Sprawling across the Isle of Wight’s far-eastern corner, Bembridge claims to be Britain’s largest village, with around 4000 residents. A brief stroll along its bustling High Street provides one excellent explanation to its popularity: on this single stretch, you can find some of the best independent retailers on the Island. From a traditional butcher, well-stocked fishmonger and a friendly bakery-cum-cafe, to a greengrocer that sells locally foraged ingredients alongside fresh seasonal produce, Bembridge High Street offers the ultimate in one-stop shopping.
As you turn onto the High Street, the first foodie haven that you encounter is Captain Stan’s Bembridge Fish Store. Mike and Ruth Curtis run this destination fishmonger’s with undisguised passion, Mike often tweeting about his morning’s catch from his day boat, the Shooting Star. Locally caught fish include Plaice, Sea Bass, Bream, Dover Sole, Skate, Mackerel, red and grey Mullet, with Bembridge Prawns, crab and lobster being seasonal highlights. Additional fresh fish are sourced from Cornwall to offer customers an impressive range of seafood, from scallops and razor clams to monkfish and squid. Salmon and oysters come from Loch Fyne in Scotland, and you’ll also find Morecambe Bay potted shrimps. Shelves are laden with delicatessen-style products such as paella rice, Lobster bisque and Manchego cheese.
On the opposite side of the road, The Farm Shop is run with similar enthusiasm by ‘Jane the Veg’, who not only stocks a dazzling array of seasonal fruit and vegetables, but also sells wild herbs and sea vegetables that she has foraged herself. Jane offers gourmet foraging courses from time to time, which are both fascinating and fun. At the back of the grocery store, you’ll find a wide variety of health foods too.
A little further along, The Bakery is open from 8 am, serving a wide variety of breads baked in-house each morning. The sourdough is particularly popular, and spelt flies off the shelves at weekends; other specialities include Guinness bread, and traditional home-bakes like Lardie cake, brownie, and coffee and walnut cake. Savoury treats include freshly baked pizza slices, sausage rolls and quiches. You can sit in its cafe and enjoy brunch or lunch, or come for High Tea, which they proudly assert serves ‘proper leaf tea’!
At the far end of the High Street, W.W. Woodford advertises itself as a ‘High Class butchers and quality delicatessen’, while Jamie Magazine recently called it “the butcher we’d all love as our local”. Their home-made sausages and chicken pies are certainly worth traversing the Island for, and most of their meat is sourced from local farmers. Butcher Graham Hawkins claims he can tell customers where each cut of meat has come from, and offers a far more personal service than any supermarket counter – he’ll stuff and roll a joint with your own stuffing, and give customers cooking tips if required.
On the outskirts of the village, in Bembridge Harbour, The Best Dressed Crab sells a mouth-watering selection of seafood. All caught and cooked that morning, choose from pots of dressed crab, whole crabs, giant crab claws, Bembridge prawns, and whole or half lobsters. The adjacent, floating cafe sits at the far end of the jetty and you can order seafood platters and baguettes to eat, whilst enjoying an unsurpassed waterfront view of the harbour.
Not only can Bembridge dwellers shop for top-notch raw ingredients on their doorstep, but the village also boasts more than its fair share of destination eateries.
Bijou Lockslane Contemporary Bistro source most of their ingredients from the nearby High Street, and cook them with flair and considerable skill. Restaurant reviewers, Matt and Cat, praised the service as “smooth and informative”, and called the venue “delightful and unpretentious”. It’s also refreshingly affordable, with starters and desserts priced at around £6.50, and main courses from £13.50.
Crumbs deli & cafe, on Lane End Road, is one of Bembridge’s hidden gems, with friendly service and delicious all-day breakfasts, light lunches and cream teas. Some patrons declare they make the “best Victoria Sponge ever!”, and the frittata is another much-praised favourite. Sisters Sue and Libby also offer home-made, gourmet ‘ready meals’ for those who don’t have time to cook for themselves.
Perched above beautiful Forelands beach The Beach Hut is open from March through to November, and serves delicious al fresco seafood and salads at lunchtime. They are not licensed, but they are happy to provide glasses and wine coolers for your own bottle. From 3pm, the menu switches to afternoon tea mode, with sandwiches, scones, clotted cream and elderflower fizz the order of the day. In the summer months, the venue is also open for supper. Whenever you visit, it’s always a treat, and the superb food and stunning setting combine to create a thoroughly memorable experience. Needless to say, reservations are a must!