Many moons ago was the summer, and on one drab dull August day I headed down to Cowes on the Friday of Cowes Week. I know this was ages ago, but it was a splendid meal and I am mainly blogging it for me so I can remember it.
Cowes is either a wondrous or slightly odd place, depending on your interest in boats and general passion, or lack thereof for sailing. Cowes week is busy busy busy, the place is packed with sailors and spectators and the water is extremely crowded with 900 boats taking part.
Cowes is a pretty little town, largely dominated by shops selling either stuff for boats, stuff to wear on boats,or nautical themed gifts for visitors, and places to drink after sailing (bars, clubs, restaurants & sailing clubs). Sailing (or at least owning a boat) is an expensive pastime so there are lots of businesses competing for the nautical pound or ten. With a couple of good homeware shops and several well stocked charity shops I can keep myself entertained for a good few hours whilst my boyfriend is on the water.
I do sail, but the sailing in Cowes week is stressful, shouty and not at all relaxing and I really do not enjoy it. Happily for me there was a new shore side diversion last Cowes week in the form of a pop up restaurant at Northwood House run by Robert Thompson, holder of the Island’s only Michelin star. The restaurant would provide a venue with top class food during the peak season and hopefully raise some much needed funds for Northwood House.
Northwood house is a Victorian residence, which has seen better days, built in a park above Cowes. Some years ago it was donated to the town who are in the unfortunate position of not being able to be seen to let it fall down, but equally unable to afford to do it up. As a venue it could be fantastic, but the season is short and with yacht clubs in the town there are numerous places equipped for all manner of parties. As is the manner of pop ups everything had been brought in, from the entire kitchen, to drapes on the walls and nautical paintings borrowed from various sailing clubs. It looked fabulous.
A test of front of house is how they deal with the lone diner. I once had a job where I seemingly travelled constantly; which once the novelty had worn off, was utterly miserable. I did get to stay in lots of lovely 5 star hotels, and eat in lovely places (and gain enough airmiles for 4 cases of wine and a return trip to Mauritius) but on the whole lone business travel is a fairly ghastly existence. I had a rule that when travelling I would always try and go out from my hotel and and find food, after all I was on expenses. Largely I was well looked after; but there were some shockers where I wished I had stayed in my room and ordered a pizza and watched a film. On this occasion the staff could not have been more courteous, friendly and delightful and showed me to a lovely table in the elegant paneled room, with a view over the park, and a tiny glimpse of the Solent.
Comfortable settled with a glass of champagne (Piper Heidsieck £8), rolls (a choice of olive, rosemary or plain) and a jug of tap water were swifty brought whilst I perused the £25 set lunch menu.
I started with a smoked haddock brandade with seared scallops and roasted peppers, salad and shallot vinaigrette. Delicious. Perfectly cooked scallops, seared and beautifully seasoned. The brandade was also magnificent and packed with flavour, top marksalso to the salad of baby leaves, with a delightful dressing and a sprinkling of crunchy salt flakes.
My main was a Grilled Fillet of Gilt Head Bream with a seafish risotto and salsa verde, which was also perfect. The bream was beautiful with a crispy skin and soft succulent flesh. I wrote in my notes that I wanted to wallow in the risotto, which was a pretty pink colour, wonderfully cooked with large pieces of fish and seafood in it. The salsa verde had been pureed and was piquant and bitter.
Pudding was a fig tart with almond ice cream, which did not wow me as much as the previous two courses. A circle of puff pastry with figs and caramelised sugar. It was still very good. The ice cream was the star here, light and moussey, just what I needed to end the meal.
With another glass of champagne, espresso and a donation to the Friends of Northwood House lunch was just shy of £50. I hope the pop up will be returning this year.