Where to Eat in the Isle of Wight

As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to the Isle of Wight, Rhiannon Batten picks out a selection of cafés, restaurants and local food across this glorious island on the south coast of England.


When ferry operator Wightlink first launched the Wight Taste Trail in 2007 it was blazing a deliciously untrodden path. Designed to give tourists a better insight into the island’s award-winning food producers, tea rooms and restaurants – and practical information on how to track them down – food tourism beyond a few cookery courses was only just emerging as a trend.

Fast forward to 2013 and, when the most recent edition of the Wight Taste Trail was launched, no UK destination worth its salt was without its own self-guided gourmet tour. Fortunately, the Isle of Wight has kept ahead of the game. Campaigns to keep local dairy herds thriving (and for local supermarkets to stock local milk), a new ice cream company making lickably sweet flavours from local ingredients, burgeoning local baking and farm shop movements and a band of restaurateurs that refuses to rest on its laurels has helped to keep this small island’s food scene remarkably fresh and spry.

From farm stores, delis and cafes to pop-up wood-fired pizza trucks, dining pubs and restaurants, unpretentious food that’s big on local flavours is the dish of the day on the Isle of Wight.


Calbourne Water Mill

This historic working water mill is home to a motley collection of attractions, from a pottery and museum to holiday accommodation and a licensed café. At 3pm each day there’s a milling demonstration for visitors but, if you really want to get a flavour of what the mill produces, head to the on-site shop and choose from a range of traditional stoneground flours as well as porridge oats and mueslis. calbournewatermill.co.uk

The Crab Shed

This humble seaside shack restaurant in pretty Steephill Cove is the place to go if you’re after crab, lobster or mackerel caught the same morning from a boat just in front of your table. Open seasonally, the menu runs from crab pasties and mackerel ciabattas to lobster salad. Just make sure you get there early; with its no-bookings policy there’s often a scramble for seats in high season. steephillcove-isleofwight.co.uk

Farmers’ Markets

If you want to meet the people who made it as well as buy local produce, farmers’ markets are hard to beat. And the Isle of Wight’s two biggest, regular markets - at Newport on Fridays and in Ryde on Saturdays – are no exception. Talk to beekeeper Mary Case about how a hive’s location alters the taste of her honeys, ask The Tomato Stall team which of its 40 varieties is best for you, choose from Sharon Orchard’s five different locally made ciders or nobble Brownrigg Poultry for their best wild partridge recipe suggestions. islandfarmersmarket.co.uk

Farmer Jacks

From locally made pies, oils and Isle of Wight Blue cheese to seasonal specialities like asparagus, cherries, apricots, strawberries, cavolo nero and sweetcorn, Farmer Jacks is one of the biggest and best farm shops on the island. A joint venture between two long-standing Isle of Wight farmers, the business has grown into a well-oiled food-shopping machine, opening purpose-built premises for its in-house butcher, delicatessen and food hall and expanding its range to cover breads and pastries from The Island Bakers and gourmet readymeals. farmerjacks.co.uk

Briddlesford Lodge Farm Shop

Set in a former milking parlour, the stalls at this farm shop are now filled with local fruit, vegetables, preserves, chutneys and, of course, a great dairy selection, including cheeses, butter and milk straight from the owners’ herd of Guernseys. Meat is another speciality, with the shop’s range including beef from nearby Cheverton Farm, pork from Combley Farm and ethically produced veal from Briddlesford itself. Try before you buy at the onsite Bluebells Café, which serves food made with much of the produce on sale in the shop. Or book in for one of its occasional evening dinners for good food, live music and a first-hand taste of island hospitality. briddlesford.co.uk

Bembridge Fish Store

From businessman to B&B owner, owner of the Bembridge Fish Store Mike Curtis has plenty of life experience behind him but it’s a passion for fish that runs deepest. He is evangelical about introducing visitors to the wonders of fish caught, cooked and eaten the same day - fish that has put muscle on in the choppy ocean waters rather than swimming a few laps of a fish farm and which is sustainably caught – and his stock ranges from wild bass, bream, red and grey mullet, brill, turbot and Dover sole to crab, lobster, prawns and mackerel. Served in many of the island’s restaurants, if you want to try it yourself, you’ll find it all on sale in his shop, along with fish pies, crab cakes and more. bembridgefish.co.uk

Ventnor Botanic Garden

Fittingly for a café in a garden, Ventnor’s Plantation Room Café makes the most of the surrounding herbs, salads, vegetables and fruit for its daily menu of baguettes, soups, stews and cakes and its hot Sunday lunches. This light, bright space is a great place for a cuppa overlooking the foliage – choose from its lengthy list of loose-leaf teas (served in glass teapots) and fresh coffees or go for a Tropic Ale, brewed with hops grown in the grounds. In the summer months, the space below the café opens as a restaurant, Edulis. Its name means ‘edible plant’ in Latin and that’s it’s mission, with a strong focus on locally grown ingredients. Although the restaurant isn’t normally open in the evenings, keep an eye out for occasional dinners and events. botanic.co.uk

The Garlic Farm Restaurant

When it comes to growing garlic Colin Boswell knows his onions. His mother first started growing Solent Wight garlic in the 1950s and Colin himself has been cultivating the stuff for 40 years. In his Garlic Farm shop, you can choose from 12 different, seasonal, varieties as well as pickles, chutneys, butters and even garlic-laced beer. As well as managing six holiday cottages, a herd of Highland cattle and a clutch of Buff Orpington chickens, Colin and his wife Jenny run an on-site restaurant. Open for breakfasts and lunches, the farm’s garlic makes its way into much of the menu. Not least its delicious mezze platters, heaped with hummus, roasted garlic, sunblush tomatoes, Feta, falafel, baby corn fritters, garlic and cumin seed dip and more. thegarlicfarm.co.uk

Cantina

Owner Klaus Kuhnke may be an expert baker (his breads and pastries have made him a stalwart of the London farmers’ market scene, not to mention his stints with Prufrock Coffee, but at this café, bakery and xx in Ventnor the emphasis is on all things Italian. Go for slow-cooked beans and ham and eggs on sourdough for breakfast, fresh quiche and salad for lunch or pizza and cocktails in the evening. cantinaventnor.co.uk

The Beach Hut Cafe

Only open from March to September, this little foodie bolthole sensibly sticks to a remit of fresh seafood and veggie treats. From Spanish-style brunches (roast tomatoes on ciabatta rather than bacon butties) to fresh mackerel salads and the hut speciality, crab ramekins, all are cooked fresh to order and served in unpretentious surroundings (take your own wine and be warned that it’s a 10-minute walk along the beach to the nearest loo). At weekends in peak season they also open for evening suppers and seafood barbecues. isleofwightbeachcafe.co.uk

Quay Arts Café

Head inside this converted warehouse for a Fairtrade coffee or a bowl of homemade chilli and a gawp at the local artwork livening up the brickwork or go in summer and sit out on the terrace watching boats along the adjacent River Medina as you tuck into a fresh crab salad. Once you’ve had your fill, explore the on-site galleries, do some shopping at the Crafts Council-listed shop or book a ticket for one of the live music, theatre performances or film screenings. quayarts.org

The Beach Café

Osborne House’s Terrace Restaurant may be a safe bet for a decadent lunch or a traditional afternoon tea but if you’re after something more casual while visiting Queen Victoria’s former summer retreat head to the beach. After dipping a toe in the water or strolling along the shore HRH once bathed on, take a seat at the Beach Café here and cool down with a scoop or two of island-made Minghella ice cream . The only trouble you’ll have is choosing between flavours, from blackcurrant and Pear William sorbets to heritage vanilla and rhubarb fool ice creams. english-heritage.org.uk

The Taverners

Take an old flagstone and wood-floored, country inn. Throw in a chef who used to run the kitchen at London’s Haymarket Hotel but has a passion for unpretentious cooking made with ingredients grown, fished, foraged or hunted on the island (some of it in their own vegetable patch). Add a good range of real ales (including the Taverners’ own brew) and an on-site shop selling homemade treats and island goods and you’ve got a gastropub that can give the island’s best restaurants a run for their money. Just make sure you save room for dessert; from the warm Godshill cherry bakewell to their signature Tiramisu, puddings here are no afterthought. If you’re a cider fan, stop off at the nearby Godshill Cider Company while you’re in the area to pick up some liquid souvenirs thetavernersgodshill.co.uk

The Sun Inn

What could be better than supping a pint of local cider in a beer garden with sweeping views of the sea? In winter, get there early to grab a table by the huge wood-burning stove in the bar rather than in the less characterful restaurant and choose from a menu of pub favourites – chilli, pies, curries and pasta – made with more than a nod to island produce. If you’ve got a four-legged friend with you, ask for their special menu of dogs’ dinners and treats. characterinns.co.uk/the-sun-inn

The Boathouse

As the name suggests, this pretty blue-painted pub with rooms directly overlooks the Solent. It’s a smart spot for watching boats drift by, or for retreating to for a pint of local beer after a day spent sunning yourself on Puckpool Sands but the main draw is the food. Much of it is made with island produce, from pints of prawns to local ham, egg and chips and steamed clams in Isle of Wight ale with garlic and parsley. theboathouseiow.co.uk

The Hambrough

Long-time chef patron Robert Thompson created much drama on the island in 2013 when he left The Hambrough restaurant with rooms and its sister restaurant The Pond Café (see below). Fortunately, both businesses have continued to thrive, The Hambrough in particular serving up its recipe for sophisticated, sustainably sourced, seasonal menus with new vitality. Dishes such as island-smoked pollack with roast mussels, spices and coconut, salt baked beetroot with, nuts, seeds and spiced curd, and dressed Ventnor crab salad with saffron, swede and lemon confit make this a mecca for visiting gourmands. thehambrough.com

The Seaview Hotel

Now heading up the kitchen at the Seaview after nearly two decades at the Royal Hotel, chef Alan Staley knows more than most about the island’s produce. With his focus on simple, unfussy cooking and quality ingredients it helps that he has the Seaview’s own farm produce to play with, from deer, cattle, pigs and hens to herbs and vegetables. Indeed, both restaurants here - the Victorian restaurant and more contemporary Sunshine restaurant - are around 75% self-sufficient. If you’re after a classic fish soup, confit duck or venison stew, this is the place to find it. seaviewhotel.co.uk

The Little Gloster

Friendly staff, killer sea views, gorgeously simple décor (think wooden tables and floors and a long painted bar) and fabulous food; with a little inspiration drawn from his Danish grandmother, the Little Gloster’s chef-owner Ben Cooke has created a corner of Scandi chic in Gurnard. On sunny days find a table out on the verandah and toast the summer with a homemade, fennel-flavoured aquavit and a smoked duck and goats cheese salad, potato and Isle of Wight soft cheese croquettes with roasted butternut squash or chargrilled local sirloin steak. It’s the fish and seafood that really sing here, though. Try the home-cured gravadlax, the crab bisque or the seafood platter and don’t scrimp on dessert; the apple tart tatin is worth the journey alone. thelittlegloster.com

The Boathouse

Open in the summer months only, this Steephill Cove seafood restaurant is as close to St Tropez as the Isle of Wight gets. Book a table on the terrace and while away a long lunch overlooking the water under the shade of an umbrella. Order a bottle of chilled white and feast on lobster or fish brought in that morning by fisherman-owner Mark Wheeler and his brother Jimmy. steephill-cove.co.uk

The Priory Bay

The Oyster restauruant focuses on cooking with locally sourced food. With a fabulous and complicated menu available, you can also just grab a burger. ariaresorts.co.uk

Fine Nammet

It might sound like something you would find on a Middle Eastern mezze but Nammet is an old local word, originally meaning the bread, cheese and beer eaten out in the hay fields by workers but now more generally used to mean lunch or even just ‘food’. Don’t waste time arguing about the correct translation of this restaurant’s name though. Instead focus on the modern British cooking. Opened in 2013, meat, fish and veg are sourced from local farms, fields and seas - signature dishes include Dunsbury Farm lamb infused with lavender flowers and served with rosemary mash – and, commendably, there’s an extensive choice of wines by the glass. It also does great local cheeseboards. http://finenammet.co.uk/

The Pond Café

This homely-looking building set overlooking the village pond in pretty Bonchurch may appear to be a tearoom but step inside and you’ll find it’s actually a rather swish little restaurant. Albeit a more casual affair than its big sister, The Hambrough, with an emphasis on modern European (largely Italian) food. Choose from antipasto platters and soups for lunch and the likes of catch of the day with purple cannellini bean mash and salsa verde for dinner. If you’re in the mood for something simpler, they also do delicious stone-baked pizzas. thehambrough.com/the-pond-cafe/

The Garden Restaurant

Sometimes home-cooked comfort food is the order of the day and this family-friendly restaurant in the grounds of Farringford, Tennyson’s one-time home, certainly fulfils the brief. Its staple is the wood-fried pizza, available in flavours ranging from your classic American hot to a Bianca with Mozzarella, local blue cheese, oregano and chilli. If you’re not a pizza nut there are plenty of other options, from cottage pie to prawn and crab linguini, and what isn’t grown in the on-site kitchen garden is often sourced from elsewhere on the island. farringford.co.uk

Lockslane

Run with great dedication by partners Catherine Bachelor and Dawn Hodge, this Bembridge bistro is small in size but big on flavour. Much of what chef Catherine cooks is sourced locally, including fish from Bembridge Fish Store and poultry from Brownrigg, and service is sharp and friendly. The weekly specials board is temptation in chalk form while classic dishes include black pudding and pickled pear on wild rocket, twice-baked Gallybagger soufflé and pan-fried fillet of local wild sea bass on cauliflower purée with Bombay potatoes and cauliflower pickle. lockslane.com

The Hut

Steephill Cove and the Beach Hut Cafe aside, the Isle of Wight has been surprisingly scarce on cool beach cafes selling fresh fish and sundowners. Or at least it has been until now. In 2013 this seasonal restaurant opened right by the sand at Colwell Bay with simple wooden tables, a range of shabby chic sunhats to borrow if you can’t find a spot beneath a suitably shady umbrella and a menu that ranges from pork belly with clams to island tomato salads and lobster and chips. If you sail up and anchor in the bay they’ll come and pick you up in their own boat. thehutcolwell.co.uk


For information on places to stay, nearby visitor attractions and activities, see our Green Traveller's Guide to the Isle of Wight


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