Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Eve Eve at the Pond Café

Considering the gourmet marathon I was embarking on I had opted to temper the full indulgence by booking a table at the Pond Cafe, Robert Thompson’s more casual establishment in Bonchurch. I tried to visit last year but their Christmas opening hours coupled with not being able to consume another morsel pretty much for the duration of the entire trip meant I hadn't wandered that far. The Hambrough ordered me a taxi, a courtesy I gratefully accepted as a constitutional on Ventnor beach strapped into hiking boots was one thing but venturing forth to another village clad in high heeled sequinned shoes seemed insensible. 
I'd purposely not eaten since breakfast to ensure a good appetite for the evening.  I’d spent the day exploring Ventnor’s little shops on finding them open for the first time and was deposited outside the Pond Café feeling quite ready for the spread ahead. The pond that gives the name to the restaurant is directly opposite and though thankfully the sky isn't polluted with the sodium lights that turns the sky so orange back home I could still discern a fine flock of ducks that paddled over to see the new arrival. Sadly I hadn't thought to bring bread. The taxi driver mentioned as he restarted the engine that he thought the restaurant looked empty and he was quite right, I was the only diner. I hoped I was just early and was soon assured that I was the only booking. An old friend, N, had a curious fear of empty restaurants, didn't like the soul attention and would demand we sought a livelier place. In fact his oft used phrase, especially when seeking a suitable eatery when travelling, was an insistence we avoid a place as on glancing through the window he declared that it was “full of murderers!” I do feel, however, he must have been mistaken as the likelihood of a little French village being able to congregate so many cut-throat killers seemed awfully slim! I haven't heard he has since stumbled upon some den of assassins so assume his dining out in the last few years has been less perilous. 
I am rather embarrassed being the only diner. I suspect the staff would rather be putting their feet up on Christmas Eve Eve but I'd thwarted that plan. I rather admired the Christmas decor in the restaurant, it was probably no coincidence seeing I recognised a few duplicates to my own decorations - particularly the sparkly black Christmas trees adorning the tables.  
The menu was more Mediterranean or Italian than back in the hotel and a few old favourites leapt out at me. I started with the Local Beef - thinly sliced raw beef, rocket, Parmesan, pine nuts and olive oil.  I like a good Carpaccio and prefer it when it is served with Parmesan and drizzles of olive oil rather than the original Harry's Bar sauce. The rosy slices were chilled and refreshing and alongside the warm-from-the-oven focaccia a delightful start to my light(ish) meal. 
Believing that Carpaccio doesn't really fill me (I may regret that belief later) I next tuck into Raviole - organic pumpkin, sage, ricotta and Parmesan. I always like a fresh pasta and the pumpkin makes it all delicately Autumnal.
For my main I've avoided anything that will clash with the taste odyssey I will embark on tomorrow. So knowing you can never go wrong with Pork Belly - slow roasted with thyme, anchovies and lemon, potato gnocchi, wilted chard and pumpkin I choose that with a side of black cabbage.  I'm expecting moist, juicy, meltingly tender pork and little fluffy pillows of potato gnocchi but to my amazement it just didn't deliver.  The pork was tasty but surprisingly a tad dry, and the gnocchi were dense - more akin to dumplings. I was shocked, I haven't had any dish associated with the Hambrough or Robert Thompson that has given me pause and when the waitress sees me staring at the plate in astonishment she immediately wondered how she could assist.  Her suggestion was a red wine sauce which was speedily whipped up, and it helped a little with the pork but the stodgy gnocchi were sadly unredeemable. The nuggets of roasted pumpkin were a triumph though and I should have just eaten those and been happier with my fare. 
By now I'm actually feeling rather full (though it would have been worse if I'd eaten the gnocchi). Clearly my confidence in ordering two starters was misplaced. I thought I may be able to go for the sweet finish with the bitter chocolate sorbet from the pear and almond glazed tart with red wine. I imagined I'd get a single velvety mound but I presented with these abundant shiny globes of grown up bitter chocolatey sorbet. I could barely make a dent but I enjoyed what I tasted. Time to get back to my hotel and let the staff enjoy their final Christmas preparations. 

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