After graduating from numerous top-end kitchens, including the Vineyard at Stockcross, Graham Walker is forging a reputation over the Solent. Tracy Watkins reports
Summertime, and the living is easy. But not so at the Isle of Wight's Seaview hotel, where head chef Graham Walker and his team of seven are at the helm and facing the busiest month of the year. Over the summer covers soar to 180 daily at this boutique hotel thanks to the influx of the sailor fraternity who've been flocking to this picturesque village since Queen Victoria gave the island the thumbs up.
Good quality ingredients put together simply and cooked to perfection is the ethos, and Walker is spoilt for choice with the abundance of fresh produce available locally. As would be expected, fish dishes abound with the local catch, such as Sandown black bream, line-caught sea bass and oysters. But there are hidden gems too, with the trickier to handle Isle of Wight spider crab used in a starter risotto with pink grapefruit, tarragon and Parmesan crisp (£6.75).
The island is also famous for its supplies of garlic, sweet corn, lettuce leaf, apples and soft fruit. IOW asparagus and new potatoes in a wild garlic flower foam makes for a seasonal starter (£6.75).
Herb oils infused with produce straight from the hotel's kitchen garden are a speciality. Lovage oil, for example, is used to dress hand-dived scallops, slow-cooked belly pork and a sweet corn purée starter.
The hotel even has its own venison herd, reared at the hotel-owned Newclose farm near Carisbrooke Castle in the centre of the island. The result: roasted venison, wild mushroom purée, braised red cabbage and jasmine tea sauce for the standard main-course tariff of £16.95.
There are plans to push ahead with further rearing of livestock, including sheep and possibly even turkeys and geese for the Christmas menu. Manager Andrew Morgan also has ambitious plans to be totally self-sufficient for potatoes, vegetables, herbs and fruit within a couple of years.
Wine is in the capable hands of Ludovic Pech, who worked with Morgan at Chapter One for many years and has 25 years' experience in the field. His favourite on the extensive wine list is an organic Pinot Grigo, Castello di Arecano from Friuli, Italy, for £21.50. There's also an interesting biodynamic Merlot from the same vineyard and an unusual Cristallo, Vine de Fraise at £6.50 a glass, made entirely from strawberries and produced in Switzerland.
Walker joined manager Morgan at the Seaview just over two years ago. A veteran of Michelin-starred venues such as the island's George hotel, Lords of the Manor in the Cotswolds and the Vineyard at Stockcross, he says his inspiration comes from John Campbell, Kevin Mangeolles and Gary Rhodes.
Morgan describes Walker as a modern young chef who has worked his way up through the ranks to become a truly inspirational leader himself. "When it's hot, nobody's calmer than Graham. When the trend is to be a hothead in the kitchen it's refreshing to see somebody cool, calm and collected," he says.
A special three-course Sunday lunch menu for £16.95 to the accompanying sounds of a jazz trio has boosted business, says Morgan. Local business is also important and old favourites such as haddock and chips, fish stews and the crab ramekin made famous by previous owner-managers Nick and Nicky Hayward are retained on the restaurant's bar menus.
This autumn Walker is throwing open his galley doors to budding chefs with a series of cookery and wine classes, where for £55 a head students are given a Seaview apron and prepare a three-course meal which they enjoy later in the evening after a Champagne reception. Among many secrets given away will be the Seaview's famous crab ramekin recipe.
What's on the menu
- Rabbit and duck terrine, poached figs salad (£6.75)
- Watercress soup, Isle of Wight blue cheese, sweet and sour beetroot (£6.75)
- Local mackerel, warm cucumber jelly, horseradish, micro salad (£6.75)
- Line-caught sea bass, broad bean purée, saffron potatoes, girolles, (£16.95)
- Sandown black bream, toasted rice water, haricot blanc, fennel, lemon oil (£16.95)
- Brownrigg free-range duck breast, Jerusalem artichoke purée, prune and lime sauce (£16.95)
- Sticky toffee pudding, butterscotch sauce and date ice-cream (£6.50)
- Liquorice cream, vanilla ice-cream and vanilla biscuit (£6.50)
- Baked peach Alaska, peach tart and chilled peach soup (£6.50)
The Seaview, High Street, Seaview, Isle of Wight PO34 5EX Tel 01983 612711,www.seaviewhotel.co.uk