I knew I hadn't blogged for ages but on examination on my old daily companion I was shocked to discover it was nearly a whole twelve months since I last committed foodie thoughts electronically and was, curiously, the previous time I was in the Isle of Wight. And after pondering a couple of months ago whether it was preferable to explore a whole new destination or revisit a tried, tested and loved old friend I plumped to return to Ventnor in the Isle of Wight and avail myself of the extreme delight of Robert Thompson's fine, fine dining at the Hambrough for Christmas again.
Last year was my first foray to the island so everything from the quirky old tube trains that whisk you from the ferry port at Ryde to the end of the line at Shanklin, to the festive branches and baubles adorning the bannisters wending their way up to my boutique bedroom was new and pleasant surprise. This time I'm an old hand so I didn't go looking for how to purchase a ticket for the old tube train as I knew you just paid the conductor on board, I knew how close my hotel was to the beach and I knew those enticing aromas wafting up from kitchen promised untold culinary delights and I couldn't wait to quickly unpack and reacquaint myself to the elegant chocolate dining room.
It's lovely to see familiar faces from last year, it's not just the guests that like being here. I've arrived later than planned, I was distracted by some last minute sorting out, meeting baby N for the first time, a final farewell to E(D) and a minor diversion to acquire some new sparkle. Leaving later meant that gaps occurred in the journey and I only arrived barely moments before the deadline for the kitchen being unable to accept new diners.
I am swiftly furnished with a small stone brandishing some deliciously oozy cheesy filled gougères and I'm pleased I didn't succumb to snacking en route so I can do all the anticipated delights justice.
After perusing the à la carte and weighing carefully the options so as not to clash with the three tasting menus on offer for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, I make my choices and a flavoursome white onion velouté topped with sage foam arrives.
Next it's the Pressing of Lightly Smoked Eel with Foie Gras, Pork Belly and Granny Smith Apple Celeriac Remoulade and Toasted Brioche. By happy accident I've ordered Robert's signature dish straight off the bat and on arrival with a small fanfare I'm immediately reminded of why I've returned here. The food is first a feast for the eyes and then each forkful adds another layer of delightful taste. The long glass plate comes replete with an elegant band of the moist, juicy morsels and little mounds of the creamy remoulade scattered with micro cress.
My next treat is the elegant Oven Roasted Anjou Squab Pigeon with Braised Crispy Leg Foie Gras Sauce and Pommes Anna Local Rainbow Chard. As usual I go a little menu blind when I see words like Foie Gras, Truffle, Mash Potato and Chocolate. And I've chosen well again, This is just perfect, the rosy pigeon breasts, the tiny crunchy leg, the diminutive roundel of potato cake and the subtle creamy foie gras sauce.
The palate cleanser or pre-dessert is a zesty, fresh clementine soup with cranberries, yoghurt sorbet and meringue. The meringue look either like tiny cotton buds or large matchsticks and give a pleasing chewy texture to the soupy clementine with little tarty nuggets of cranberries.
Typically they had me at chocolate, the signature dessert is Tarte Tatin, if you go for this you have to put your hand up at the beginning of the meal. It sounded interesting but I was alarmed that it was for two. Another table had opted for this and they got half each. Though admittedly were defeated as asked for a doggie bag. I didn't really fancy Tarte Tatin for breakfast so instead chose the Manjari Chocolate and Passion Fruit Marquise, Grue de Cacao, Chicory Ice Cream. An ideal finish, crunchy shards of chocolate, a fruit smear of passion fruit, deep, rich chocolate and the whisper of chicory in the ice cream. A more than auspicious start to my gourmet Christmas holiday.