Khoollect Explores – A Food Tour of the Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight has long been famous for childhood school trips, slightly dodgy seaside towns and fish and chips but over the last couple of years, people have really begun to notice the amazing culinary feats of Isle of Wight chefs and producers. And they should.

For somewhere so small (26 miles from end-to-end) there is such an incredible choice for food and drink. Everything from woodfire pizzas out of vintage vans overlooking the bay, fine-dining at Thompsons to proper pub food, when we say there is something for everyone we really aren’t wrong.

There’s even something undeniably magical about crossing the ferry (apart from the prices…), it feels like you’re going on holiday even though you’re only a mile or so away from the mainland.

Having lived on and off this rock for 28 years and eaten my way around it way too many times for my bank balance to handle, there’s not many better people to show you around. If only I can choose…

So here’s my pick for the best spots for food and drink on the Isle of Wight.

Brunch and Lunch:

Cantina Ventnor – don’t let their affordability fool you, these guys are one of the best, even making it into the Guardian Top 50 breakfasts of the UK. Cantina Ventnor’s menu is a fail-safe, with Avocado toast, Shakshuka and Slow cooked beans with wild mushrooms & duck egg on sourdough as personal favourites. You could go here any time of day and not be disappointed – make sure also check out their on-site made bread.

The Little GlosterNautical, Scandi inspired interiors, a bar selection that’s dangerously good (order the IOW Tomato Juice Bloody Mary and you won’t be disappointed) and a location right on the seafront, The Little Gloster has everything you could want from a restaurant. Any meal here is superb but for me, the breakfast menu has and will always my favourite. With Avocado, streaky bacon, poached eggs, mint & chilli on sourdough or Mushrooms on toast served with IOW blue cheese, spring onions, and toasted pine nuts, an selection of insanely good super juices and a breakfast cocktail menu you can’t ignore it wins every time.

The Coast Bar and Dining Room – if you’re looking for somewhere where the interior matches the food, Coast is the place to go. Exposed brick, open kitchen/pizza oven, cosy fireplace and tables you want to pack up and leave with, even without the food this place is a must-visit. But then with a relaxed, seasonal menu with the likes of pan-seared scallops and a a fierce load of brunch options, it’d be hard to top.

Piano Cafe – while the cafe is seasonal, if you catch it then it’s one of the best places on the Island. West Wight has a totally different atmosphere to the rest of the Island; it’s quieter, slow-paced but ever so welcoming and this cafe is the epitome of that. Built in the old Post Office there’s still that sense of community here, except now instead of people coming to send their packages, it’s for their cakes and incredible menu. Their salads are a particular favourite of mine, I’d say you won’t find better on the Island.

The Crab Shed Steephill CoveAnother seasonal choice, The Crab Shed is the home of one of the Island’s culinary treasures – the crab pasty. In the most picturesque tiny bay with the charm of a smuggler’s cove it’s hard to beat the location. Open daily in high season (except Tuesdays) from 12-3pm.

The Garlic Farm – Featured as one of Mary Berry’s favourites as well as on countless other TV shows, The Garlic Farm is an Isle of Wight institution. While you can pick up an unimaginable array of garlic products in the shop (including a delicious black garlic), it’s their cafe that’s the real treat. With a changing specials board and regular garlicy favourites it’s a dining experience that really is unique.

where to eat and drink isle of wight

Dinner

The Tavernersthe definition of a perfect country gastro-pub, people come to the Taverners week in and week out and are never disappointed (I am one of them). Their emphasis is on good quality, delicious local fare in a warm and welcoming pub atmosphere and they pull it off faultlessly. While there’s a regular set menu including a Mac and Cheese and Sticky Toffee Pudding that you can’t help but groan at every incredinle mouth-full, there’s always something new to delight over with their seasonal specials.

Thompson’s Restaurant – The first restaurant of former Michelin Star Robert Thompson, this place is special. A real labour of love, everything in the restaurant has been thought through with the upmost quality at the forefront; from the menu to the tables his own father made. A more refined choice than anywhere on the Island but without the fuss or stuffiness you might expect from somewhere of this calibre. I’ve been here more times than I can count and never had a bad meal, in fact I’d say you won’t ever have a better fine-dining experience for the price here or anywhere else.

Three Buoys Family owned and run sitting on a the first floor building overlooking Ryde beach, Three Buoys food is good food without the fuss. An experimental but classic menu that wins every time. Worth mentioning they have a gin menu too, I don’t think I need to say anything more…

Wightwood Pizza – If you fancy a bit more of an outdoor experience then follow Wightwood pizza as they hop around the Island on their van. Serving freshly stone oven baked margheritas with island cherry tomatoes and pepperoni and olive pizzas at only £7 (and an £8 daily special like prawn, mussel and chilli squid) it makes for an unforgettable meal on the beach.

The Mess Canteen – With Fish tacos, overspilling Mac n Cheese Burgers, and Rosemary chips served in a huge sieve, The Mess Canteen does nothing by halves. Not only is the menu one of the best, the DIY interior of this place is the closest you’ll find to hipster London (in the best of ways) on the Island.

Lockslane – Lockslane feels like a real Island secret. They don’t shout about it but I’ve often heard people exclaim this place is their Island favourite. With Slow roast belly pork and IOW Lamb shoulder with peas and potatoes in garlic and parmesan cream with deep fried anchovies, Bembridge Crab rarebit on saffron toast, Twice baked smoked haddock souffle you can see why.

The Hut – Another West Wight restaurant, The Hut in Colwell Bay sprung up out of nowhere a few years back and has been catering to the yacht crowd of Lymington and Cowes extremely well, so much so that they send a restaurant rib to pick them up directly from their boats moored in the bay. If you’re looking for a lively atmosphere there’s no better place to watch the sun go down while devouring Surf n Turf, Fruits de Mer, or Grilled Octopus, with an Aperol Spritz (or two) in hand.

where to eat and drink isle of wight

Pubs and Bars

The Buddle If ever there was a proper Isle of Wight ‘pub,’ pub, The Buddle is it. Think roaring fires in the winter, a beautiful outdoor terrace in the summer and plenty of hearty, delicious pub food to keep you going while you sample the local beers.

The Spyglass Inn – Food at the Spyglass is your typical pub food and as long as you’re well aware of that, you won’t in any way be disappointed, plus their shell-on prawns are a complete treat. Where Spyglass does come into its own is its location – you can’t beat it. At the furthest point of its sprawling terrace, you genuinely feel like you’re reclining on top of the waves. Sea-faring knick-knacks, Ventnor memorabilia and hang from every corner, it’s cosy and slightly eccentric interior has a charm hard to match anywhere else – with live music including piano and the odd sea shanty if you catch the right night.

Ventnor Exchange – If craft beers, records and a thriving arts scene is what you want from your evening then Ventnor Exchange is the place to go. Run by the same incredible people who organise The Ventnor Fringe festival this is where you want to be if you want a memorable night.

Fisherman’s Inn you really can’t get closer to a beach-side pub than The Fisherman’s Cottage. Hidden away at the furthest end of Shanklin’s seafront, this centuries old pub (1817 to be exact) with its old thatched roof and selection of ales couldn’t feel more like an authetic local’s pub.

Coffee

Island Roasted –  the Isle of Wight’s only Island roasted coffee is served in many a cafe or restaurant but nothing beats its home place of Cafe Isola run by husband and wife duo. The cakes here are some of the best on the Island too.

PO41 made using Union Roasters coffee, PO41 makes a brilliant cuppa, especially good to enjoy in their beautiful take-away cups while out exploring old town Yarmouth and the harbour.

Sweet Treats

Crave Ventnor – It wouldn’t be a sea-side food round-up without Ice Cream. Delicious flavours in a traditional parlour – what more could you want?

Island Bakers – a bakery to rival anything the capital can offer, Island Baker’s spot in Newport is always rammed with people vying for the freshest doughnut of the day. Just one look at their Instagram and you’ll know why.

Other

It’d be wrong not to include Ventnor Botanical Gardens in here too, not just for the incredible gardens but their cafe and restaurant are also brilliant places for coffee and local food. While you can’t technically go and visit Mermaid’s Gin, it is the Isle of Wight’s only award-winning gin and deserves a tipple or two. The local arts centre at Quay Arts  also holds regular exhibitions and workshops and their terrace cafe overlooking the river is a great sun-spot.

The other important part of the Isle of Wight’s food scene is its produce. Pick up Isle of Wight Tomatoes, Asparagus and a whole lot more from Farmer Jacks farmshop or The Farm Shop Bembridge and while you’re at it, pop into their vegetarian cafe at No.8 upstairs. Lastly, watch the sun go down on Ventnor sea front with the dish of the Island ‘crab on chips’ at Ventnor Haven Fishery, you’d be a fool not to.

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WRITTEN BY:
Maria Bell

Maria Bell is a photographer and editor from the Isle of Wight. Talk to her about food and/or photog...

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