Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A white Isle of Wight




Today the white has descended! The Isle of Wight is truly white finally, but not with snow but with a swirling mist.


I try to see if I can still see the sea from my balcony but it's shrouded in the low cloud. However I still decide to venture down to the Priory Bay's private beach as it was too drizzly yesterday to check it out and perhaps I'll be luckier with the weather when I get there. But unsurprisingly I can stand on the beach, hear the waves crashing, but barely even see anything other than what's at my feet. I want to capture some shots as I know this is a truly a picturesque spot but the elements are conspiring against me. I manage to fire off a couple of slightly more interesting photographs of the wintery trees when the sky bruises as the sun we hadn't seen at all today disappears for good. However generally not a great photography day, I think it's back to chilling in the lounge of the house before dinner.
I've been reading up on the history of the Priory, they have a wonderfully eclectic collection of buildings, ruins and architecture making up the Priory Bay Hotel we can see today. A monastery originally stood on this site and the oldest surviving buildings are the two remaining tithe barns from the old Priory Farm dating back to 1100. But I learn something even more impressive about the Priory Beach on which I had stood amongst the sea-washed pebbles and seaweed earlier. It seems this has been a popular spot for many years or only at least a mere 345,000 years to be exact as stone age axes from this era have been discovered on that very beach. Which means one of the earliest settlements in Britain. And that's old!
As this is my third visit to this elegant dining room I'm starting to work my way through the menu so I am also kindly offered the Oyster Bar and Grill menu in case I wish to mix it up a bit. The risottos and the fresh tagliatelli are appealing but I'm really hankering for the scallops and after being so très désolé regarding the proliferation of the dreaded tomatoes on their menu so far, I wonder if they could serve them another way. My waitress originally suggested salad which didn't thrill me so much but then with the chef's acquiescence we came up with cunning idea of a small mound of the rather delicious Cauliflower Risotto from my Bream dish on Monday.


Tonights amuse bouche is a little meaty morsel of Croute topped with Duck Rillettes and Cranberry, it's less quirky than the last two nights, but perhaps tastier.



After the earlier machinations my starter ended up being Roast Native Scallops with Cauliflower Risotto, and this was a wonderful marriage. The cauliflower risotto was more delicious than Monday, it was creamier, more unctuous and complemented the burnished scallops beautifully and to complete the pretty-as-a-picture dish was a light scattering of the ubiquitous micro cress.


My waitress thinks I should check out their beef dish so my main tonight is the Fillet of Island Beef - Parisienne Potatoes, Pancetta, Carrots, Mushrooms, Onions, Red Wine Jus. I'm really trying not to compare the Priory Bay's beef dish with Robert Thompson's but I can stop myself, it was only three nights ago and the ringing endorsement I gave it are still very much on my mind and I daresay my taste buds. To be honest this isn't just quite as fabulous, the pancetta is there for the welcome porky hit but the Boxing Day Parma Ham rosette and the accompanying beef had the edge. The best bits are the Chantenay carrots which are perky and sweet, adorable caramelised nuggets of teeny, tiny Parisienne Potatoes, a pool of winey jus contained in the rather wonderful swirl of the deep, rich onion puree. But sadly after the stupendous starter it just doesn't quite match up.


After everyone queuing up for the Orchard Plum and Cognac Soufflé - Plum Compote, Star Anise Ice Cream last night I thought I better join the throng. I don't always see the point of soufflés as they can verge on style over content, they can be all air or too custardy in the base. It considered the classic "don't cook to impress" or "attempt on television" dish as a flop is often lurking round the corner. I've never made soufflé intended for dessert, I've only whipped up cheese, potato and other savoury goodies. I liked the soufflé, it stayed pert until i broke through its defences and doused it in the ice cream. It had a delicate plum taste and the star (excuse the pun!) was the lightly spicy star anise ice cream.


And I thought it was all over but I was offered the petits fours for the first time. Even if I couldn't possibly eat another thing it's always fascinating to see a tantalizing glimpse into the chef's mind in the final flings of a feast. It's their opportunity of leaving you with those lasting memories of their culinary artistry with sweet manifestations of delicious witticisms. Tonight we get to enjoy a Pistachio Macaroon and a square of Kirsch Cherry and Pistachio Nougat. The nougat is sticky and spiked with (always to my mind) redolent of cheese fondue Kirsch. I've saved the best until last. The macaroon performs just as it should, the tiniest nibble breaks the crisp curved outer layers and a light pistachio cloud envelopes my mouth, surely the taste of happiness. Today has undeniably been cloudy but ending with macaroon induced sugar alchemy will always be a good thing!


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