Ventnor has long been a magnet for gourmets seeking award-winning dining, with the likes of Cantina, Hillside Bistro, Tramezzini, The Boathouse (at Steephill Cove) and The Royal Hotel excelling in imaginative and well executed dishes, using the best of the Island’s home-grown produce. But the bohemian town, on the south of the Isle of Wight, also offers a wealth of gourmet shopping, for foodies keen to track down enticing ingredients for their own kitchens.
Bread & Pastries: A buzzing cafe-restaurant on the High Street, Cantina is as popular for its legendary in-house bakery, as for its delicious menu and jam-jar cocktails. A vast selection of sourdough breads are baked here daily, and displayed in the window for shoppers to pop in and pick up a loaf, while diners tuck into sourdough pizzas, or an all-day breakfast, at the surrounding tables. The white sourdough tin loaf is a superb all-rounder, but do try the rye hybrid, muesli sourdough, or one of their ever-changing weekly specialities, such as bacon and onion, date & walnut, fig & roasted hazelnut, potato and rosemary, or oatmeal and sultana bread. The take-away sausage rolls, and range of sweet pastries, are mouth-wateringly tasty too.
Butcher & Deli: Opposite Cantina, Norris & Knight is more than just a fantastic local butcher, selling home-made sausages, black pudding, scotch eggs and pies, alongside a wide selection of fresh meat. Despite its bijou size, you’ll find an impressive range of exciting deli ingredients in store, thanks to owner Chris who is a keen cook herself – she will often offer customers culinary inspiration with a recipe suggestion advertised on the board outside. Preserved lemons, Moroccan spices, and a staggering array of chutneys and jams line the shelves, while the deli counter offers such tempting fare as marinated anchovies (‘boquerones’), pates, terrines and a wide variety of cheeses, including Island favourite, IOW Blue. You can also buy fresh coffee here, ground while you wait, from a choice of roasted beans.
Fruit & Veg: A little further up the High Street, the wonderfully-literal greengrocer Five A Day is another tiny but tardis-like retailer, selling a surprisingly wide variety of fruit and vegetables, with Jerusalem artichokes, shiny red peppers and cheery punnets of strawberries jostling with IOW cauliflowers, potatoes and carrots. Service is friendly, efficient and helpful.
Fishmonger: To buy fish so fresh that you might still see it being hauled off the day boats, head to the seafront and stop by the oversized beach hut on the pier, where Ventnor Haven Fishery overlooks the very waters where its catch is landed. Choose from an eye-popping selection of local seafood, including dover sole, red mullet, sea bass, skate, mackerel and rock salmon, as well as crabs and lobsters, which can both be bought pre-cooked. Better still, the fishery also serves take-away fish and chips, with a difference – you’ll find battered skate, pollack and tiger prawns here, or try their legendary ‘crab on chips’. Their crab cakes were singled out for praise by Channel 4’s Hairy Bikers, and the crab samosas and croquettes are equally popular.
Off license: It’s rare to find an independent wine merchant in local high streets any more, so it’s a treat to discover The Island Wine Company thriving in Ventnor town. Come here for expert advice on finding the perfect tipple for your tastebuds, guidance on which wines suit different foods, or just browse the eclectic selection in store. There’s free Islandwide delivery on cases of twelve or more.
Words and image supplied by Anna Pocock