The Hambrough, on the Isle of Wight for Cowes week
Summer’s winding down to an end but what a summer it was! One of the hightlights had to be my visit to the Isle of Wight for Cowes Week. Myself and Eatlikeagirl were invited down to Isle of Wight to visit chef Robert Thompson’s 1 Michelin starred restaurant at The Hambrough in Ventor and his Hambrough pop-up restaurant at the historic Northwood House in Cowes for the racing week.
The Hambrough is a cute little hotel perched on a cliff overlooking the English Channel way down at the bottom of the Isle of Wight. Chef/Patron Robert Thompson and his partner Diana took over in 2008 and in 5 short months Robert gained 1 Michelin star and they have transformed the hotel into an idyllic retreat. It is a bit of a trek to get there. We had to go from the top of the island to the bottom down winding country roads but well worth it. I think I felt more seasick on the bus then I did on the ferry coming over. We eventually arrived and due to the fact that the hotel only has 7 rooms in the main house, were directed to a one of the villas that also make up The Hambrough, a short 5 minutes walk down the road. A lovely Victorian townhouse, 3 floors, 5 bedrooms, 2 and half baths with a fantastic kitchen/ dining area and spacious living room, it was hard to believe we had the whole house to ourselves!
That night we partook of the set menu which consisted of 6 courses including a cheese plate and dessert. I have developed a taste for cheese plates and I now feel a bit ripped off if I don’t get one. The meal was matched with a wine for each course and the sommelier, Marc Stievenard, did a great job of pairing wines with our meal. He even managed to find a delightful wine to go with our asparagus starter, the Rolly Gassman 2004 pinot blanc from Alsace. The pinot was full and had some incredible peach and apricot flavours on first tasting it, with the aspargus, quail egg and summer truffle starter, the wine took on a more herbal character but wasn’t ruined by the notoriously difficult to match asparagus.
A succession of plates then found their way to the table. Terrine of Wild rabbit while very precise with amazing attention to detail was a bit overpowered by the Friendly 2008 Gruner Veltliner that was paired with it. The rabbit was being quite shy and was dominated by the hay and mineral flavours of the gruner. I enjoyed the wine very but the dish might have been better paired with a different dish.
Pan roasted fillet of Cornish Cod “pil-pil” with seasonal veggies was incredibly flavourful and I loved the deep fried zuchinni flower that accompanied it. Paired with a lightly oaked Limoux, Haute-Vallee, Caves des Sieurs d’Arques 2008, 100% chardonnay, a creamy, buttery nose but not so on the palate, crisp and stark, it cut through the moist cod like a scythe, leaving only a lime leaf finish on the palate.
There was a bit of a change of plans wine wise with the next course. They had run out of the Marsannay so instead, Marc brought out an Uruguyan wine for us to try, the Marichal 2007 pinot noir/tannat. 75% pinot and 25% tannat, it made for a most intriguing match to go with the pigeon and smoked potato gnocchi. That’s right, I said smoked gnocchi. Chef Robert smokes his gnocchi and the result is a very interesting flavour, the smokiness being very subtle and making these gnocchi anything but run of the mill. The wine was silky and smooth, it had the structure of a tannat, all angular and taut while displaying the flavours and aromas of a new word pinot noir, floral and fruity with a touch of autumnal smoke. If this wine is anything to go by, the wines of Uruguay should soon be making a big splash on the international stage.
As mentioned earlier, we had a cheese plate served with muscat grapes and a 2008 Morgon, full of red and black cherries, I would never think to have a Beaujolais cru with a cheese plate but the wine did it’s job of clearing our palates for the next bit of cheese.
We finished off with a Sauternes, the Ch. Filhot 2001. 2001 is legendary in Sauternes and the Filhot was not disappointing in the least. I love the truffles, earthiness and unctousness of Sauternes. Lightly lemon curd flavoured with hints of orange rind,the wine would have been enough of a dessert for me but of course it was paired with a dish. Chocolat fondant with pecan ice-cream and glazed banana. A explosion of flavours that all melded into the most sublime dessert. Chocolat fondant might seem to be on every menu nowadays but Robert’s was fantastic.
When we arrived for dinner, the manager warned us it would take at least 3 hours to fully enjoy our meal and he was certainly right, we didn’t get back to our lovely little villa til well past midnite.