Silver service on the Isle of Wight
ROOM AT THE INN
THE Hambrough at Ventnor is something of an anomaly on this stretch of Isle of Wight coast. Its neighbours are a social club, where elderly couples glug neon drinks and dance to loud Dolly Parton covers, a beach shop that sells inflatable dolphins, chocolate bars and cigarettes, and a pub serving scampi and chips, fish and chips, and sausage and chips.
This is the British seaside of the 1950s — unsophisticated, up for a good time. The Hambrough is a discreet cuckoo in this brassy nest, set high and back from the beach, a quiet villa from Ventnor’s Victorian-era heyday.
As I check in, everybody seems to be polishing spoons. The manager clinks down a napkin full of cutlery as she emerges from the bar to greet me, the waiters in the restaurant are carefully rubbing silverware as they prepare for the service, and, as I pass the office on the way to my room, I spot the receptionist shining her way through a stack of cutlery.
A more appropriate welcome there could hardly be, for at The Hambrough, the food’s the thing. So, straight to the restaurant. This small room of nine tables, unassuming and hushed, holds the isle’s only Michelin star. Newly installed chef-patron Chris Denny sends from his kitchen such sublime offerings as roasted quail with pickled beetroot and crunchy grains; and a stuffed courgette flower with tapioca that reclaims the old English school dinner staple with panache. The wine I am recommended is both delicious and startlingly inexpensive. Puddings from pastry chef Alex Wibberley are terrific (with an honourable mention for the lemon curd fudge he makes for guestroom minibars). The second-floor guestrooms are, really, necessary adjuncts to the restaurant, somewhere to sleep off all that grub. And, as such, they do fine — clean, spacious and tastefully decorated.
But rooms 1 and 2 on the first floor have balconies looking over Ventnor Bay, above which the moon hangs with cartoonish perfection during my stay. All rooms have flat-screen televisions, espresso machines, perfectly adequate and airy bathrooms with underfloor heating and (imagine my shock 20 years into the global wood flooring revolution) fitted carpets. The focus is on comfort, rather than luxury because you stay at The Hambrough for the food, not the bed; you shell out for the room in order to be seduced by the restaurant, and by the home- baked, home-churned, home-preserved and home-squeezed breakfast.
It’s a further bonus, after consuming your body’s weight in snacks, that the area’s most beautiful beaches are a healthy walk away. The Isle of Wight is a blessed spot, as Queen Victoria realised when she set up home and eventually died here in 1901.
There may be more sumptuous places to lay your head but for the most refined dining on this quintessentially English island, The Hambrough is the place to be. AZB Knight was a guest of The Hambrough.
The Hambrough’s guestrooms are airy and comfortable