June 19 2010
It is, admittedly, many years since I visited the annual Cowes Week regatta. That particular sojourn on the Isle of Wight served to confirm one of The Gannet’s Laws of Good Food: that eating well when afloat is next to impossible. At Cowes that year, the only fresh fruit and vegetables on offer were submerged in jugs of Pimm’s.
I’ve only ever cooked twice on boats: once on a catamaran, sailing serenely through the Marlborough Sounds, at the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island, griddling queen scallops plucked from the ocean floor by an intrepid winemaker from Cloudy Bay; and once on a rather choppier journey around The Mumbles, near Swansea, on an old Bristol pilot cutter. I lurched between deck and galley to cook Sunday lunch for six, as the gimbal oven lavishly basted the potatoes.
Visitors to today’s Round The Island race (June 19), or next month’s Cowes Week (from July 31), are advised to seek sustenance in a couple of places which, though near the Solent, have their feet on dry land. At The George, Yarmouth, former Rick Stein chef José Graziosi’s brasserie menu has a distinctly Mediterranean feel: homemade spaghettini with samphire and freshly picked spider crab (£8.75), for example, or fillet of sea bass with aubergine purée and sauce vierge (£18). On an island where the dining options could politely be described as limited, The George has long held the culinary laurels, and the Solent views are lovely.
On the mainland, near Netley Marsh, is TerraVina (pictured), the boutique hotel and restaurant run by Gérard and Nina Basset. Gérard is the recently enthroned World’s Best Sommelier, and the wine list, naturally, is a joy. The restaurant draws inspiration both from the sort of clean, smart eateries to be found alongside Californian wineries, and from the fine produce to be found in and around the New Forest.
The Forest’s gastronomic star is definitely rising, partly thanks to Lime Wood, the very smart Lyndhurst hotel run by Robin Hutson, Gérard’s erstwhile colleague at nearby Chewton Glen and his business partner in Hotel du Vin. Meat and fish from Lime Wood’s own smokehouse are often on the menu.
One of Gérard’s many honorific titles is “Maître-Sabreur des Caveaux”, which means he is licensed to open bottles of champagne using a sabre, a feat visitors can learn for a £60 fee (which includes tuition, bottle of champagne and certificate). Despite the potential risks to life and limb from this unorthodox uncorking, TerraVina confirms all my feelings on the wisdom of being fed and watered on terra firma. Push the boat out – just don’t dine on it.