meet and greet. On line shopping this year for the first time over took the high street in pre-Christmas sales. But, the one thing you can’t buy on Amazon is the eating out experience, the face to face experience where body language is real. Offering a cup of coffee in a great venue is the way forward.

Is the next foody fad going to be created on the Isle of Wight – Eateries Island wide are now embracing gluten free food – Bake Off even dedicated one of its programmes to gluten free. Someone is going to start a chain, I wonder who it will be?!

Risotto, Oh dear I implore chefs to stop serving it unless that know, really know, how to cook it. Making a risotto in advance and reheating it when it is ordered is a guaranteed failure. Any good chef will know that leaving rice lying around in a wet mixture will make it over soft and soggy and so over done it comes out like mashed rice – yes, indeed, a popular rural pub recently sent out such a mess. It is also a sad fact that I have found a pub that can do a good risotto, but the rest of its food is dreadful. The chef of this pub actually sent out burnt sausages. To do a proper risotto it has to be cooked from scratch every time. Risotto takes time to cook and people who go to pubs normally want their food quicker than if they are in a restaurant - they might have fidgety children with them or need to get them home to bed. Perhaps someone should run a course for chefs on how to cook risotto.

The long wait was over in August when Robert Thompson opened his own flagship restaurant. I have had many emails from diners recommending his fine cuisine and urging me to go. So I did in October .Prior to that there were rumours that he was fully booked until Christmas. This is the sort of rumour that can be the kiss of death to an eatery. Experience told me not to believe it.  I was right and I booked a table for two just  three days in advance and got a table for lunch. There were plenty of available tables – which he needs to fill because he has a lot of staff wages to pay out. At the moment it is bookingds only but I suspect that by next Summer he will be open for casual walk-ins.

Some eateries are still restricting how little you are allowed to spend on a card which is a nonsense and poor customer service. I recall a few years ago a Shanklln restaurant would not take my card for £9.00. Their limit was £10. They told me to go to the cash point at the bank down the road in the pouring rain. I did. But never ate there again.

Comment 2014

Our aim is to recommend good places to eat to the discerning diner.

We only publish reviews of the good not the bad and the ugly. We do not see it as our business to destroy a business with a negative review or indeed publicise a business with a derogatory review. People are intelligent and can vote with their feet we don’t need to add to an eateries misery.

Sadly, this year I have evaluated that on balance the more expensive the eatery - the less value for money. It is the current trend to create dishes that look like gardens, beaches and forests. It is all very creative but the down side is that you end up with tiddly bits of food scattered on the plate. (we are not babies or ancients who have lost the ability to cut up our own food). Then dishes are garnished with spits and spots of sauce that stick to the plate and smears of vegetables that don’t even constitute a mouth-full. Nothing more than an index finger will scoop up the morsels. A word of advice to chefs. If you are going serve this sort of food you need to be a fantastic cook producing intense, instantly recognisable flavours. I have not found a single eatery on the island that can do this.

Interestingly places that are expensive are aimed at keeping out the riff raff. The irony is that the rich are often paying loads of money for inferior cooking. The saying “small is beautiful” only works if flavours are intense and concentrated.

This year I have eaten in a nationally recommended Island eatery that gave me as requested a naked burger with a few extra lettuce leaves instead of a bun for £14.00 that came with bought-in French fries. I can get bought in French fries from Mac Donalds. At the same place a very small portion of almond rice pudding (a few flaked almonds sprinkled on top) with a plum that had been poached in Gin at a cost of £7.00 (this has to be a joke)

A top restaurant served me lobster and chips and the chips had been pre-cooked and kept warm in the oven to the point they were hard, shrivelled and dry. Oh please…

I am fed up with meringues made with that white powdery, sugary mixture that are hard and boring. Is Jackie King, cook at the Old Smithy, Godshill the only person who knows how to make real fresh meringues?

A recent Afternoon tea at a top hotel left me disappointed. Cucumber sandwiched on cheap white bread with not butter and finger prints embossed into the bread.  Bought in cakes cut into slightly smaller pieces. Very dry re-heated scones. Rubbery panna cotta in a jar. When we asked for more tea all we got was more water in the pot which poured out like - to put it crudely -weak pee. Big SIGHhhhhhh...

I was recently charged £9 for bubble and squeek which was essentially a large round of pan-fried left over vegetables. No egg, no meat and hardly any cabbage.

Some of you may be surprised by my omissions but part of the ethos of this guide is that all the eateries that I recommend live up to their claims.

Comments 2013

Best of the Best - you may be surprised at my choice of Best of the Best this year. A small trendy shack on a beach with seating inside for 6 possibly 8 and no loo. Let me explain. This young woman/cook performs magic in the most confined of spaces. She has more enthusiasm and passion about what she does than any chef I have come across on the Island and she is true to herself.  She says what she does and she does what she says. In other words she delivers You will have to wait until March to discover more.

Wooden Boards - are used for cutting bread on. A butchers block is also made of wood and is used for making cuts of raw meat. At the end of the day the block is scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed clean. Notice that no one is eating off these lumps of wood. Kitchens abandoned wooden chopping boards long ago and replaced them with colour coded plastic boards. It's all to do with hygiene and health and safety and contamination. As a former chef I am fully aware of all these issues so you can imagine how my skin crawls when an eatery serves my food on a wooden board that someone else has previously eaten off. Gouging their knife into the wood and embedding it with their own germs ready for consumption as the germs infuse into the food I am about to eat. I have a similar problem with shared dips. I was told by one eatery that their boards a thoroughly cleaned before re-use, but I wondered if that was the case during a busy service when they are rapidly running out of serving dishes, and beside these boards should be thoroughly dried in a oven before re-use. My fears were realised when I ate at a place just outside Ventnor. It was an open plan kitchen so I saw everything. I ordered the squash frittata with salad expecting it to come on a clean shiny plate. The chef took a board from the pile of dirty dishes. Rinsed it under the tap and wiped it with the tea-towel he had been using all service to wipe his hands on, wipe the counter down with and kept in place under his armpit when he was not using it. He then put the fritatta on a corner of this board. He carefully arranged olives and gherkins and sliced tomatoes on the damp board. He added a few spoonfuls of relish and then driddled balsamic dressing all over the board. Presumably I was meant to scrape this relish and dressing off the board along with the previous users germs and bits of loose damp wood. I was appalled but with company. So I ate most of the frittata leaving the bit that was close to the centre of the board and left everything else. I am sorry chefs but you should know better.

Soup Plates - are for soup or maybe for dishes that you can eat with just a fork or spoon such as pasta or a chopped salad. They are not for serving roast dinners in or food that needs cutting up. You have to hold you knife and fork at a very awkward angle to cut meat and then only with the tip of the blade as you cannot get the knife flat enough to properly carve. Then when you try to rest your knife and fork on the side of the soup bowl while chewing they slide off and onto the potentially unclean table. It makes the eating out experience an unhappy one. It's pretension gone mad.

Gluten/wheat Free - This rapidly growing market is starting to be well served on the Island. As it is becoming more and more obvious that our bodies get intolerant to what we eat as we get older (we age inside as well as out side) more and more people want wheat free or gluten free food. Some people have probably been intolerant for year and not realised it. We have a huge elderly population on the Island and wheat commonly affects their diet - quite a few young people are also affected. Most good eateries will make soups and sauces not using wheat. There is a stall at the Newport farmers market that makes some wonderful wheat free dishes. Some bodies are intolerant to wheat only and others to gluten which covers a wider range of ingredients. The Three Bishops at Brightstone are big on gluten free as is Mojacs in Cowes. Both chefs say it is easier to do everything gluten free  rather than cook something twice. The next issue is refined sugars. It has also been discovered that our bodies find it difficult to process these sugars. I for one use honey to sweeten desserts

COMMENTS 2012

Judging eateries on the Isle of Wight in 2012 has been something akin to doing an MOT.  They pass on the day of the test but then the Chefs leave and take the good cooking with them. This happens on a regular basis. Sadly, a seamless transition during a change of chef is rare. 

So, whilst Isle of Wight Tourist Gurus contemplate how they are going to protect their empires, this year, I have been thinking about what the Island has to offer the Gourmet Tourist. 

It’s a tricky one. Choice is limited certainly not enough to put us on the gourmet map of GB. This in a small way has much to do with the lack of Island opportunities for top chefs. Seasons are short, wages are tight and good Chefs want regular work. So in my opinion it is all down to the individual chef-owned eateries.

When I had my own restaurant in the eighties there were three top restaurants on the island (those highly rated by Good food Guide, Egon Ronay and the AA). They were all run by women and these women were also the chefs. They were myself, Joan Wolfenden of the Peacock Vane, and Nicky Hayward of the Seaview Hotel. Apart from the fact we were all women the most important factor was we were chef/proprietors. It was all down to us. Our love of cooking was paramount but we also needed to earn a living. Our success as chefs was down to the added ingredients, pride, enthusiasm, customer service, dedication, an absolute love and joy and pleasure to be able to give the customer something good for their money.

What has been noticeable this year is that the chef/proprietor is making a come back , and it shows. They are consistent, caring and giving.

Also, a bit of good news for the tourist. This year I have compiled a seven day eating plan for the gourmet tourist who wants a week of foody indulgence. Check out the A  seven day eating holiday on the Isle of Wight

PS things that annoy me and my friends

 1) food served on cold plates

2) meals served in soup bowls making it difficult and wrist aching to hold knife and fork

3) food over-heated in the microwave to the point of scolding tongues - one day someone is going to be rushed into hospital with second/first degree burns

4) Lies, we do know what home-made means

5) pastry dishes heated in microwave resulting in soggy pastry

6) over cooked risotto, the dish should be slightly sloppy and the rice should be firmish.

7) Undercooked beans that squeak on our teeth etc. Aldenté does not mean crunchy

8) Corruption of a classic dish without telling me. For example, if I order pavlova I expect pavlova unless I am told it is a take on pavlova

COMMENTS 2011

Sadly little has changed since 2010 and I have to reiterate all that I said in 2010. Oddly enough cuisine has adopted the delicate-flavour-stakes as if strong flavours are to be feared. I want my taste buds to be excited by flavours not left searching for them. Menus have become pretty predictable and samey. Relatively speaking and compared with restaurants pub food tends to live up to expectations.

I strongly support the use of local produce and a reduction in air miles but it puts me in a quandary. I also want to support Fair trade projects. I am also concerned that by solely supporting local produce that may be a tendency for standards to drop due to lack of competition.

COMMENTS 2010

There is still only a relatively small number of eateries that I would recommend but my "consistency challenge" is not easy to achieve. One week I may visit an eatery and have a really nicely cooked meal four weeks later is can be a disappointing disaster even when I take "off-days" into account. I try very hard not to take service into account as it is the food I am judging, but sometimes service is so dreadful it spoils the meal anyway. I am sorry to see eateries providing some nice savoury dishes only to find all the puddings are the bought-in run of the mill stuff, all of which I am not remotely interested. Chefs and cooks and proprietors should be aware that home cooking also has to be good cooking. Some menus are so long that you just know it can't be all good. I think there are too many people cooking on the Island who do not understand the basics of preparing and presenting a nicely cooked dish.

Posthumous award - I had to do it. The short life of Goodman's leaves me very sad for the future of Island cooking. The proprietors were hugely enthusiastic, the food was fabulous. I dreamt about my next visit. The chef showed a magic that is rare. I wish them all lots of luck in the future. It is not only a sad loss for Ventnor it is a sad loss for the Island.

Credit Cards - again - Minimum spend! I just don't get it. I run a small art business and I have a credit card machine. Apart from American express whether I take £2.00 or £100, the commission is the same  1.5%. Debit cards charge a fixed fee of normally 45p. So that will come off a £2.00 pot of tea or in my case a greeting card. However, the profit margin on these small items are so high I think it is worth offering good customer service by accepting the card. I was told this year by a local business just outside Godshill that she would rather not have my business than take a card for a pot of chutney I had forgotten to buy. I had already spent £30.00 there. The result, she hasn't got my business. IT'S ALL ABOUT SERVICE AND IT IS OFTEN THE ONLY "EDGE A SMALL BUSINESSES HAS ON THE big boys.

Microwave ovens - They are constantly being used indiscriminately. Soups over heated so they burn your mouth, a horrible sensation that lasts all day-, and can be dangerous. Sponge puddings over heated to a cinder inside, jacket potatoes so overcooked  they go hard as you eat them. Pastry that is served up as a soggy mess. I am amazed that eateries think it is acceptable to serve such rubbish and charge for it.

I judge all - the cafes on the Island by my favourite cafe in GB. That is the Mountain Cafe at Aviemore. Run by an inspired New-Zealander. A girl who understands implicitly how to challenge, stretch and soothe the taste buds. On the Island there is nothing near it and there never as been. Anyone aspiring to run a fantastic cafe on the Island or indeed anywhere must take a trip to this eatery. In fact if your not obsessed with food and cooking you should not be in the business.

Home Cooking - Many places do make their own dishes and may be wondering why they are not on the pages of this review. The reason is because making a dish doesn't necessarily make it a good dish. I recently ordered Caramel rice pudding with compote of apples and apricots. Sounded good but the rice was a mushy, overcooked mess. They also gave me by mistake Pheasant with watery  pine nut and cabbage mash and a really salty bacon and packet sauce gravy. I had actually ordered pheasant with beetroot in damson wine or something like that but the blackboard had been written up wrongly. As I was eating I thought "Could I recommend this to a gourmet friend who trusts my judgement"? The answer was NO. To date no one has been able to make me a proper fruit crumble with real homemade custard or proper bread and butter pudding. Further more please do not serve me micro wave heated pies, I cannot bear soggy pastry. To date no one has been able to serve me a decent fish pie.

Catch 22

It is a sad fact that there are more people on the Island who want to eat out than there are good places to eat. My recommendation is complain more when served rubbishy, inedible food, but whatever you do DO NOT eat it.

The Problem with Pubs

First of all it the puddings - hardly any pub makes their own. A few make some of their own, but most desserts are bought in. Pubs will use up their left over bread in a bread and butter pudding but, to date I have not found a pub that can make a decent version of this delicious baked custard pudding. And talking of custard no one can make that either. However, fruit crumble is the worst. This is the one pudding all pubs seem to make on the premises. If I were them I wouldn't bother. I have had soggy, gloopy topping, burnt topping, topping sprinkled straight out of the catering packet with no fat rubbed in. Badly flavoured crumble, tinned fruit crumble. Further, I am not keen on the crumble recently devised by famous chef Raymond Blanc either. That is not crumble that is stewed fruit with a crunchy topping. Clearly devised because he can't get the real thing right. I keep thinking I need to run a school on how to make simple, traditional desserts.

Pudding is not the end of the story. Please stop serving me meat pies that have been  reheated on the oven and rendered that pastry soggy. Either make a smaller pie or no pie at all. Then there is the vegetable soup. "What vegetables" I ask, "root vegetable". "Is it smooth or chunky"? I ask  "er both".  What they means but dare not  say is it is a puree of yesterday's leftovers. YUK.

I think we all accept that pubs have to provide the junk, (although not all do), but when they offer a special it has to be that, special. Not something left over from the day before they ant to get rid of.

Boring

We have had a spurt of new restaurants over the past few years and I am always eager to try a new eatery. I go praying that I am going to have a good time, willing them to be good at what they do. Probably because I so want the Island to be recognised, like the Lake District, as a place to come to for it's good cooking. My normal problem is that menus are so similar I find I am comparing slow cook belly of pork, goats cheese tart, soft herring roes, oh no not more soft herring roes!! Actually I love this dish and the best this year has been at the Red Lion in Freshwater, but I want something different and inspiring. I am still looking for the chef/ess who can actually produce a menu that is creative, well executed and different form the rest. Like an artist - someone with a style of their own.

Sock pulling time

The Isle of Wight caterers have really got to begin to pull their socks up. With a recession in the offing and the world competing for the tourists that can still afford to go on holiday the Island is going to find itself left behind if it doesn't improve it's catering standards. The public are now well travelled, they know what to expect and they expect a lot. Not just the quality of the cooking at some "so called" good eateries but the begrudging  service is really appalling. For instance I am getting very fed up with the credit card discrimination that is exercised against solo dinners. Numerous places, particularly pubs, will not accept cards for less than £10.00. That means I cannot have a simple sandwich. I rarely have cash on me as it is irritating to have to find a cash machine or waste my day going into a busy town to get money. I do not buy the argument of the supplier cost applied for having the machine. We are talking pennies. Either you are offering a full service or you are not. This short sighted attitude is typical of small minded, parochial businesses, and the Island is one of the worst culprits.

Credit Cards - ON GOING MOAN

As a frequent solo diner I often feel discriminated against by establishments who will not accept cards for less than £10.00. My bill is frequently below this amount. This means that unless I pay cash they do not want my custom. Or even worse, and this happened to me at a place in Niton, my bill came to £9.55 and I was told I had to pay a surcharge of 75p. which took it over £10.00. I hope you see the stupidity of this as much as I do?

This attitude is extremely short-sighted and terrible customer service. It is also selective customer service a form of discrimination - we will only accept your card if you spend enough money. One restaurant told me that customers were quite happy to go to the cash point after a meal and draw out money and that they had had no complaints - It told them that they had had a complaint - from me. A pub that worries about the loss of a few pence in card charges is losing a great deal more than a few pence. It is losing my future custom and that of any guests I may have with me.

The worst food I have been served 2008

Sticky toffee pudding that came minus the sticky toffee: Arreton Summer tomato pudding that came as two discs of slimy white bread - disgusting: mashed potato so salty it was inedible, apple and sultana crumble with a topping soggy and undercooked then smothered with cheap custard to disguise the error, hot food served on stone cold plates: Pavlova that came as a meringue roulade, I get really annoyed when dishes are not what they claim to be: crème brulee with under cooked bottom and, told it was meant to be like that - do not assume the customer is stupid. Pies that have been ruined in the microwave, i.e. soggy pastry and hard overcooked fillings: Burnt bacon - which they thought fit to serve!: An iced chocolate parfait that was so rock hard it was like eating a block of chocolate with a spoon.

Prices

Most of the recommended establishments cost more than your norm, some more than that, particularly the "Flavours by Design" establishments. Having been in the restaurant trade I think the reason for high prices is that less people want quality made food with fresh ingredients so turnover at such establishments is less and we pay more for that. However, I have been to a few pubs on the Island that churn out tons of badly cooked food for extortionate prices.

Does the Isle of Wight College create the best chefs?

I am also concerned at the turnover of chefs at various eateries on the Island. It suggests a lack of good chefs on the Island to ensure aspiring eateries can get good marks. Just look at the situations vacant in the County Press for experienced chefs, it goes on week after week. In my experience if you want to keep a good chef you have to offer good job prospects. Particularly on the Island where opportunities for good career moves are thin on the ground. Apart from a handful of good eateries on the Island I actually think cooking skills on the Island are as bad now as they were 20 years ago. I would like to see the Isle of Wight College step up its standards and become a premier training centre for Island Chefs. To do this they must introduce top chefs from the mainland to demonstrate their skills and they must teach potential chefs that good cooking comes from the heart and a desire to give something of themselves - good cooking is a craft, an art form. Teachers have to show this passion to their students.  -The Island supports a major catering Industry and deserves better. The college has got to step up to the plate.

Consumer Conundrum

Since the war British Governments have strived to encourage competition with the aim of keeping prices and inflation down. In fact our Government’s have opened international doors to provide us with variety and choice. They have allowed new markets for us to buy from and sell to. It is continuing to happen today - with the economic development of China. Soon we will be selling to them as well as buying from them. So how does this sit with Government policies that are designed to reduce global warming?

 Consumers are now being encouraged to buy locally made goods and retailers are urged to stock local products. Our Government is financially supporting the setting up of farmers markets, organisations to promote locally made goods and the development of rural enterprises. (It is also funding small businesses to develop markets overseas.) Yet to revert to the past and the concept of buying local products will reduce competition and encourage protectionism. This will lead to a return to high prices, less choice. I cannot think of any reason why this would not happen. Worse than that a locally produced product does not always equate to quality made product. (A local consumer watchdog will be a must).

 Is it a consumer conundrum or typical Government (any government) double speak? Do we pay more for less choice to save the planet and make competition a dirty word or carry on as we are to the bitter end? The Government is telling us to do both so with such mixed messages I think the answer is carry on as normal. There is nothing that will stop progress and the growth and saturation of the global economy; but what then? Mars, the Universe, Outer Space?!!!

Not Good Enough - Cooking to awful for the Wight Good Food Guide - I am put off numerous establishments for numerous reasons, listed below are some of the things I find deplorable and have been fed and or suffered this year!

May 12th 07 - I have just experienced a disappointing eating out week. Even if one doesn't get finesses I do at least expect edible food - not so at a recent visit to a so called gastro pub. I took my eccentric mother for lunch. She, like me loves her food is a good cook and as we both come from working class backgrounds we know how to cook beautifully, cheap cuts of meat. Intrigued, I ordered beef and black-pudding pie with mash. It was nothing exceptional and the potato might have been a "Smash" hit but it wasn't a mash hit. Mum's belly of pork with apple and black pudding was terrible. The thin strips of pork had been cooked to death then reheated in the microwave so that it arrived on the plate as hard as bone- yes someone actually had the nerve to serve it and charge £10.00 for the disaster. Frankly I have eaten better roast belly pork from Morrison's hot meat counter. Further, the gravy was thick and salty and the same gravy was served on my pie. We told the disinterested waitress about the overcooked pork, but as I say she was disinterested.

April 07 - After being told by a pub outside Newport that the duck and orange pate was home-made I discovered that it was straight from the caterers pack. Please do not assume that the public are stupid.

February 07 - Passion fruit and mango posset. Well, it certainly wasn't posset. It was like eating spoonfuls of sickly sweet jam. Posset seems to be the new crème brulée - however,  this year I have eaten only one correct version, at the Terrace Restaurant, Osborne House. I asked the waitress how it  (the sickly sweet jam)- was cooked. The chef said masses of sugar and fruit and cream boiled together then put in the fridge to set. I wanted to ask if the Chef had eaten a full portion but couldn't be bothered, it was obvious that he hadn't.  Please chefs know what you are cooking. There are plenty of history discussions about posset  on the internet. It was originally a drink of boiled milk laced with wine or lemon juice. Later eggs were added but it was still a drink.  It has now been refined to a delicate set dessert of boiled double cream flavoured with citrus fruits and lightly sweetened. Timing is essential to obtain the right end-consistency. Left to go cold it will set naturally.

January 2007 - Hideous chorizo sausage risotto with mango sauce - rice overcooked to a dry mash. At the same place, thick, thick, heavy, heavy pancake with chocolate sauce and dried up mushroom and stilton bruleé. Rabbit and Bacon pie with horrible soggy pastry - answer, keep pies away from microwaves or don't offer pie when trade is quiet or offer a smaller menu.

December 2006 - The worst bread and butter pudding ever. An individual version turned out of a small pudding basin. The top/or bottom depending on which way you look at it, looked promising with a layer of baked egg custard, the centre was horrible dry slices of bread, no butter, no fruit no spice. Awful. My complaint was met with the comment "Ah Bless".

2006- Cappuccino that is not Cappuccino; (see Thorntons recommendation) Sesame Toasts from M&S as a starter; slow cooked pork belly that was reheated "school dinner" slices of meat; pasta heated  in a microwave oven for so long that it scaled my mouth; pork loin chop, overcooked and age-tough with undercooked leek and apples sauce.

Fish that was described as freshly grilled overcooked in the microwave so that the flesh exploded; bland mushrooms in a cream sauce; lobster and peach salad that was a complete failure as far as flavour combinations go; over cooked meat that has not been carved to order; packet soup, packet gravy, packet custard, packet anything; re-heated leftovers;  bought in scones claming to be homemade; frozen vegetables; tasteless, crispy Yorkshire puddings; overcooked veg; undercooked veg; old bread; mouldy bread; stale scones and cakes; aerosol cream; meat that has gone hard through too much micro-waving; coffee served with pudding; arrogant staff; miserable staff; surly service; unhelpful staff; lies; food that has gone off; general bad cooking; inconsistency; plates piled too high; lack of understanding of the dish; long menu's; roast potatoes that are in fact deep fried; so called top restaurants serving bought in chips with their bar snacks; undressed salad garnish; lasagne hot on the outside and frozen in the middle; crumble buried under custard; in fact anything buried under custard;  tepid soup; soup then micro-waved so that it scalds; burnt fish and chips; carrot cake with lumps of cooked carrot; badly made cakes;

Supermarket v Farm Shop v Farmers Market

If I was a marketing advisor for a Supermarket who said they needed to impress the public with their support for British produce not only would it be an easy task they wouldn’t have to stock much more British produce than they already do.

 The consumer is often criticised for shopping in supermarkets, yet if you look carefully there is plenty of British food on offer, biscuits, cheese, meat, fruit and vegetables in season (obviously an apple in August has to be imported), fish from around our shores, organic farmed salmon from Scotland. The message to the consumer is when you shop in a Supermarket check the labels to ensure Britishness.

 As their marketing advisor I would tell them to simply change their message. Firstly, select a handful of small producers and create a cosy pamphlet about them. However, we are not stupid, we know that there are not enough small farmers in Britain to supply every supermarket in the country, even on a local level. To succeed at this farmers must get bigger and possibly cheaper. I would also advise supermarkets to invite the farmers market to set up outside, it will not damage their turnover at all and would be great customer relations.

Alternatively, shop in a Farmer’s Market? Here you are buying direct from the farmer, which ensures, in our case, local to the Island. It doesn’t necessarily mean cheaper because the aim of Farmers Markets is a) to cut out the middleman (the Supermarket) and give greater profits to the farmer who at the conception of Farmer’s Markets were being price squeezed by the Supermarkets and b) it allowed the small producer to survive without having to go big. The down side of Farmer’s Markets is lack of choice. They will never be fierce competition to the Supermarket – largely due to supply and demand. It is therefore OK to support Supermarkets but encourage them to stock more British food from small producers by buying those products.

 Buying locally is also, now, about reducing food miles. As a result Farm Shops are popping up all over the place. They are a great tourist attraction and ensure a nice outing in the car – get it? Farm Shops should be in town and village centres and accessible to everyone not just a select few. They should offer great choice. Most people visiting a Farm Shop walk out with a handful of goodies and then go to the Supermarket for their proper shopping. There is something not quite right here. Farmers should be asking not “what can the consumer do for me” but “what can I do for the consumer”.

Tip to Restaurants Serving Sunday Lunch

In the home Sunday lunch is served to perfection at the same time to everyone. If you have customers turning up at different times the only way to serve a perfect Sunday lunch is to stager the cooking to fit in with the arrival of each individual booking -cooking some 10 to 15 individual roast - this would be impossible. The Sunday Carvery was a good try but it meant soggy vegetables, crispy Yorkshires and eventually dry meat. Therefore, you must have a roast lunch served at a set time - say 1pm. If the customer refuses to accept this then all I can say is the customer is not interested in good food.

PUB SPECIALS BOARD

Pub grub is so predictably the same (although I have to say restaurant food is getting samey too - goats cheese tart with onion relish, slow cooked belly of pork, seafood brulèe, smoked haddock with cheese sauce, posh burgers and chunky chips - where's the originality!!?), bought in frozen food, ready made dishes, jackets, baguettes, burgers, wings, haunch of this, shoulder of that. Menu's so long you know it can't all be fresh. Then you get the pub that extends the dinning room but not the kitchen and the number of staff. This means that on busy days food delivery is starvingly slow. However, some pubs do have a specials board. There was a time when the specials board was a way of getting rid of the previous days left-overs- it still is in some places.

CHIPS - What happened to them?!

All of a sudden we are being given fat "chips", chunky  "chips", extra big "chips", in fact chips that are not chips. As far as chips go fat chips just do not work - a chip has an optimum size - for a reason. It has to be deep fried in hot fat so that it is soft and fluffy on the inside and not burnt on the outside. Still on chips, if a high achieving restaurant serving bought in chips, uses the excuse of "too busy to make them" during lunch time trade then they shouldn't be on the menu.

I am currently doing the best hand-cut chip on the I of W search - watch this space. So far the chips at Jireh House, Yarmouth, are top of the bill

 However, the best chips I have had this year are at Rick Stein's Fish and Chip shop in Padstow.

The Lost Sunday Lunch

In the good old days male members of the family would go down to the local pub for a Sunday lunch time drink while her indoors slaved over a stove producing fabulous traditional roast dinners. Ribs of beef or a nice piece of topside would be lovingly cooked to a succulent, pink and juicy feast. While the meat was resting a giant Yorkshire pudding would be cooked in a roasting tin with the fat from the beef, rich roast gravy was made from the beef bones and the vegetable liquid all thickened with a sprinkling of fried flour and finished with a spot gravy colouring. Potatoes were roast to a golden crisp in more beef fat ensuring that the subtle flavours of beef ran through the whole meal.

 Pork, was cooked for longer with the fat from the pork rind dripping through the meat ensuring a strong traditional pork flavour. The sage and onion stuffing was enhanced with onions softened in pork fat, the crackling was finished off at the end of the meal when the oven was raised to its highest temperature so that it cooked to a crisp while still attached to the pork joint. The roast potatoes would be cooked with the meat and crisped up at the end with the crackling. Apples sauce was made from a fresh puree of Bramley apples, slightly sharp and acidic and the gravy made with the juices of the pork roast, pork stock and again the liquid from the vegetables. Roast Lamb had similar special treatment. Everything was cooked so that the flavour of the lamb was carried through the gravy the vegetables and the onion sauce. Our only error according to the French is that we over cooked our vegetables. Now we don’t always cook them long enough.  

Pubs started to get in on the act and produced similar good fare so that mum didn’t have to slave over the stove. So far so good. Then something went terribly wrong. Children were no longer forced to learn cooking at school. Both parents went out to work, supermarkets began offering ready cooked Yorkshires, roast potatoes, ready cooked beef meals, puddings and even the gravy granules. Pubs took on too much and ended up using the microwave oven as a substitute for proper cooking instead of as an aid to cooking. Poor old chefs were put under pressure to churn out a wide range of dishes that cannot possibly be well cooked. These days we seem to be paying for a large choice badly cooked rather than a small choice well cooked.

 This is why I never go out for Sunday Lunch. Pubs are full, tables are all booked up and the kitchen is under pressure, it has become a cattle market.

 However, over the past month, I decided to give it another go. It was certainly an experience not to be forgotten for some time to come.  I have been served soggy roast potatoes that have been re-heated in a microwave oven to such unbearable temperature that I could not eat them until after I had eaten everything else. I have been served deep fried “roast potatoes” that give a whole new meaning to the chunky chip. I have been faced with plates piled so high and swimming in flavourless gravy that I was frightened to touch it for fear it would fall all over the table, beef so grey and overcooked it could have been mashed with a fork, soup that the chef had the nerve to tell me it was home made when clearly it was from a packet, Gammon that had been kept warm for so long it was crispy around the edges and stuck to the plate, pheasant, already a dry meat and must not be cooked for very long, not only dry but hard around the edges after the good old microwave re-heat treatment. I have yet to find someone who can make rhubarb and apple crumble. I have been served a crumble so soggy it looked like flour and water goo, crumble so dry it was surely commercial mix sprinkled straight from the packet over bland tinned apples and then smothered in undercooked Birds custard. Yuk. This must be a new trend as I have had the same rhubarb and apple in two separate pubs.

 Nevertheless, I still have faith; there must be some where on our lovely Isle of Wight that is cooking good traditional Sunday roasts with quality trimmings.

 In the meantime my advice to people going out to Sunday lunch is avoid the roast and go for the pub specials.

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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

email: angela.hewitt@btclick.com

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