Eat by the sea: an insider’s guide to the best island restaurants

The Isle of Wight is full of fabulous waterside eateries. Jo Macaulay highlights the best spots for the tastiest food and wonderful views

The sound of waves lapping the shore, the sun glinting on the water, the cry of seagulls and the sight of white sails slipping past… there’s something very special about eating by the sea. The Isle of Wight is bursting with waterside eateries, offering everything from grilled lobster with a glass of crisp white wine to just a pasty on the sand.

The further south you go, the more the sun shines. Ventnor is the Island’s southernmost town, with a pretty Victorian seafront hosting several pubs, cafés and restaurants. At the end of the bay sits The Spyglass Inn, with panoramic views across the Channel from its upper and lower decks. Across the road, the colonial-style Ale and Oyster, with its skilled use of Island produce, has a few tables on its decking overlooking the beach. About halfway along the seafront, The Smoking Lobster offers Asian fusion dishes and impressive seafood sharing platters.

The Crab Shed, Steephill Cove

The Crab Shed, Steephill Cove

High above them all sits the art-deco-inspired Ventnor Winter Gardens. With its bar and restaurant overlooking the bay and an outside eating space, it makes a great spot for watching the annual Round the Island Race (7 July).

Just around the headland to the west is Steephill Cove. Although you have to walk down from the main road with a steep pathway to the beach, it’s worth it for the picturesque bay. The Boathouse is the spot, with its balcony view of the bay and impressive platters of local lobster and crab caught by owner Mark, who runs the restaurant with wife Vanessa. Book well ahead.

“There’s everything from grilled lobster with white wine to a pasty on the beach”

Travel east from Ventnor and you arrive at Shanklin. At the base of Shanklin Chine sits the pretty, thatched Fisherman’s Cottage, which specialises in seafood and has an “olde worlde” interior and patio overlooking the beach.

Walk along the seafront from here and you come to The Aqua hotel with its brasserie and sea-themed interior, the nautically themed Steamer Inn with its huge propeller on the front wall, and The Waterfront bar and bistro. All three have large terraced front gardens looking out to sea.

Many cafés hug the coastline towards Sandown, the next seaside town, but The Beach Shack, which sits at the southernmost end of Sandown seafront, is worth a special mention for its ambience and delectable crab cakes. It has a pleasant patio that’s just perfect for those long, warm summer evenings.

The Little Gloster

Enjoy fabulous food at The Little Gloster

Along the sea wall between Sandown and Yaverland is The Bandstand, which has been transformed into a beautiful bistro-style restaurant set high up above the road. With great views of the sea, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a breakfast of eggs Benedict in the morning sunshine.

In Bembridge, The Beach Hut overlooks Bembridge Ledge. Cute and rustic, this is where you can eat Isle of Wight crab and lobster, giant crevettes or garlic prawns with a glass of something crisp and cool.

The Little Gloster near Cowes is one of the Island’s best places to dine

Around the headland next to the striking lifeboat station is the Lifeboat View Café, which also has local crab and lobster plus home-cooked specials and a pretty garden overlooking the Solent. And in Bembridge Harbour, floating café The Best Dressed Crab in Town sits next door to the fishery where the boats bring in their catches.

At nearby Duver, sit above the beach and enjoy jolly seaside café fare at Baywatch on the Beach, which has views of St Helens Fort far out to sea.

Sunset views at The Hut

Sunset views at The Hut

At the Appley end of Ryde seafront, the Three Buoys restaurant has a fresh, New England-style interior and beautifully presented food that makesa feature of fresh fish. Not only that, it earned the awards of Best Eatery with a Sea View and Best Gastronomic Experience at the My Isle of Wight Awards 2017.

Down a meandering lane to the river Medina at Whippingham is the Folly Inn, with a balcony by the water’s edge and a pontoon to tie up your rib if you’re visiting by boat. At nearby Osborne House, the Terrace Restaurant has far-reaching views across the formal gardens to the beautiful bay below.

Despite being a well-known port, Cowes has few eateries by the sea and those with Solent views are mostly private sailing clubs. But the newly opened North House hotel has sea glimpses from the pretty garden that opens from its Oyster Store restaurant in the orangery. The fish curry is superb, as are the oysters when in season.

award-winning views and food at the Three Buoys

Award-winning views and food at the Three Buoys

Heading west, make sure you drop by the café at Isle of Wight Pearl on the Military Road near Brighstone for a delicious cream tea overlooking the majestic chalk cliffs of Tennyson Down. Then there’s The George Hotel, which has a stunning beachfront garden built into the ancient walls of Yarmouth Castle, offering beautiful views of the Solent while you dine in its Conservatory restaurant.

At the entrance to Fort Victoria sits The Boathouse Café, which is gaining a reputation for its fish and chips, and its breakfast fry-ups. Its terrace looks across the Solent to Hurst Castle.

The Waterfront at Totland is a great place to watch the sun go down with a pint or a glass of Prosecco, and there’s a big covered verandah, outdoor patio and tables at the bottom of the cliff. If you have a boat, you can moor offshore in the clear turquoise bay.

Our pick of the best:

The Crab Shed, Steephill Cove

Famed for its crab pasties, The Crab Shed is run by fisherman Jim and his wife Mandy. Sip wine or cider with your freshly caught lobster salad and feel the sand between your toes in this achingly pretty cove. It’s a casual affair — it’s only open at lunchtimes and closed if it rains. Steephill Rd, Genevra, Ventnor, PO38 1UG. 01983 855819; steephillcove-isleofwight.co.uk/crab_shed.html

The little gloster, Gurnard

This restaurant with rooms presents seasonal food in Scandinavian-influenced surroundings with panoramic seaviews. Featured in the Good Food Guide 2018,
it’s one of the Island’s best places to dine. 31 Marsh Road, Gurnard, PO31 8JQ.
01983 298776; thelittlegloster.com

The Seaview Hotel, Seaview

The Seaview Hotel has a stylish restaurant or eat in the Pump Room bar overlooking the seafront on the small front terrace. Food is delicious — head chef Liam Howes received a Michelin Bib Gourmand in 2017. Crab ramekins are a speciality. High St, Seaview, PO34 5EX. 01983 612711; seaviewhotel.co.uk

The hut, Colwell Bay

This huge, upmarket hut with an easy-going vibe has a large deck for sun-kissed lunches or candlelit suppers and the seafood platters are superb. If you moor ashore, a RIB will ferry you to and from your boat. Colwell Chine Rd, Colwell Bay, Freshwater, PO40 9NP. 01983 898637; thehutcolwell.co.uk