The Hambrough's fine dining restaurant is a display of Matthew Tomkinson's best work yet. Visit the Isle of Wight hotel for a taste of Ventnor inspiration
A meal in the intimate dining room of the Hambrough hotel, which boasts views over Ventnor Bay in the Isle of Wight, is a masterclass in classical cooking with a modern twist. From butter made from cultured Briddlesford Farm cream from Ryde served with freshly baked sourdough to the elegant handmade chocolate petits four, you'd expect no less of Matthew Tomkinson, Roux scholar and two-time Michelin star achiever at the Montagu Arms and at the Goose in Britwell Salome, Oxfordshire. He became the hotel's executive chef in spring 2021 after leaving his previous position as chef-patron of Betony's at the King's Head in Whiteparish in Salisbury.
"I'm cooking some of the best food I've ever cooked. There's a lot less red tape as a day-to-day chef working here. It's very hands-on and there's a lot more focus on guest experience," says Tomkinson, who commutes by car ferry on a weekly basis from his home near Lymington and runs the kitchen with the help of an apprentice/kitchen porter and one other chef, Craig Englefield. "He's very experienced. He does pastry and starters and other bits and bobs."
Tomkinson offers an à la carte dinner menu with four dishes at each course, and a daily-changing set lunch menu (£28 for two courses, £33 for three) with two starters, three mains and two desserts. There's also an afternoon tea menu (£27), and a breakfast menu available to non-residents at £18. Tomkinson serves around 200 customers a week in the 28-cover restaurant across all four menus.
Tomkinson is trialling a new ‘Ventnor-inspired surprise seven-course tasting menu', that includes grilled red mullet with red pepper and fennel ragout and crab butter sauce, via a local discount website, thepriceiswight.co.uk, at £69 compared to the full price of £85.
"The margins are a little bit better on it than doing it as an à la carte deal. We're testing the water with it because no one knows what they're going to be eating, although none of our food is particularly challenging or weird. It will be built out of the à la carte, which we're continuing with, unless we get lots of bookings and then we'll buy things specifically for it."
Tomkinson has not yet been able to put any Isle of Wight-landed seafood on his menus, instead serving the likes of cured Chalk Stream trout, summer vegetable salad, Avruga caviar and elderflower butter sauce (£14). "It is difficult getting hold of it, but I'm not ruling it out. We use Flying Fish Seafoods as they are the best and we have a very long trusting relationship. It's super, super fresh fish."
However, Isle of Wight produce features prominently elsewhere on the menu, including a roasted saddle of venison (£38) from Michael O'Keefe's Wildwood Farm in Chale, less than 10 miles from the hotel. Tomkinson cooks the saddle in a water bath at 60ºC for 20 minutes before browning in a hot pan.
The dish is completed with a game and herb sausage made from the vension fat and trim and dehydrated cranberries for "a burst of sharpness". The homemade puff pasty case is filled with mushroom duxelles, pickled red cabbage and chard as well as roasted squash. He makes a version of grand veneur sauce with white chicken stock, caramelised shallots, crushed black pepper, redcurrant jelly, sherry vinegar, port and red wine. "You get a rich-bodied sauce without it being cloying and sticky, which I really like because venison is actually quite delicate and not as strongly flavoured as people think."
The menu's Instagramable showstopper is the Hambrough apple tart (£12), a trompe l'oeil apple inspired by French pastry chef Cédric Grolet. "We fill an apple mould with white chocolate mousse and push in an ‘inclusion' of diced apple in a pectin-set apple gel. Then it's frozen and dipped in a chocolate shell and then a green freckled apple gel. We serve it on a custard and caramel tart. We're working on a cherry version because Isle of Wight cherries are incredible."
Since their first year together, Tomkinson says that he and Englefield have consciously stepped up the levels of quality, finesse and refinement of the food, but he is not obsessed with regaining a Michelin star. "Getting inspectors on to the island is tricky. I'd love to put that demon to rest from losing it at the Montagu, I can't lie, but I don't know what type of cooking a star is, I don't think anyone really knows."
Hambrough Road, Ventnor, Isle Of Wight PO38 1SQ
From the menu
Wild mushroom and Tunworth filled pasta, local artichoke purée and preserved black truffle £14
Free-range duck liver parfait, confit duck leg croquette, caper purée and spiced fig chutney £12
Winter minestrone of poached Cornish monkfish, steamed mussels, coco beans, parsley and lovage £38
Poached and roasted free-range guinea fowl, stuffed Roscoff onion, crisp croquette and Madeira sauce £36
Roasted hazelnut parfait, salted chocolate biscuit, chocolate mousse, cocoa tuile and fresh coffee £12
Pear sorbet with chilled Grey Goose vodka £10
Kalamansi lime cheesecake, elderflower scented New Forest strawberries and strawberry sorbet £12