Friday, 30 December 2011

[Out of Oxford] Bluebells Café, Wootton, Isle of Wight

Normally, if you arrive at a restaurant and the first thing you notice is a noxious smell, you might want to change your plans and jump straight back in the car. However, if you've just parked in a farmyard with a huge pile of manure and a cowshed at one end, different standards apply. Another Christmas holiday excursion means another non-Oxonian review, this time of Bluebells Café, near Wootton on the Isle of Wight, which is attached to a working dairy farm.

(n.b. the giant mass of manure just visible behind the sign)

The bucolic vibe is toned down inside the café, which is an airy, conservatory-style space, although there is a TV screen showing footage of the local cows disporting themselves in various photogenic ways. It is not surprising that the extensive menu offers plenty of opportunities for sampling local eggs, cheese, cream, beef and veal (a notice explained that the farm's veal calves are reared in highly humane conditions - which I don't doubt - but that the calves on display in pens by the café were of the dairy variety. You can't bring people too close to what they might be eating, after all).
As often, I was most tempted by the simple but delicious-sounding breakfast menu, but as that wasn't on offer at lunchtime I'll run through what the five of us had. Fishcakes with chilli jam and salad (£8.25) were nicely browned and crispy, while a burger was of impressive size and succulence (£9.85): from the fact that it disappeared quickly, I inferred that unlike other large burgers in dry buns that I have known it didn't induce jaw fatigue.

My brother enjoyed his 'Sirloin steak with grilled mushrooms and black pepper sauce' (£15.95), but 'Griddled veal escalope on crushed tarragon potatoes with a mushroom and IOW garlic sauce' (£11.95) was marred by too much salt in the sauce: that particular calf may have been better treated in life than in death. I was also slightly disappointed with what I had, a kind of salmon en croûte stuffed with shallots, spinach and garlic, with a superfluous pool of Béarnaise sauce on top (£13.95). The pastry was soggy, and there was too much of it, while the salmon's filling could barely be tasted, especially as I had a large side dish of vegetables to contend with. Maybe I should have stuck to the local fare.

Desserts (both £5.75) were more consistent. Sticky toffee pudding (in the form of a slice: cake might have been a better description) with butterscotch sauce was sweet but not sickly and came with a jug of cream of a yellow hue that nowadays you generally only read about in Famous Five books; cinnamon cheesecake with berry compote had a genuinely interesting - in a good way - flavour. The accompanying ice cream was delicious.

I suspect that the puddings' greater success may have been related to the fact that they were simple, and came from a short menu, unlike the main courses. Bluebells might fare better if they offered fewer main dishes and played up their local provenance even more (this might also reduce the waiting times of 30 minutes plus even for a sandwich - we were in no hurry, but other guests were, and a few frayed tempers resulted). But overall, our meal was more than satisfactory - and even if it hadn't been, it would be difficult to start criticising a family business which is clearly working hard to innovate and win new customers.

Bluebells Café, Briddlesford Lodge Farm, Wootton, Isle of Wight PO33 4RY 
01983 882885


Square Meal

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