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The Isle of Wight is traditionally known for fine crab and indulgent cream teas, but this beach-blessed island also produces asparagus, honey, strawberries, tomatoes and garlic that are among the best in the southwest of Britain. Here are our top 10 things to eat when taking a break across the Solent…
Gallybagger cheese soufflé
Is there anything better than a classic twice-baked cheese soufflé? Gallybagger is cheddar-like and ages for four to five months on locally sourced Lawson Cypress wooden shelves, which contribute to both the moulds that you find on the rind of the cheese and the flavours inside. Richard Hodgson makes this fantastic product as well as three other Isle of Wight cheeses. Towering Gallybagger soufflés with a white onion purée are served up at the Royal Hotel in Ventnor where it has developed a cult following – they’re that good.
Isle of Wight tomatoes
What would the Isle of Wight be without tomatoes? The amount of sunlight hours the island receives means it’s the ideal climate for these beauties and the taste just says it all. In the Arreton Valley, vast glass houses line up row after row with hundreds of vines laden with a multitude of tomato varieties destined for all over the UK. The Little Gloster in Gurnard have created a fantastic yellow tomato gazpacho, served in season with rouille and coriander oil, and a panoramic view across the Solent behind its lovely garden.
Jim and his brother Mark Wheeler are the last in a long line of south Wight fisherman spanning back to the 1450s. Jim and his wife, Mandy came up with the idea of using crabmeat in pasties so that this prized produce could easily be taken onto the beach for easy picnics. Having started off with shortcrust pastry, the recipe now uses the flakiest puff pastry and if you can get down to the beautiful Steephill Cove to eat them, you are in for a real seaside treat.
Black garlic, another island-defining ingredient is made by cooking garlic bulbs for prolonged times at low temperatures. The end result is jet black, sweet and syrupy cloves that have a background taste of balsamic vinegar and tamarind. They are served as savoury accompaniments but also, as a classic ice cream sundae. Garlic in a dessert may well sound a step too far but this creation is a must try; black garlic ice cream layered with chocolate brownie and chocolate sauce. Take a trip to the Garlic Farm in Newchurch to sample it. Garlic is grown in numerous varieties across the island and the pungent allium even has its own festival.
Much of the honey produced on the island is made on a small scale, with beekeeping a tradition that dates back to the early monasteries. Honeycomb is a classic seaside staple of course, but a recent innovation has seen it transformed into an even more indulgent treat. Doughnuts come in many forms but this version is highly Instagrammable as well as being a taste sensation; extremely light in texture with crunchy local honeycomb and a salted honeycomb crème diplomat filling. Sample them at the Island Bakers shop and café in Newport and other island eateries supplied by the bakers.
The island is lucky to have some of the first asparagus in the UK with the season normally running from early April until the end of June – and the best are grown by Ben Brown in the Arreton Valley. With a low calorie count and reputed to be an aphrodisiac, they’re a winner in many ways. Get the day off to a great start with simply cooked asparagus served between a soft poached egg and a slice of toasted local bread. You can sample this classic dish at the Farm Shop in Bembridge, where you’ll find a lovely little café serving vegan and vegetarian food, making the most of the fantastic homegrown produce.
Check out our asparagus collection for more sublime seasonal recipes.
Beef & ale pie
A proper beef and ale pie can be a deal-breaker for many when deciding whether or not to walk into a pub – one of those classics that when done right, is irresistible. The island has some serious contenders for best pie, many made with locally reared beef, but one is renowned, having established itself as a favourite with locals and a must-try for visitors. Made with flaky suet pastry, tender local shin of beef braised in house beer and served up with homemade chips, The Taverners in Godshill have perfected this comfort food.
Historically, the island has been a major producer of new potatoes, with a climate that is warmer and drier than the mainland encouraging an earlier start in growing and harvesting seasons. Living Larder based at Galley Horne Farm in Apse Heath grows their own ‘Family Secret’ variety of potato and you can try them at a number of restaurants and pubs across the island. You can even get them delivered to your door in one of their veg selection boxes. The best way to serve them is the simplest: with mint and butter.
Like much of the southwest of England, the Isle of Wight is a great place for enjoying cream teas and the prize for best scone has to be one of the most fiercely contested accolades on the island. Beautiful, sweet strawberries are grown here, too, so fine local jam is easy to find. Chessell Pottery Café bakes 25,000 scones each year and is the perfect place to sit in the afternoon and indulge. You can even eat them off the café’s own handmade pottery, which is prettily painted with strawberries.
In the 19th century, rock samphire was shipped in casks of seawater from the island to market in London at the end of May each year. This coastal grass, not to be confused with its better known cousin, marsh samphire, used to be sold on the London streets with the cry “Crest Marine”. Today, it is relatively unknown but with it growing so well around the island and being so tasty – slightly hot and spicy – it’s making a comeback as an ideal partner for seafood.
Robert Thompson was, in 2007, the youngest British chef to earn a Michelin star, aged only 23. Based on the Isle of Wight at Thompson’s restaurant, his classically influenced food showcases the island’s remarkable produce through intense, pure flavours.
Further information: www.visitisleofwight.co.uk
If you enjoyed this taste of the southwest, see our guide to the best things to eat in Cornwall.
Visit our travel section for more food inspiration from across the British Isles, Europe and beyond.