Waking this weekend to sunshine that makes resistance futile, my desire to be on an Island was overwhelming. Yes, I know that Britain is an Island, but I confess to having a “thing” about Islands off Islands – it’s something about the double feeling of escapism which gives that frisson as you step off the ferry onto the Aeolian Islands (off North Coast of Sicily) or onto Bruny Island (off Tasmania). But somewhere closer for the day was needed and so the Isle of Wight beckoned. Sixty one minutes later, one excellent train connection with the ferry and a charming transfer along the pier in a vintage London Underground Carriage and our feet were in the sand on Ryde beach! Ryde, although the largest town on the island, often is overlooked in favour of more stylish yachtie Cowes or beautiful Bembridge, but Ryde has an eclectic mix of shops dotted along Union Street (including the wonderful Aladdin’s Cave of Elizabeth Smith!)and of course the excellent museum of Donald McGill, designer of the saucy postcard which caused Police Raids in the1950’s for being offensive!
After a blustery stroll along the long sandy beach alongside Appley Tower, although slightly eerie with a 21 Gun salute booming out of the mist somewhere on the mainland (as a Happy Birthday Your Majesty!), lunch beckoned. So what a heavenly surprise it was to discover The Three Buoys Restaurant. On the top floor of an unassuming building, the bright & airy New Englandesque décor is a pleasing surprise. Beautiful paintings by Penelope Walford, (a local artist who lives on a houseboat in Bembridge) adorn the walls. The tables on the terrace were deemed a tad chilly, but the tables inside still look out over the beach. Hard to choose a pre-prandial G&T from their Gin menu, but with the restaurant focusing on local produce, it had to be the Mermaid Gin distilled just a stone’s throw away! Lovely Citrus notes, backed up with slight salty tang which was echoed in the samphire & lemon floating amongst the ice. To stave off hunger pangs, the bread board came with two flavoured butters – smoked cardamom and the other with fennel seeds – quite delicious!
Unlike a recent visit to a “Celebrity” Chef’s restaurant, the Three Buoys menu was balanced and well thought out, so for starters I plumped for Scallops served with wild garlic, black caraway seeds & fermented grains, whilst PJ was struggling to choose between the Beetroot Salmon Gravlax served with Kohlrabi or the Pig Cheek with sweet potato, mango glaze & miso. Whilst the descriptions might sound slightly like a Chef who is trying too hard to prove seasonality alongside trendy ingredients, the actual delivery of the dishes was spot on – scallops cooked to perfection, the pig cheek melt in the mouth.
Mains on the principle menu included temptations such of Isle of Wight Lamb, with aubergine & harissa chickpeas as well as a mountain of Mussels cooked in a Thai Coconut broth, but the Daily specials were impossible to resist. PJ’s choice of Plaice, a fish which inexplicably seems to have fallen out of fashion, delicately cooked and served with black olive crumb & poached radishes. For me, the Sea Bass – a thick fillet with perfectly crispy skin, topped with samphire, excellently cooked flakes falling apart alongside charred asparagus & fennel seeds. The only thing awry on the plate was an small odd polenta cake but apart from that it was pretty close to perfection – especially the seasoning which can make or break a dish – this is a Chef who understands balance!
The Wine List is well chosen and fairly priced – something of a surprise in restaurants these days. A Clare Valley Riesling matched well with the scallops and the Sea Bass. Made by two MW’s (Masters of Wine – of whom there are only 370 in the world!) , the Courtesan Riesling from Wild & Wilder had lovely lime & pink grapefruit notes, wonderfully fresh with no oak, but thanks to a couple of months lees contact, was rounded and rich enough to compliment the mains. Good to see wine by the glass were not just the run of the mill, but included a Feteasca from Romania – the best way to get people to sample something different!
Sadly despite the delicious sounding desserts – Textures of Rhubarb or Spice Pineapple with Coconut Ice cream will have to wait for our next visit.
A great meal is never just about the food, but whole experience – The Three Buoys ticked lots of boxes – seasonal food cooked brilliantly with precision & flair, fairly priced wine list, great panoramic view of the beach and best of all – friendly, knowledgeable staff. Very pleased to have discovered this small gem of a restaurant, and on an Island! The Isle of Wight produces some great food from garlic through to tomatoes – so a longer gourmet weekend away exploring the Island is needed – but a lunch booking at the Three Buoys will certainly be included again!