Praise in the national press got tourists flocking to this Isle of Wight restaurant, but the team is now securing its future by preparing to weather the off-season. Fiona Sims reports.
Three weeks after opening its doors on 4 July, The Times declared the Terrace in Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight one of the country's 30 best beach cafés and restaurants. The phones didn't stop ringing. With views over the picturesque harbour and yacht-filled Solent, plus what's said to be the best shellfish bisque this side of the Channel, you can see why.
Local entrepreneur Phil Keen bought the lease earlier this year, persuading his daughter Ashley and her husband, Tom Fahey, to help out. Tom is a self-taught chef who has completed stages in many of the country's top restaurants, and has been a restaurant inspector for leading guides for the past 12 years. Ashley trained in hotel management before becoming a superyacht chef, eventually becoming head of cookery at Thyme in Gloucestershire.
The Terrace offers 34 seats inside and 46 outside. Having hit the ground running with an average 170 covers a day, they now have the tricky off-season to negotiate, with plans to stay open throughout, albeit five days a week, rather than the current seven-day operation, from breakfast to dinner.
The current menu is a deceptively simple read, concealing a surprising amount of technique. "We just want people to think, ‘oh that's really good'," explains Tom.
One of the best-selling dishes, the battered fish, crushed peas, fat chips and tartare sauce (£14), hides a scientific approach to the batter, a mix of rice flour, dextrose and plain flour, with a third each of vodka, local beer and sparkling water, resulting in an impressively glass-like crunch and pearly flakes.
Torched mackerel and Isle of Wight tomato salad (£16.50) involves curing mackerel in salt before washing it off in a mix of lemon juice and water, then leaving it overnight on a rack to dry before being blow-torched to order. "That technique comes from Sushi Tetsu," admits Tom, who writes the menu, creates the dishes and manages the kitchen, while Ashley manages front of house.
"I have a unique position but I don't want to call myself executive chef, because I'm not the chef. I show the kitchen the method, we do a recipe card with photos, and they execute it. I could do it, but I'd be dead after four days," he laughs.
It's down to the four-strong kitchen brigade, which includes chef Jack Holt, most recently sous chef for Robert Thompson at island hotspot Thompson's (currently closed due to the pandemic), to realise Tom's vision for the menu.
That's not to say the team don't have a say – they do, insists Tom. In fact, it is Holt who is behind the famous bisque, after a ‘soup-off' between the pair, pitching Tom's fish soup against Holt's classic bisque. "It blew my soup out the water, so we put it on, with a side of fresh local crab on our focaccia," explains Tom.
Crab and lobster is mostly local, reports Tom, sourced from supplier We've Got Crabs, with the rest of the seafood, which dominates the menu, from Cornwall-based Flying Fish. A new island creamery called Brixton & Badger supplies the restaurant with Wisconsin-style cheese curds, which they breadcrumb and deep-fry, served with an apple and chilli jam (£8.50), and Yarmouth goat dairy Green Barn is the main ingredient in its Basque cheesecake with macerated fruit (£7.50). "We won't use a local supplier unless it's the best. There are far too many restaurants that get too obsessive about it," declares Tom.
We won't use a local supplier unless it's the best
The off-season will see a smartening up of the presentation, with a smaller menu, more technique and slightly higher prices on some dishes, although crowdpleasers such as the £14 Terrace burger will be kept to cheer the locals. "We won't have the fish and chip crowd from the ferry, so we will need to go a bit more destination in the winter, raising our average spend from £30 on food to £35," he reports.
The mackerel pâté, currently on the menu served with pickled cucumber and grilled focaccia (£7.50), will appear in the off-season with a piece of compressed cucumber, the liquid made into a clear soup, a cracker made from the focaccia with the pâté quenelled on top, plus three pieces of chargrilled mackerel. "The same ingredients, just more refined. We'll probably charge £8 for that," explains Tom.
They are also planning one-off events, with guest chefs, themed nights and wine events, which the locals historically love. Combine all that with the service steps, values and key objectives that Tom has put into place and the Terrace will likely breeze through the difficult winter months and be around for a long time yet.
The Terrace, Quay Street, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight PO41 0NT
From the menu
- Cured chalk stream trout, pickled cucumber, horseradish £9
- Falafels, tahini, apple and chilli jam, Terrace slaw £6.50
- Shellfish bisque, dressed crab on toast £11
- Grilled half/whole lobster with herb butter, aïoli, fried gem £22/£38**
- Steamed mussels, marinière sauce, sourdough focaccia £16
- Grilled butterflied chicken, crushed potatoes, runner beans, beurre noisette, crushed capers £15
- Grilled 8oz sirloin, fries, aïoli, green salad, herb butter £22
- Pear and almond tart, Brighstone cultured cream £7
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