Bembridge Harbour is a sunny, sandy bay looking out towards the forts protecting the Solent from the east and offering sheltered gastronomic delights to visiting yachtsmen.
For this trip to the Isle of Wight we decided to leave the boat behind, jump on the Red Funnel to East Cowes and pick up one of Red Squirrel’s e-bikes. We could actually enjoy the scenery whilst gliding up those famous Isle of Wight hills.
Aaron Orman from Visit Wight met us and we were off, whipping along to Wooton in no time at all, to the first stop at Briddlesford Farm. Breakfast being a distant memory, I was keen to meet the team that own one of the few A2 dairy herds in the country. A2 milk contains a different protein base that Guernseys have in their DNA.
French milk is completely A2, but the rest of Europe transferred over to big Friesian herds some years ago. A2 milk is easier to digest and makes better, creamier cheeses and yoghurts, though contains no more fat.
The farm shop and café are busy, with people enjoying lunch and cream teas. I go for the latter and my companion has the peppered steak sandwich. The raspberry and loganberry jam is exceptionally good with the home produced clotted cream. The steak sandwich is a meal in itself.
A RYDE AWAY
Nothing is too far away on the Island, which makes cycling a joy. We drop down into Ryde before heading to Bembridge, via Seaview and St Helens. The sea breeze picks up and I am glad of a power burst to get me to the pretty village green at St Helens where we rather like the look of both Ganders on the north side and Dan’s Kitchen on t’other side.
A quick brush up and we are back for dinner. Dan’s Kitchen is now full to the rafters with a convivial crowd enjoying the warm ambience. So, we make for Ganders, where there is a little more room, and are treated to some quality cooking that is exceptional value for money; two courses for £17.95.
This family business knows what it is doing. Dad (Ian Cowcher) is the owner chef, mum is front of house and their younger son brings the food and guidance. We share the Tandoori mackerel fillet skewers – subtle smokey flavours – with a mango mayo. Whole plaice with savoury butter and their superb steak & ale pie followed this. The pie was made with Goddard’s ale, a good mix of crunchy vegetables, tasty, slow cooked beef while the plaice had fresh, firm white flesh with a pleasantly charred, crisp skin.
I could have happily eaten everything on the pudding menu (this is not always the case) but went for the plum & amaretto Tarte Tatin, made with brioche rather than puff pastry. It had very good flavours and was the perfect finish to a meal that was balanced and beautifully cooked and presented.
After a decent sleep – did you know many of the boathouses do B&B? – we were ready for breakfast. A bit of a map struggle here as I really wanted to try out Cantina over in Ventnor, but we were having lunch at the Beach Hut in Bembridge, but as I said earlier, nothing is that far away on the island, just a bit of a steep hairpin bend entry to Ventnor.
Cantina is worth the effort; my sort of place with excellent coffee and bread. I had the porridge with butter roast apples and cinnamon and Mike the full English and a couple of flat whites to wash it down.
Then back along the seafront at Shanklin we notice an interesting glass building, perched atop what I assume was the old Bandstand, gaining great views out to sea and back over the golf course. It was a good café stop, with the cool glazing opening wide so we could see the racing from Bembridge ahead.
We find a picture book English country village, with a frisson of Saturday spring time weddings in the air. We dodged the queues outside the Farm Shop and Bembridge Bakery and wistfully read the menu at Lockslane that we had hoped to visit but will have to come back to as they were closed for annual staff holidays.
Another good reason to return was the Shed, just along from the wonderful Farm Shop with baskets of keenly priced local asparagus and glowing Isle of Wight tomatoes. Shed serves tapas, mezze and so on and has a Tuesday night special of £10 for two courses. Happy hour looked generous too, running from 3-6pm every day.
BEST DRESSED CRAB
We still had a bit of time before heading to the Beach Hut so whizzed down the hill to the harbour to check that the ladies in the Tollgate were still serving up their usual magic of quick, well priced café food.
We spotted a cycling team climbing on board the Best Dressed Crab in Town, where Graham Henley explained how this third generation family business has grown and that in August they sell up to a quarter tonne of crab a day. The airy café sits on the pontoon and enjoys wonderful views over the harbour and is a popular stop for crustacean lovers everywhere.
Time for lunch and so we search out the Beach Hut on Forelands Beach. We settle in the sun, bare feet on the grass and notice we could have brought our own drinks with no corkage charge.
I order the crab ramekin, a sort of crab coquille St Jacques affair. The only disappointment is the boring old roll, whilst Mike has a very good BLT with fresh granary roll, tasty crisp bacon.
A bottle of Luscombe’s Damascene Rose Bubbly completes the scene and we enjoy watching a team from Haslar Marina order the lobster platter and pop their corks.
Replete and time to take the coastal path along the front at Seaview to check out a few more wedding cars and floral frocks outside the Seaview Hotel, passing the Boat House (which I am told is good) before heading back to East Cowes and the ferry home.
HIKE & BIKE
The hike: Up from Bembridge, follow the coast path out to Forelands Beach, passing the iconic RNLI station and the Coastguard before hitting the Beach Hut, return via the pretty village, stocking up at the Farm Shop and enjoy happy hour at Shed before home.
The bike: Many routes available. 62 mile Round the Island route, or dip into the Taste Round the Island route, showcasing top producers on the way. Maps available from: www.visitisleofwhight.co.uk
www.nutsnotto.co.uk Red Squirrel E-Bikes