My room is up several flights of stairs and I'm very grateful I have help lugging all my luggage up there. There's extra because I couldn't bear to part with some of the more portable items from last night's Hambrough hamper, plus the wine and Champagne I didn't drink which certainly add to the weight.
My room is huge, it has a corridor and a kind of ante-room, sitting room or possibly even dressing room. There's a balcony to admire the view from and the most enormous king size bed. My only niggle is that I wish it looked more like the rest of the house or the pictures I've seen of the other bedrooms on their website. Don't get me wrong it's a lovely, generous, spotlessly clean room but it's reminiscent of what a retired naval captain may spend his twilight years in. There's a crow's nest like balcony with a brass telescope to keep an eye out of the ships at sea (I suspect ferries really!), the walls are a pale (Tiffany?) blue tongue and groove with the odd exposed beam like a mast protruding through all the wood. There are old (treasure?) chests dotted around riveted in brass and the nautical bathroom has a few starfish decorations and shell pictures. A part of me would have like a little more of classic Regency charm I saw in the lounges and drawing room. Perhaps dark wood paneling and a rich red upholstery, or even something chintz (and I thought I'd never say that) but I'm just being greedy maybe such fripperies require an upgrade! So this seafaring haven will be my home from home for the next four nights and I'm very happy to be here. The Priory Bay hotel certainly has a lot to explore; I know, hidden from even my vantage point, is their private beach and I'm hoping for some fine photographic opportunities, weather be kind to me please!
I'm not sure if I descended the same way I arrived, there seem to be pale mustard clad carpeted flights of stairs everywhere but it gave me a chance to explore more of the building before finding where I was going to eat. The dining room is very country house, with extravagantly swagged silk curtains framing the impressive bay window overlooking the terrace, grounds and the sea beyond (if the evening permitted such a view). The three remaining walls are entirely covered with murals of what I can only assume are local scenes of Seaview. There's an intriguing map of the Isle of Wight painted above the grand fireplace, it's either an artistic impression of the island's shape or the Isle of Wight has changed drastically since it was recorded on these walls. Coincidentally a couple of months ago (whilst queuing patiently to get into Karl Lagerfield's quite peculiar photographic exhibit in Paris) I was listening to an old radio broadcast of Dave Gorman's Genius where prospective genii pose inventions, stratagems and crackpot schemes in the vain hope of being recognized as the true genius they believe they are. One such deluded believer had postulated the random scheme of making the Isle of Wight even more symmetrical than it is! To further encourage tourism if I recall. His barmy plot involved erasing Ventnor entirely and possibly attaching it somewhere else on the coast, maybe nearer Yarmouth. The idea was rejected (particularly by the head if the Isle of Wight tourist board who apparently lives in, you've guessed it, Ventnor!) At the time I would had been hard pushed to draw the outline of the island, I'd never considered the geography of this part of our country, but I was informed by the show that it was a flat diamond shape - almost, and clearly not quite enough for the failed genius! Since then finding myself planning a trip here I've done more research and can indeed vouch for the shape and vague layout of the island. For those as unfamiliar as I was I've included a handy map on my first post on December 24th. Ventnor is the 'bump' beneath Shanklin. It's not shown on this particular map as the island's considerable rail network has been decimated over the years and the now one remaining train line takes you in vintage London Underground tube trains from Ryde to Shanklin only. There is a bit of a steam railway but it's for pleasure rather than transportation purposes.
I've heard good things about the new chef here - Tyler Torrance, let's hope his food lives up to the surroundings. On first glance at the menu my horrified eye fell on the word "tomato", twice in the first four dishes. I mean, it's December, very nearly January, they refer to them as "late harvest" on the menu but despite the Isle of Wight's microclimate I have to ask what sort of freakish tomatoes are they cultivating here? Tomatoes should be long dead, they have no business hanging around like gatecrashers to the winter menus. Clearly I'll have to keep my tomato radar honed in case one sneaks up in me, Tyler clearly is a fan of them!
I have the tomato confit excluded from my starter and make my choices. A small very thin wooden cone is brought as an amuse bouche containing I'm informed Cahoon chicken with Gremolata. The chicken is encased in a delicate slightly spicy batter, like a popcorn chicken. It's an intriguing start and I'm looking forward to what's next.
And what's next is the Gallantine of Local Game Birds - Priory Garden Leeks, (Confit Tomatoes), Sauce Soubise. The Gallantine (a cold version of its warmer cousin Ballantine) consists of tasty morsels of Partridge, wood pigeon and grouse bound with a little chicken. Wonderfully devoid of tomatoes but the strong leek taste of tenderly nurtured (very) local vegetable. The sauce Soubise is a lovely subtle onion sauce accompaniment.
My main tonight is the Fillet of Bream - Cauliflower Risotto, Priory Garden Chard, Clam and Saffron Velouté. I think I'd struggle to really discern the saffron but that is fine as I occasionally find the more-expensive-than-gold crocus spice too metallic, dry and grassy on my undeveloped Indian food taste buds. A mound of clams, the tasty little nuggets of the sea, can be rather challenging in numbers but undeniably they add an attractive decoration to a dish. The sea bream was delicate and cooked to perfection and atop of the soft chard and unctuous risotto was a very posh nursery tea. Such as that it was almost too easy to eat, you barely need to chew and after what seems like a moment you glance down at your scraped clean plate and lament "all gone!" Note to self - eat slower!
My waiter recommends the Assiette of Priory Orchard Apple - Apple Tatin, Apple and Blackberry Crumble, Blackberry Sorbet for dessert but that will have to be for tomorrow night as they've all been snapped up by the other eager diners.
Having to have the Chocolate Praline Finger - Swiss Meringue, Chocolate Mousse, Rich Chocolate Ganache instead is far from a hardship however. It may defy all attempts for me to photograph it beautifully, the black hole properties of all that chocolate coupled with the ever decreasing ambient lighting, but it tastes delicious, light yet richly chocolaty.
So definitely so far so good I bid farewell to the attentive restaurant manager feeling pleasantly full, at least I can work a little off climbing those stairs!
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