A little off the beaten track, but with good food and a panoramic view of the Solent, lies a great spot for al fresco dining. Phil Sampson reports
When rounding Egypt Point I’ve often wondered where the inhabitants of Cowes Castle – those “gentlemen actively interested in yachting” as the Royal Yacht Squadron once described its patrons – nip out for a bite. I couldn’t imagine the likes of the King of Norway, telly magnate Lord Grade and cyclonic vac-whizz Sir James Dyson popping out to downtown Cowes. But what if they turned the other way and headed along the coast towards Gurnard instead?
A brisk walk along the promenade would bring them to the New Holmwood Hotel, which on the surface is a pretty standard English seaside affair with three stars to its name. But look more closely and they would notice an elevated terrace rising discreetly above the car park.
The Terrace is the hotel’s outdoor restaurant, and if it’s a good meal and a fabulous view of the Solent you’re after, then look no further. Not being a member of the RYS, I stumbled upon the Terrace restaurant from photos I found online. Despite being a regular visitor to Cowes, I’d never heard of the place – like many others, I guess, my knowledge of the town was previously largely limited to the High Street tourist trap of West Cowes.
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The photos revealed the Terrace to be a small wooden deck equipped with five glass-topped circular tables bounded by an attractive balustrade. The setting looked well kept and appealing with good quality throughout, so we decided to give it a go – and how pleased I am that we did.
Firstly, the service was impeccable. It is said that the best customer service is invisible and that was certainly the case with our waiter at the Terrace – he was always there when we needed him, but otherwise unobtrusive to a fault. We concluded he must be blessed with a sixth sense capable of sniffing out exactly when, and when not, to appear at the table.
The menu was joyfully limited to five starters, six mains comprising two fish dishes, three meat and one vegetarian, and five desserts. I have always been of the opinion that restaurants need to do fewer things better rather than many things less well, and the Terrace was a case in point.
Between us, my party of four opted for three of the mains on offer and everyone was absolutely delighted with their meal. The pan fried sea bass was fresh and beautifully cooked, the chargrilled chicken and prawn skewers were piping hot, the fries were crispy, the waiter excelled, and the sun shone for the duration of our visit, illuminating the Solent and adding immensely to the ambience of the occasion.
Getting there by boat
The marinas in Cowes all lie on the River Medina, which splits the town in two. When approaching, the main hazards can be a fast-running tide (up to 4kN on spring ebbs) and the sheer volume of traffic using the river – especially if a rally or event happens to be in progress. Beware the Red Funnel ferry, the high-speed Red Jet catamarans and the floating bridge which links East and West Cowes – it has right of way, and once its quick yellow light starts flashing it won’t give way to anybody!
Cost: £85-90 based on a three-course meal for two with a bottle of house wine
Times: 1200-2030 seven days a week
Verdict: Something of an appetite-building trek from the marinas of Cowes, but a great find nonetheless.
MBY rating: 4/5 (based on food, ambience and value for money)
Tel: 01983 292508 / newholmwoodhotel.co.uk