Tasting the IW Fish Pie are, from left, Derek Mills, Keith Newbery, Laurie Calloway, Phil Mew, Ron Mew and Ewen Brenchley. Behind are chefs Neil Harper, left, and Simon Knight.
THIS ISLAND LIFE
I AM in possession of information which, by IW standards, is tantamount to a state secret. Several years ago an Island couple — Matt and Cat — decided to share their opinions of Island eating establishments with the world at large, and launched their own website, www.mattandcat.co.uk.
It’s the sort of destination in cyberspace guaranteed to appeal to those who have ground their teeth to stumps while reading the pretentious witterings of self-styled foodies.
No faux sophistication here. No po-faced genuflections in the direction of food fads or trendy chefs. No high-falutin’ kitchen-speak intended to impress rather than inform.
Just an honest appreciation of more than 200 restaurants, cafes, pubs, teashops — and even the odd mobile fish and chip van — written in a crisp, friendly and accessible style.
That’s not to say their comments do not have an edge.
If the grub or service they encounter is not up to the required standard, they say so, though cynicism for the sake of it is not apparent.
Others are encouraged to contribute their opinions and there are a couple of articles worth logging on for alone.
One concerns the Island’s most miserable pub landlady and the other is an account of worshipping at the Temple of Thompson. Odd both premises are to be found in the Ventnor area …
All this explains why their site gets up to 10,000 hits a day and why it is important their identities remain secret.
With that sort of internet traffic on a small place like the Island, it would be tempting for premises to buff up the cutlery and bring out the linen napkins as soon as Matt and Cat were spotted crossing the threshold.
So they slip in, sometimes by themselves, sometimes as part of a larger gathering, eat their food, pay their bill and go home to commit their opinions to the ether.
I’ll give just one clue to their identity. Matt looks like a man undaunted at the prospect of wiping his plate clean with a slice of bread — and you’d want him anchoring your tug o’war team rather than pulling against you.
I was delighted to accept their offer to join the panel who sat in judgment on the Wight Fish Pie, provided by the chefs at The Fighting Cocks the other day.
Head chef Rob was in the West Indies marrying the lovely Rachel when all this took place but his colleagues did him proud.
You may recall the recipe for the pie was provided by former tourism supremo Ewen Brenchley, in response to this column’s request for a signature dish for the IW.
He was there to sample his handiwork and the other judges were mine host, Phil Mew, local businessmen Laurie Calloway and Derek Mills and your ever-willing columnist.
Take a look at Matt and Cat’s website for the definitive verdict but everyone wanted a second dollop and I think it’s fair to say it’s a dish that will be featuring regularly on The Fighting Cocks menu boards in the weeks ahead.
Mr Mills (never a man to miss an opportunity) reckons it would be a good idea to convene at regular intervals to try out various new dishes — and made an unashamed appeal to all recipe-writing readers to send in their entries.
Ewen then mentioned a pudding he’s created, describing it as 'a toad in the hole with apples and pears rather than sausages’.
Mr Mills’s eyes lit up. "That’ll do me. Same time next month then?"
Moving to Whittle, a foreign land where they spoke differently
I HAD a chat recently with the delightful Mrs Maisie Spencer, of Binstead.
She wrote to me originally about her memories of Whitwell and, as soon as I opened the envelope, it was obvious the sender was older than 60.
Because it was written in that clear, immaculate hand members of a certain generation were taught as a matter of course. It turned out Maisie is 90 and her family moved to Whitwell from London in 1924, when she was just five years old.
She told me: "It was like coming to a foreign land when I first heard the locals speak, with all the nammits and emmets!
"We moved to a thatched cottage in Kemming Road and the time I spent in that village was the happiest of my life.
"I spent a lovely five years at the village school, where the teacher was a Miss Pedley. Other locals I remember were Rev Ord, the vicar, Reuben Russell at the farm with his sons, Francis and David, and Mr Dyer at the village shop."
Maisie would love to reminisce about the good old days at Whittle.
Anyone wishing to get in touch should send their details to me at the County Press, and I’ll pass them on.