COMMENT about 2018
This is my opportunity to complain without
pointing the finger. But, if the cap fits......
SO, food is still being served on cold plates
- I now send food back if half way through eating it it has gone cold. I
never comment upon service but this year it has been so bad in some
establishments it can't go ignored - as I have been ignored several times
when waiting to be served by staff who would rather finish their conversation
with another colleague rather than jump to it and serve a waiting customer.
Is that arrogance, ignorance or just plain rude. Then there is the grumpy
welcome, the back chat - some customers may be rude or just plain fed up
with the service but rise above it not join them - and an
inability to clear a table. Having no idea what hospitality means - if you
don't like serving don't do it.
Actually I don't agree with the premise that
the customer is always right. But it is not your job to put them right. Be
polite and assume they have made a mistake and entered that wrong eatery.
A note to customers.... You enter an
eatery to eat the food they have to offer on their menu. Not all eateries
can change dishes to suite your taste. Find an eatery that suits your taste
and go there. Allergies are becoming a problem. Eateries cannot have an
entirely separate kitchen to accommodate allergies. Eateries are not part of
the NHS. They are a business, often run by people that have a passion and
want to introduce the world to their own special repertoire. It is unfair to
try and make them become something they are not. Cooking
quality dishes is stressful enough with out diners trying to mess them up.
Plus there is the additional cost for the eatery to be prepared for the odd
person who wants something that is not on the menu - but will you pay the
extra? If you have eating issues check websites before booking to see if
they can accommodate you.
The best eatries are those that specialise
and do what they do really well. Then There are those that try to be all
things for all people and quality inevitably gets watered down.
That said there are several eateries on the
island that will bend over backwards to cater for those who want something
The Isle of Wight is one of the countries
major holiday destinations and these places are letting the Island down.
When you employ a new member of staff you need to give them proper training.
I was always proud that I kept my staff for many years. Basically because I
paid them above the minimum wage. It also meant that I had staff who knew
what they were doing and I did not have to waste time on constant training.
I bought loyalty.
A minor negative- with a few exceptions menus
have become boring. I am desperate
for creative dishes, showcasing quality ingredients without silly gimmicks.
Foams, spots and smears are some sort of pretentious micky-take. As much as
I crave something interesting and creative it still has to be cooked well
and taste flavourful and be consistent.
Consistency, oh dear….
It is one thing to be chef of your own establishment.
Building up a top notch reputation for excellent cuisine but it is quite
another to take a night off and leave someone else in charge of your kitchen
- leaving your reputation well and truly on the line. On the rare occasion
when it works out OK it is because the head chef has thoroughly trained
their second in command. They know exactly how the dishes are to be prepared
and how they must look and indeed taste. I have to say those occasions are
becoming very rare and I have been frequently disappointed when discovering
the head chef has taken a day/night off. Training, training, training is the
Some of you may be surprised by my choices.
If you read my comments for 2017 that may give some explanation,
particularly point 5.
What makes the WGFG different from other food
1) I have 45 years of hands on experience in
cooking, eating and reviewing
2) I don't waste my time writing bad
reviews. Have you heard the saying "All publicity is good publicity even bad
3) I don't have to be anonymous because I
am not being nasty about anyone's eatery
4) I understand (through experience) what
it is like to be a chef and run a restaurant
5) Whether is it a cafe, a pub, a
restaurant or a fine dinning restaurant I apply the same rules are they
doing what they claim to do and are they doing it really well.
6) I recognise that we are easily beguiled
by how a meal looks. We eat with our eyes. My job is to see through that and
test for taste. This is why there are no pictures of food in this guide. A
picture tells a story but not always a true one.
7) I respect that some people want to eat
good cooking but are on a budget - they can't afford to waste hard earned
money on poorly cooked food.
8) I understand that the public have
varying standards over what is good food. It worries me that
restaurants are now serving burgers (Just how much better can one actually
make a burger than a place that specialises in burgers? Actually it is
marginal if at all). Is this an attempt to attract the not so discerning diner or is
it because the discerning diner can't be seen in Macdonalds? Then
there are pubs attempting fine dinning
while lacking the skills and frankly most of it is a disaster.
9) I don't read other reviews therefore I
am not influenced by other peoples opinions. My reviews are subjective in
being to my taste but also objective regarding correct cooking procedures.
Come on Chefs - COLD PLATES!!
What are you thinking of? I don't want excuses that the dish has to be
served at an ambient temperature. Basically fess up. You forgot to put them
in the warmer. A cold plate instantly destroys a dish. Cold congealed sauce
in seconds. Half way through the meal the heat of the food has been
transferred to the plate and your are eating cold food YUK! This is so basic
even my Mum new she had to warm a plate. It is totally unacceptable.
Wooden boards - a big gripe of
mine. The idea of eating off a wooden board, possibly previously used by
someone who has the flue or stomach problems, turns my stomach. I have also
noticed that they are now so overused that they now have gouge marks where
germs can reside. I don't believe that a busy restaurant has enough boards
to scour, de-germify and dry in an oven before it is used again. If a
commercial kitchen is banned from using wooden boards during preparation why are they dishing
them up to the public?
FROM THE GOOD HOUSEKEEPING
WEBSITE - THIS IS ADVICE FOR THE HOME USER - CAN WE GUARANTEE A BUSY
COMMERCIAL KITCHEN DOES THIS?
This doesn't make easy reading, but the average kitchen
chopping board has around 200% more bacteria on it than a loo seat,
according to NHS Direct. The research, commissioned by the Global Hygiene
Council, found 40% of food poisoning cases are caused by poor hygiene in the
home. Almost half of all frequently touched items in the home, including
chopping boards, are contaminated with harmful bacteria.
Because bacteria is invisible, you may not necessarily be
aware of the contamination taking place right before your eyes and so aren't
taking the right precautions. Since more than 60% of raw chicken has been
found to be contaminated with Campylobacter bacteria – the most common cause
of food poisoning in Britain – your chopping board is at high risk of
Different coloured chopping boards for meat and veg are a
sensible way of stopping contamination, but in reality that doesn't always
happen in a busy home. Always use disinfectant on boards that have had raw
meat on them.
Chopping board dos and donts
DO: Oil your wooden boards regularly with mineral oil,
available from stockists such as Lakeland and Amazon. Follow label
DO: Remove food stains on plastic chopping boards by rubbing
fresh or bottled lemon juice on to them and leaving overnight.
DO: To keep them stain-free and hygienic, always scrub them
in hot running water or, better still, pour freshly boiled water over them
to sterilise them. If they're dishwasher-safe, this is the easiest way to
ensure they're safe to use, but make sure the cycle is at least 65°C.
Alternatively, you can even use anti-bacterial surface wipes, such as Dettol,
for removing 99.9% of bacteria.
DON’T: Place wooden boards in the dishwasher or soak them in
hot water, or they’ll warp and crack.
DON’T: Prepare raw meat/poultry on the same board as cooked
meat/poultry or fruit/veg without washing them thoroughly in-between.
Hygiene experts, in fact, advise you to use separate chopping boards for red
meat, poultry, fish and vegetables.
DON’T: Dry your boards with tea towels. When it comes to
cross-contamination, tea towels are guilty. Paper towels are preferable.
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.
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.
Our aim is to recommend good places to eat to the
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
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
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
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;
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
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
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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