The Isle of Wight was bathed in sunshine, the air was heavy with the smell of honeysuckle and I was utterly charmed by the island. As we pulled into St Helen’s, the evening sunlight was starting to play with the shadows. We spotted Dan’s Kitchen across the expanse of village green, which is claimed, by some, to be the largest in England. Situated in a converted end of terrace house the restaurant looks over the expanse of grass. The concertina doors were wide open and laughter and chatter floated across to greet us.
Carla, who runs the restaurant with Dan, was delightful and we were welcomed warmly like old friends and seated, as promised, on the pavement outside to enjoy the evening sunshine. We listened to snippets of conversation and tucked into a gorgeous ciabatta, oil and vinegar. The menu was delightfully concise but there were still tough decisions to be made on what to order. I started with the pan-fried pigeon breast Waldorf salad. A contentious choice for me as I tend to dislike fruit and nuts in a salad but I was persuaded by the mention of pigeon, and I was honestly wowed. The salad was delicious with thin slivers of green apple, partially oven-dried grapes, delicious greenery and succulent, perfectly-cooked pieces of pigeon. I couldn’t fault the flavour or presentation. Tall Dark and Handsome went for a smoked haddock risotto with two perfectly soft-boiled quails eggs. It was delicately flavoured and surprisingly light as a starter.
Carla was attentive and clearly passionate about the business and the food. It was lovely to hear her talk about her suppliers and she was eager to share her excitement about what was on the menu. I went with the chef’s recommendation and had a deconstructed rabbit for main - an off-menu choice. The breast, liver and kidneys were delicately presented on a bed of creamy tagliatelle pasta, ironically topped with carrot slices. The triple cooked chips that came in a small, stainless steel pot were divine! TDH opted for the Kemphill Farm feather blade steak with braised ox tongue, with creamed potatoes and Isle of Wight mushrooms, despite a certain apprehension at the ox tongue. Tongue is not something I’ve ever been tempted to try as I remember, as a child, watching in horror as my grandmother gruesomely savoured tongue sandwiches. But, in the end, the ox tongue turned out to be the highlight of the dish with a wonderful texture and beefy flavour.
Our dishes were so delicious looking that the couple seated next to us enquired as to what we had ordered. They were Londoners with a holiday retreat on the island; they had been to Dan’s Kitchen before and said that they were never disappointed. We passed on our recommendations and eagerly moved on to dessert. I had a light sorbet with redcurrants, raspberries, strawberries and stewed rhubarb served with a Summer fruit soup. The fruit soup arrived in a gravy boat ready to pour over the sorbet, and proved incredibly moreish, to the point where I drizzled the last drops onto my spoon and polished it off Calpol-style. TDH’s chocolate mousse decorated with cherries was incredible. It was presented beautifully and was the sort of treat to which the mind wanders back even weeks later.
We finished with coffees and homemade biscotti, chocolate fudge and huge fruit pastels. We had our final chat with our lovely waitress who was as interested in the restaurant as owner Carla, and discovered that she picks herbs and mint from her own garden. Before we left we popped our heads in to meet Dan, hard at work and in full flow in the kitchen, plating up with skill and focus.
The restaurant is, in short, wonderful. It has a beautiful, carefully thought through menu without any of the fussy, over worked feeling that so many places have. Dan clearly works with what is in season and available locally and is adept in his art. If you are travelling to the Isle of Wight then a visit to Dan’s Kitchen is a must. You’ll be treated to excellent service and exquisite food. Our visit to Carla and Dan’s restaurant was one of the highlights of our Summer and we hope to return there soon.