This blog is a celebration of the wonderful world of vegan cooking. Enjoy!

* The title of this blog refutes the dangerous idea that veganism is a weight-loss diet and that all vegans are skinny. Conversely, being a-not-so-skinny-vegan is also not the same as being overweight or unhealthy. All food intake must be part of a balanced lifestyle.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Vegan on the Isle of Wight

A little while ago The Hipster and I went on a trip to the Isle of Wight. I desperately wanted to get out of Cambridge but we'd just returned from our trip to Berlin so I couldn't really afford another trip overseas. Or could I?

The Needles.
 The Isle of Wight is pretty much its own country except you don't have to bother exchanging any money and they speak the same language (mostly, I still have trouble with some of the regional accents). And it's technically over a sea(-ish) so you kind of feel like you have gone overseas. If you are a foreigner be prepared for the psychological games the locals try to play with you: some stock their front yards with Union Jacks, St George's Crosses and UKIP posters and others are so damn friendly and welcoming you wonder if they confused you with a celebrity. And if you are vegan... just be prepared.

I always like to scope out a place before I visit it to make sure I am going to be able to eat there. My first point of call was the Isle of Wight Vegetarians & Vegans. They have a website with some suggested places to eat but, as these places were mostly on the opposite side of the island to where we were staying in Shanklin, I emailed them directly and they were super helpful (although there wasn't exactly much for them to work with in Shanklin).

The Shanklin coast.
 We stayed in a B&B in Shanklin called The Havelock. Shanklin has some very pretty coastline and a quaint, old part of town and is very much a Victorian-gentlemen-convalescing-by-the-seaside kind of town. And while The Havelock are certainly not a vegetarian establishment (much to The Hipster's delight every morning as he ate all the animals) they provided a hearty vegan-alternative to a full English breakfast for me every morning along with soya milk, vegan butter and homemade bread (although the homemade bread gets eaten quickly so the earlier you get up the better!). The owners, Ann and Dave, are also extremely helpful and accommodating and recommended places in Shanklin that may cater for vegans.

I also did a bit of research myself (and some rather vocal begging) to some of the local restaurants and ended up being overwhelmed by how damn helpful everyone was and then sometimes even pleasantly surprised by the food.

Sadly, I didn't take any photos of any of the food but I hope you find the guide helpful nonetheless.

Places I visited:

Shanklin

The Shanklin coast.
Pendletons

Tue - Sun: 18:00 - 23:00 (change throughout season so call)

This restaurant is located in the old village part of Shanklin. I had phoned beforehand to make sure they could cater for vegans and we booked a table as soon as we arrived on the island. The service was very good although the food was a little bit disappointing. I had a Greek salad for a starter but without any protein or fat in the salad it was a bit lacking. I'm also pretty sure the olives came out of a can.

For the main I had the aubergine and chickpea loaf with a sweet pepper and tomato sauce. This had a lot more flavour and was really quite tasty and satisfying. And it's on their every day menu which means you don't need to phone ahead. There were no vegan dessert options and no vegan wines.

The Hipster had a starter, a main and dessert and wine and our total bill was just over £50.

Fine Nammet

Mon: 17:00 - 21:00
Tue - Sat: 11:00 - 21:00
Sun: 11:00 - 16:00

Firstly, don't let the atrocious website put you off. This is a fantastic place to eat. I honestly cannot say enough good things about the fantastic service, the helpful management, the skills of the chefs, the quality of the food and the ambiance of the restaurant. But apparently neither can anyone else on the Isle of Wight. So before you read any further, if you plan on eating in Shanklin and want to eat at the best place, book as far ahead as possible. I don't think they've had a single spare table since they've opened. We watched them turn away dozens of people while we were sitting there eating and heard them do the same over the phone. It's a popular place so get in early.

There is nothing vegan on their menu. But that didn't stop me. I emailed them to ask if they could cater for me and not only did they say they could, they then let me know what local produce was available, what they could do with it and then gave me two choices for each course of a three course menu.

For a starter I had a watercress soup. I chose this because I couldn't possibly see how they could make watercress soup taste anything other than like grass. I was wrong. So very wrong. It was fresh, well seasoned and absolutely delicious.

For the main I had cauliflower 5 ways served with herbed sauté potatoes. Again, I chose it because I was damn interested to see how on earth they thought they could make cauliflower tasty 5 different ways. And I'm so glad I did. This dish was amazing. The different textures and the alternating flavours of each of the parts was just delicious. And it was so colourful! All the meals were beautifully presented but unpretentious.

For dessert I had banana fritter with rum and raisin sauce. I had the option of a fruit salad which, in hindsight, I should have taken. Not because the banana fritter wasn't delicious, because it was, but because I was kind of full by that stage and the dessert made it a little difficult to walk home with a massive belly full of fritter. But it was worth it. It was very yummy and I ate every last bit of it.

The Hipster also had three courses although his final course was a cheese platter which is a little bit more expensive than the other desserts. He also had wine. However, they have a 2/3 course dinner special which he seemed to have ordered from so our bill came in under £50 which was amazing considering that we both had 3 courses, he had wine and that my meals were made especially for me.

So, if you are going to Shanklin, go to Fine Nammet.

The Ventnor Botanic
garden hosts a range
of Australian flora
due to the island's
microclimate. I was
looking for the kangaroos.

Ventnor

The Plantation Room - Ventnor Botanic Garden

Gardens open daily 10am-5pm. Call cafe to check opening times.

We had been told that this cafe had a vegan-friendly chef so on our first full day on the Isle of Wight we strapped on the walking boots and walked the 6 miles from our hotel to Ventnor Botanic Garden. Luckily we had eaten a full breakfast because when we arrived there were no vegan-friendly cakes or scones or any vegan-friendly food at all. They did have a lovely range of tea so I just had a cup of that before we walked around the gardens and then trekked the 6 miles back to Shanklin. And luckily, again, we had only been able to get an early table at Fine Nammet and the meal there was great (see above).

I've contacted the cafe directly to get them to confirm the availability of vegan options and will update this post when I hear back from them.

Cowes

The Red Duster

Open Tue-Thu for breakfast, lunch and dinner but close between meals so call for times. 

The Red Duster. Not so vegan-friendly.
When you look for vegetarian restaurants on Google or Trip Advisor for some reason The Red Duster pops up. I have no idea why. It is definitely not a vegetarian restaurant and it's definitely not vegan-friendly. The a la carte menu has a whole vegetarian section but this seems to only be offered at dinner time (we arrived at the end of lunch). The staff tried to cater for me as best they could and I ended up with a tasty salad that was fresh and flavourful but it lacked any sort of protein and I ended up walking to the Sainsbury's at the end of the road after the meal to get a banana and some cashew nuts. The restaurant seems to be a bit of a local institution, though, but I'm not sure it's the best place for vegans.

Ryde

Olivo

Open daily
from 8am - serves breakfast, coffee, tea, pastries
from 12pm -  serves full menu

The pier at Ryde.
We went to Ryde so we could ride the train along the pier and so The Hipster could look at the hovercraft (for the millionth time). I was hoping that The Orrery Cafe might be open (see below) but it seems to have very strange opening hours. But along the same street are an array of restaurants so I just let The Hipster pick whatever he wanted to eat (since he normally has to eat wherever I say) and I had planned on forcing the restaurant to feed me.

In what I was coming to learn was typical Isle of Wight style, the restaurant was very friendly and tried to be as accommodating as possible. There was nothing vegan on the menu but our waiter went and spoke to the chef and they decided to make me a pizza. And when the pizza came and it looked a little bland, our waiter went back to the kitchen to fetch some rocket to make it a little more interesting (it actually tasted quite good without the rocket but I appreciated the gesture).

It wasn't spectacular food but it was tasty enough and I appreciated that they could feed me at such short notice.

Recommended places I did not visit:

Arreton

The White Lion

Open daily 12pm - 9pm

A pub located in Arreton, between Shanklin and Newport, it has a good range of vegetarian options although it's not clear from the menu if any of these would be suitable for vegans. Recommended by IWVV website.

Cowes 

Cowes main street.
Brawn's of Cowes

Mon - Wed: 6pm – Late
Thu – Sat: 12pm - 2.30pm, 5pm - Late
Sun: 12pm – 2.30pm

Tapas bar with lots of vegetarian options. Hummus and falafel may be vegan. Recommended by IWVV website.

Newport

Quay Arts Cafe

Mon – Sat 9:30am – 4:00pm. Lunches served 12:00 – 3pm

This was recommended by IWVV, and they actually claim on their website that they cater for gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and vegetarian diets, but unfortunately we never made it to Newport. It will be one I will make sure I visit next time.

Ryde

The Orrery Cafe

Open 11-4ish Monday -Friday and from 11-5ish on Saturdays

This cafe seems a little... odd. It was closed when we tried to check it out and from their website it's not entirely clear that they are even still open or even serve food. But it's also recommended by IWVV and appears to be the only vegetarian-only cafe on the entire island.

The Ventnor coast.
Ventnor

El Toro Contento Tapas Bar

Open daily from 4pm.

Tapas bar with vegetarian options on the menu, some look like they could be vegan. Recommended by IWVV website.

2 comments:

  1. Sounds like a great holiday. We were very close by when we went to Dorset the other week but I've never actually been to the IOW. Really impressed by the sound of Fine Nammet, it sounds like more interesting food than I've had in a lot of exclusively veggie restaurants!

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  2. It's really lovely on the island! We had a lovely time. I'd really like to go back again soon.

    Fine Nammet was great! I was so impressed with their creativity and enthusiasm despite the fact that they obviously normally cook with a lot of meat.

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