As Portsmouth Harbour calms down with the departure of the dynamic America’s Cup teams to Gothenburg our rumbling tummies cry out for sustenance and carbs to survive the week that is Cowes.
We followed the glorious Js into Cowes as they entered the Solent to dip their formidable masts to the Royal Yacht Squadron in its Bicentenary Year. I came via the jolly Red Jet, passing Elenaora as we docked and reveled in the news that five Js will be seen racing here this summer.
Many of you will have your favourite haunts in Cowes, built up over years of fun, and I am not going to begin to rate the many yacht clubs in Cowes but just list the Best Bites top mouthfuls.
Coast Bar and the Mess Canteen: I started at Coast Bar, passing a busy Tiffins on the way as I wanted to see how many people were eating breakfast at 10.30 in the morning – the lucky skivers!
I was not disappointed; two families, a couple of single gents checking the papers and a table of French yachtsmen filled the charming open room with its long bar, fresh flowers and open brickwork that holds a huge blackboard with the breakfast specials marked up – an impressive list.
Breakfast is an important meal, but in Cowes it could well be the yard stick you are measured by, that grinding and spinny flying being hungry work.
The Coast Full English at £6.95 is top dog here with good local bacon and sausage, mushrooms plus black pudding. Eggs Benedict at £6.50 and eggs anyhow on toast at £4.95, toast and jam £2.50. Jam is by Tiptree and the coffee by Hampshire based Mozzo.
It has a delightful ambience and a helpful, friendly team. I will be back to check out the wood fired pizza oven and to see the lunch specials – these guys get through a lot of chalk!
Above Coast Bar is one of Cowes’ favourite Italians, Tonino’s. It is traditional and reliable, but we did not want to go there. Instead we passed Tiffins again, with more people on the terrace enjoying their Lavazza and bacon baguettes. I noted they do crew hampers.
On a mission I passed the Well Bread Company. Attractive, large loaves stacked in the window and a big sharing table inside although most people were outside in the sun. This should be Hop’s heaven as I love a good bakery and to enjoy a decent coffee (they import Noble Bean) whilst sampling their Vienoisserie should be my Nirvana – but it seems hot and bothered, and I did not linger as I have not reached my second favourite yet.
Mess Canteen is a welcoming tunnel of a café with cosy seating in the snug at the back and a convivial team smiling at the counter. Blackboards abound here too, and as the specials run out they get wiped out. There are no microwaves used here, just stuff cooked fresh and when it is gone, it is gone. Local producers are listed and tea and coffee is from Clifton.
The girls in the AAM Cowes Week Office love this place, and I see Matt & Cat’s bright green sticker on the window for further reassurance.
Best Bites here include the tempura soft shell crab burger (when they can catch the little nippers), the fish cakes and for a quick lunch the Croque Madame. Iced coffee and I am happy here.
I needed to visit Moocow, just off the main drag and with its own Greek Island style bright white sparkle, a sunny terrace and all shiny orange, super clean calm inside. I wanted to try the vegetable tempura here as I have heard it is fab, but in a moment of terrible judgement I went for the aubergine and halloumi stack.
It looked fantastic, but sadly tasted of very little and the generous slices of cheese were too thick to crisp at the edges, so made for some energetic chewing. A shame, but my fault probably; it was just too healthy for me and I looked longingly at the calamari and baked fish in paper. I am going to go back with a small gang of grazers and work through the menu as it all reads and looks a dream.
Note: Ladies Night 13 Aug, DJ and cocktails on the terrace, but closed 14 and 15 – great for private functions.
Back to Coast
On my re-visit to the Coast Bar, the place was full with both rooms buzzing and the terrace full. Again, a good mix: business lunches, three generation families, couples and dogs. Happy eaters and drinkers, the pizza oven was delivering beautifully charred bottoms in minutes.
Best Bites choice pizza comes with garlic & thyme slow roast mushrooms, prosciutto cotto and mascarpone, followed by lemon posset. Other favourites are the pan fried sea bass and the meatballs were flying out of the kitchen too. There is a good wine list; the Chablis on the blackboard was perfect.
Breaking news: Harbour Kitchen has just opened next to the Food Hamper, the second string to the Coast Bar. Here they will serve less formal, faster street food, with 2 bars across 2 floors. Open in time for Cowes Week and run by Harry Joubert, open 12am -11pm, longer at weekends. Try it and let us know what you think.
For a bit of peace and quiet head over to East Cowes to get away from the crowds and enjoy the sunny terrace at the Lifeboat whilst watching the circus on the other side.
need to know
The Coast Bar 01983 298574 15 Shooters Hill – best to book, especially weekends/ Sun lunch
Mess Canteen 01983 280083 63 High Street – will do private functions for 40+, do not take bookings
Moocow 01983 200750 55 Cross St – great decor, art and mezze
Tiffins 01983 292310 takeaways, crew packs, good breakfasts
Cowes Tandoori 01983 296710 Every Tuesday 3 course meal for £10.95 and no corkage fee
Tonino’s 01983 298464 8-9 Shooters Hill – Cheerful Italian
Best Bites traveled courtesy of Red Jet, the fastest way to West Cowes. See timetables: www.redfunnel.co.uk
Thanks also go to Marina at Clearline Comms and Amy at Carswell Gould