The Jubilee suits the Isle of Wight. In Yarmouth, where the pretty, toy-town main street is festooned with bunting, and shop windows display crossed union jacks, youÕd be forgiven for thinking it is still the Coronation yearÉ There may even be rationing. The whole island has an Enid Blyton Famous Five air of lost innocence about it.
We were staying at The George Hotel, a 17th century townhouse well worth waving a flag for and locked, apparently, in a different, pine and chintz time-warp (though, the cornflake coloured pine is soon to be retired), awaiting a third friend who phoned from the ferry to ask if there were taxis at the dock. Obviously, she hadnÕt been to the hotel before. The George is ten paces from the harbour. Nevertheless, the hotel manager offered to walk out and collect her. You wouldnÕt recognise her. We said. I think I would, she replied. And indeed, twenty-three people in anoraks got off the ferry followed by Lady Glamourpuss, cocooned in a sky blue pashmina and black Gucci shades looking like Maria Callas with culture shock. Ah, you can take the girl out of London, butÉ.
Post-nap in a sun-drenched bedroom more padded than a teen bra, and with pillows as creamily soft as an odalisques inner thigh, I was poised in the hotelÕs non-pine, posh restaurant. ItÕs a solemn, regency red drawing room, somewhat like being inside a box of Quality Street and just a clutch of the breast away from an elegant swoon should Mr Darcy stride into the room in riding breeches. Sadly, the restaurant was empty but for a trio of irritatingly exuberant diners Š aka us. My friends donÕt sound quite so loud in London but need the equivalent of a blanket over the birdcage when they venture outside the M25. The town may be a fifties haven of tranquillity but both the menu, and the price (3 courses plus coffee for £45) and, on this occasion, the company, are decidedly upbeat.
Our starters Š a surprisingly sharp goats cheese ravioli served with a frothy mint cappuccino (interesting, full-bodied, fresh flavours -though you do have to be careful with green food that bubbles), and a quietly clever mousse line of langoustine in a towering tortellini, sedately served with asparagus and red pepper, waited politely for the attention they deserved. Instead, the suitably earnest fine food had a hard time being heard against the Isle of Wight version of Sex and the City where IÕm the quiet, prudish one. Even the opulently rich trio of duck foie gras (an ice cream, a straightforward parfait and a miniature risotto) was devoured with a mere murmur of contentment while the conversation romped ahead.
By the main courses, a velvety duck breast and tender shreds of confit duck, punctuated with a comma of smooth, snowy mashed potatoes and, in contrast, a glistening sliver of halibut accompanied by a strangely sweet broccoli puree and a deep fried scallop with the texture of a toasted marshmallow, our attention came back to our plates, albeit momentarily. Glamourpuss was deep into an Aberdeen Angus rib eye steak with garlic sauce, topped with curls of fried beef. They look like fried onions, she said. No, no, itÕs crispy slivers of beef, said our waiter. ThatÕs called mince where I come from, announced the Glamourpuss.
The kitchen, while simultaneously catering for the hotelÕs Brasserie which offers a simpler, less formal menu of dishes such as crab risotto, belly pork with flageolet beans and deep fried parsnips or wild mushroom tart with poached egg and hollandaise, still has enough energy when not dressing plates up for the Oscars, to prepare food more simply should you require it.
Pudding comes in the culinary equivalent of evening gowns; a frighteningly sweet nougat glace jewelled like a tiara with a diadem of wafer thin flakes of pineapple, while my extravaganza comprised a tiny demitasse of hot chocolate and deep fried chocolate with a silky interior but whose coconut casing reminded me, gulp, of a Scotch egg - but I was hounded mercilessly for saying so.
Half way through the evening another couple joined us, their hushed, loverÕs tte--tte no competition for our, by now, very noisy, catalogue of near death experiences.
Once, I nearly choked on a piece of lettuce, announced Glamourpuss which, presumably, at least shut her up for a while.
That happened to me too, confided the woman, newly arrived on the other side of the dining room. You see Š if you canÕt beat them (over the head with a large, blunt instrument) you might as well join them. By the end of the evening we were so bonded we could have pushed the tables together. Next morning we discovered she was an AA inspector. What a shame they donÕt give out rosettes for good gossip. WeÕd be stars.