Bank Holiday weekend was spent, once again, in Seaview, on the Isle of Wight: there can be few more pleasant places to be when the sun is shining. After a delightful couple of days pottering around the local shops, picnicking on the beach, and barbecuing local meat and fish in the garden, four of us (plus one small child) booked in for a much anticipated lunch at Seaview's eponymous hotel. What better way to round off a splendid weekend than a gourmet meal at one of the island's aspiring fine dining establishments? "Just about anything else at all" was the unfortunate general consensus.
The Seaview has changed hands in the last few years after a long stretch under the same owner – chronicled slightly nauseatingly in book form – when it maintained a pleasing family aura. It dabbled in decent food, evolved two quite distinct bars (a clubby, yachty affair at the front and a more down-to-earth pub out back) and generally seemed to pull off the mixture of professionalism and chaos that is so endearing in such well established seaside treasures. The new owners have clearly tried to focus on the professionalism but you can't help feeling that the personal touch may have disappeared somewhere along the way.
On the food front a new chef has been shipped in and been given free rein to stamp his mark on the fine(r) dining in the multi-room restaurant (the bar menu appears to have changed very little, so fans of the famous crab ramekin need not fret). Graham Walker, a veteran of the George (the Seaview's long-time rival over on the other side of the island) apparently describes his food as Modern European with a hint of British... except when he's describing it as Modern British, of course. Unfortunately, this air of confusion extends to the food his kitchen produces too.
The menu is pleasingly packed with local ingredients (the island is embracing home grown produce as much as anywhere in the country) but sadly such fine ingredients were never quite done justice. After some excellent bread and butter (and having avoided the temptation to nibble any of the glass beads pointless scattered on the table) I started with "Isle of Wight spider crab risotto, pink grape fruit [sic], Tarragon [sic], Parmesan crisp". I was intrigued by the thought of grapefruit in a risotto but thought it might be OK: a twist on the classic seafood/lemon combination. And to be fair that bit did kind of work; the tarragon added little except confusion, however, and the Parmesan crisp was just wrong. There's a reason cheese isn't usually added to seafood pasta/risotto dishes, but there's an even more compelling reason not for doing it like this: a burnt offering of bitter flakes of cheese that left me feeling a little sick.
Talking of burnt, I also had another curiosity as a main course: "Sandown black bream, toasted rice water, haricot Blanc [sic], fennel, lemon oil". I'm not sure what toasted rice water is exactly. From the taste, I'm guessing the water used to soak a pan in which you've burnt your rice. Anyway it dominated and spoiled a dish that was never a good idea in the first place.
Elsewhere, a watercress soup with local blue cheese and sweet and sour beetroot was underseasoned, a main of duck breast appeared to have come from a singularly underendowed bird and "Truffle flavoured brownrigg free-range chicken, cauliflower puree, roasted pearl barley, and truffle sauce" was described as "truffly". The vegetarian main course, billed as a wild mushroom and shallot tart, proved to be a large disk of puff pastry on which some mushrooms had been scattered before being hidden under a pile of underdressed leaves. Hard to see what made this a tart and even harder to see how it justified the same £16.95 price tag as the rest of the mains (save the fillet which will set you back an extra £5.95 [sic]).
Clearly I chose badly and there's always a danger this will cloud judgment, but this meal was a real disappointment. There's obviously some talent in the kitchen, but despite the obvious effort to go the extra yard the memories you're left with are of someone trying too hard rather than any of the dishes the effort is going into. More than once we caught each other casting envious glances at the fish and chips the bar customers had been ordering. I think I know what we'll be eating next time.
The Seaview Hotel and Restaurant, The High Street, Seaview, Isle of Wight PO34 5EX 01983 612711