Robert Thompson's first solo restaurant, in Newport on the Isle of Wight, is making waves big enough to put the island on the fine-dining map. Katherine Alano reports
Since moving to the Isle of Wight 11 years ago, chef Robert Thompson has been making a name for himself and his food. When he took over the kitchens at the
Hambrough hotel in Ventnor in 2008, he secured the island's only Michelin star. Five years later, Thompson left the Hambrough, and after a short stint at the George in Yarmouth, he opened his first solo restaurant in Newport, the island's capital, in 2015.
Thompson's is located in what was previously a florist, and the chef has returned the building to its original state, restoring exposed beams and wooden flooring. An eclectic mix of reclaimed furniture includes church pews and bespoke oak dining tables, which feature drawers where customers can find their cutlery.
The restaurant is situated over two floors with an open kitchen downstairs, where up to 18 guests can watch Thompson and his team prepare his contemporary British cuisine.
e restaurant offers a choice of three menus: a seasonal set menu (£24 for two
courses; £29 for three) available at lunch and early evening, an à la carte (£47 for two courses; £55 for three) and an eight-course tasting menu priced at £65. Dishes on the seasonal set menu can change every two weeks, while the à la carte is refreshed five to six times a year.
"While we are driven by local produce, when a season runs a little dry, we do have to look further afield," says Thompson. "I source pigeon and game from the island where I can, but I rarely buy lamb and beef from the Isle of Wight. I realise that goes against the grain, but the reason for that is that there isn't an abattoir on the island. We've got stunning produce, like salt marsh lamb and beef from award-winning breeder Michael Poland, who raises Highland cattle, but all those animals have to go off the island to be slaughtered and come back again, and I refuse to support that."
Thompson believes it is important that chefs pay attention to where ingredients come from and is aware that customers are becoming increasingly savvy about food provenance.
A firm favourite on the Á la carte menu is a starter of eel terrine, which Thompson first cooked at Winteringham Fields. Smoked eel from Smith's Smokery in the Lincolnshire fenland is layered with duck liver, diced and caramelised Granny Smith apples and flaked ham hock. The process is repeated some 15 times, then cooked in a water bath and pressed with a heavy weight. Thompson garnishes the dish with a celeriac rémoulade made with a Stratta cider vinegar base, to which he adds gherkins, capers and flat parsley. It is served with toasted brioche.
Another mainstay on the menu is barbecued rump of lamb, which Thompson cooks sous vide to break down the fat and draw the barbecue flavour all the way through the meat. Garnishes change seasonally and the dish is currently served with braised Anya potato and lamb shoulder hotpot, Vichy carrot purée, pickled and roasted heritage carrots and carrot top pesto.
Thompson manages a team of 10 and is keen to hire staff from the island. He works hard to keep his staff retention rate high and to achieve this he opens the restaurant five days a week during the summer, cutting it down to four days during the less busy months.
The Isle of Wight is a really underrated area for foodies and fine dining, explains Thompson. He describes it as a "playground" that can be explored by a lot of young chefs who want to make their name. "The island has a lot of potential and can become a proper food destination in the next few years," he says. "Three years on, and I'm still really proud of the business. It's now about trying to refine [the offer] and make it 100% consistent. For me it's about being that beacon for the island, so people say 'you can't come here without going to eat at Thompson's'."
From the Á la carte
•Cornish red mullet and scallop ceviche, raw scallops, cured red mullet, orange, dill and saffron cuttlefish ink and scallop roe cracker
•Cannelloni of local pheasant, autumn truffle salad of local runner and green beans, roasted pheasant, almond bisque
•Pan-roasted fillet of stone bass, crab mousse steamed in cuttlefish ink, red pepper pasta, ProvenÁ§ale vegetables and crab bisque
•Pan-roasted haunch of Chart Farm venison, slow-cooked shoulder doughnuts with Douglas fir, radicchio, local squash, burnt onion and sauce grand veneur
•Black forest gÁ¢teau delice, griottine cherries, dark chocolate glaze and black cherry sorbet
Thompson's, 11 Town Lane, Newport PO30 1JU
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