Fantastic article written by Sarah Marshall for The Independent and London Evening Standard featuring Bella Cottage (pictured below)
Island food culture the Wight stuff
Sarah Marshall hops across the Solent to see what put the Isle on the gastronomic map
When Michelin starred chef Robert Thompson opened his first solo venture last summer in Isle of Wight’s busy commercial town Newport – in a woodbeamed former florist’s opposite Morrisons – many questioned the location. But there’s nothing pedestrian about Thompson’s two-storey, multi-roomed restaurant. My lunch is an eel-filled cigarette crisp on a bed of whipped, creamy, island-grown cavolo nero, followed by tandoori-charred mackerel served with cauliflower and finished with a candied carrot and chocolate stout cake in a mini terracotta flowerpot.
Thompson’s cooking alone is worth the hour’s Red Funnel ferry ride from Southampton, but it’s just one element of a greater astronomic force gaining pace on the island, which benefits from chalky, fertile soil and a favourable microclimate.
I’m spending the weekend at the three-bedroom Bella Cottage (below left)in Newport, a newly refurbished property with large garden and kitchen so meticulously equipped, Thompson might consider taking up residence here himself.
It’s a 20-minute drive to reach my first port of call, Adgestone Vineyard. Established in 1968, it’s one of the oldest vineyards in England, according to owner Russell Broughton, although it is likely vines were planted by the Romans 2,000 years ago. A former engineer, Broughton took over the derelict property three years ago after being turned down by six banks for a loan. Last year he produced 15,700 bottles of organic red, white and blush wines, including a popular pinot noir and rondo blend. It has already sold out. His fragrant elderflower dessert wine has also caught the attention of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Visitors can take a 1.5-hour multimedia tour through the property, relax in a café where walls are decorated with slices of tree trunks, or stay the night in two B&B rooms. I walk around his small cellar, packed with an array of dusty, heavy iron machinery, including a corking machine made in 1963. Broughton suggests I return in early October for harvest season; using social media he invites people to help out with the work in exchange for a BBQ, live music and a few glugs of fine wine.
Food and drink is part of island culture, with several festivals happening in summer, including the Garlic Festival (20-21 August), run by Colin Boswell, the mastermind behind the year-round Garlic Farm in Newchurch. Over breakfast in the rustic restaurant, overlooking fields filled with red squirrels, buzzards and white peacocks, Boswell tells me garlic was introduced to the island from France during the Second World War. There are 40 different varieties grown on the farm, including gargantuan elephant garlic bulbs and the lyubasha (little loved one) originally from the Ukraine.
Boswell’s quest to trace the roots of garlic has taken him to Georgia, Eastern Turkey and Kyrgyzstan, where he says garlic originated 10,000 years ago in the Tien Shan mountains. This has helped him develop the 70-plus products sold in the Garlic Farm shop, including a sticky black garlic, which is cooked in an low oven for 50 days and is delicious when sliced in scrambled eggs and – believe it or not – ice cream. After buying some Solent Wight Garlic (a bestseller that keeps for nine to 12 months) my friends and I return to Bella Cottage to conjure up a feast of our own with a Living Larder box of island-grown produce and local meat cuts from Farmer Jack’s Farm Shop in Newport. The quality ingredients mean cooking on the island can be just as fun as dining out.
Red Funnel offers day return foot-passenger crossings from Southampton to East Cowes from £9.40, and short-break return vehicle crossings from £51. Ferry with inclusive accommodation, attraction, festival and event tickets, and activity packages for visitors to the Isle of Wight are also available. Visit redfunnel.co.uk.
A week’s stay at Bella Cottage (sleeps five) costs from £385 per week. Visit vipcottages.com