It’s only a hop from the mainland – about four miles – but travelling to the Isle of Wight is like entering another world, devoid of the stresses and strains of modern-day life. Richard Webber jumped on the ferry...
This is a place where the clock seemingly ticks a little slower. It’s easy to see why this tiny island has seduced artists and writers, including Tennyson and Keats, since Victorian times. No one could fail to be impressed by its soft rolling landscapes, fringed by an undulating coastline.
As for the vegan scene, that’s relatively new, but already starting to buzz.
This was reflected in last October’s (2019) Vegan Lifestyle Show (next show 17th October 2020), which comprised over 45 trade stands, cooking demos, talks and yoga classes. My family and I have visited the Isle of Wight many times and it’s satisfying to see eateries popping up all over the island and most places now offering vegan options.
Where to eat
Situated in the heart of the island’s main town, Newport, vegan café Peach opened its doors in 2019 and is already popular with a regular clientele. Steph and Guy make approximately 95% of the food on the premises, using no processed items.
Everything from breakfast to main meals is catered for, while a recent addition is a vegan Sunday roast, comprising seitan ‘beef’ joint with all the usual trimmings (£11.95).
I enjoyed peanut satay stir fry with peppers, onion, broccoli, mushrooms, greens and water chestnuts, all in a homemade satay sauce served with rice (£7.95). There’s also a speciality drinks menu, offering everything from peanut butter, Himalayan salted or homemade chai lattes (all £3.20).
Open: Every day 8.30am-5.30pm; 89 St James’s Street, Newport; facebook.com/peachstorevegankitchen
This traditional pub in the small town of Cowes is popular with locals and tourists alike. Although not exclusively vegan, the management at The Anchor is keen to promote the inn’s increasing vegan choices.
Try homemade spaghetti Bolognese (£10.95) or homemade five-bean chilli with rice (£9.95). Expect tasty, huge pub-sized portions!
Sadly, the only vegan dessert choice when we visited was strawberries with Isle of Wight vegan ice cream (£4.95). Hopefully, more will be added soon.
Open: Mon-Sat 11am-11pm (later on music nights), Sun 12am-10.30pm; 1-3 High Street, Cowes; theanchorcowes.co.uk
Tansy’s, owned by the delightful Jaime and Ollie, has evolved from small beginnings. Starting as a vegetarian food truck, the business moved to its current, more permanent, location in the pretty village of Godshill in 2019. This 100% vegan café boasts vaulted ceilings and arched doorway with stained glass window, generating an almost church-like feel.
On arrival, you’re drawn to the desserts cabinet with its vibrant blackcurrant and vanilla cheesecake (£3) and cherry pie (£3.50). But there’s more to sample before choosing a sweet. Menus change regularly.
We tried Tansy’s soya-based burger with cheese, crunchy coleslaw, gherkins and crisp lettuce served with skin-on chips (£9.95). Soup of the day, creamy cauliflower, was very tasty (£5). Alternatively, try the interestingly named “vish” and chips, using deep-fried banana blossom (£13).
Open: Wed-Sat 5.30-10.30 and occasional lunchtimes; Church Hollow, Godshill; tansyspantry.co.uk.
This attractive restaurant dates from the 1600s and was once frequented by the late Queen Victoria and daughter, Beatrice. The menu, extending from brunch through to dinner, isn’t exclusively vegan but there is a separate vegan menu. Plus the owner, Teri, a chef for 30 years, is always willing to adapt dishes to accommodate vegans.
Options include coconut squash curry with toasted flatbread, coriander salad and tzatziki dressing (£12) or roasted red pepper and fresh pesto filo parcel with sauté potatoes and fresh tomato sauce (£14).
If you fancy a vegan cream tea, like we did, head to Wood’s. It’s great to be able to enjoy the indulgence of this British classic. We weren’t disappointed, either, when two delicious scones appeared on a tiered plate with macerated fresh raspberries and vegan buttercream (£5.50).
Open: Wed-Sun, noon-11pm; High Street, Godshill; woodskitchen.co.uk
Django’s Jazz and Tapas Bar
The website says the bar is “down a dusty road set away from the busy world” and it certainly is! Based in the island’s old lavender farm, we arrived in the large courtyard outside the bar to the sound of gentle jazz music drifting in the night air.
Co-owner, Poppy, is a professional singer and regularly performs at the bar’s music events held on three evenings (Thurs-Sat) and Sunday afternoons.
This fully vegan restaurant offers a constantly changing tapas menu with dishes £6 each or five for £25. During our Halloween-themed visit, we sampled roast potatoes and black magic houmous, roasted purple heritage carrots with garlic and Thai rice crackers with wasabi peas.
Open: Weds & Sun 10am-5pm; Thurs-Sat, 10am-10pm; Staplehurst Grange, nr Newport; djangostapas.co.uk
Edulis Restaurant and Plantation Room Café
Situated within the beautiful Ventnor Botanic Gardens, these eateries are ideally placed for plant-based ingredients, although neither are strictly vegan restaurants.
Example vegan dishes include Panang curry and three bean chilli. Vegetables are plucked directly from the garden – they deal in ‘food inches’ rather than “food miles”.
If you’re looking for a less formal place to dine, try Plantation Café, overlooking the Palm Garden. Light lunches, snacks and cakes are served. Vegan options include vegan stew served with bread (£8), roasted pepper and tomato soup with bread (£5.50) and vegan Belgian chocolate fudge cake.
Open: refer to website for seasonal opening times; Botanic Gardens, Ventnor; botanic.co.uk
The Sun Inn
This roadside pub was built in 1903 and extended in the ’80s to provide space for the restaurant. For a non-vegan establishment, the inn has one of the largest vegan menus on the island.
Spoilt for choice, we chose homemade vegan nut roast with roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, veg and vegan gravy (£9.25). Other options include homemade vegan korma with rice, poppadoms and mango chutney (£9.50) or homemade vegan pie of the day, with fresh vegetables and potatoes (£10.95).
Open: Mon-Sat 11.30am-11pm, Sun 12am-10.30pm; Sun Hill, Calbourne; sun-calbourne.co.uk
This cosy little veggie café is located above the vegetarian farm shop in Bembridge. Owner, Jane, took over the shop in 2007, but it wasn’t until 2017 that the café opened its doors. The menu comprises all-day vegetarian breakfasts, along with lunches and cakes.
There are various vegan options, including roasted vegetable and homemade houmous sandwiches, served with salad and crisps, plus Moroccan tagine with almond and mint couscous. A daily selection of vegan cakes are also available.
Open: Mon-Sat 8.30-5pm, Sun 9am-1pm; 8 High Street, Bembridge; no8cafe.co.uk
Top five places to visit
Established in 1952, this fab model village, built in the gardens of the Old Vicarage, Godshill, represents buildings and attractions seen in the village and nearby Shanklin.
Not only is the model village, which is populated by hand-crafted figures, charming, the gardens themselves are a delight, with over 3,000 conifers and shrubs meticulously maintained. Definitely the best model village we’ve visited.
This English Heritage castle boasts its fair share of history, from the imprisonment of Charles I to Earl Mountbatten being installed as governor of the island at the castle by Queen Elizabeth II.
Explore the extensive grounds and discover more about its history at the museum before enjoying the panoramic view from the battlements.
With its own microclimate and temperatures five degrees warmer than the UK’s average, these are Britain’s hottest gardens. The climate is Mediterranean-like, so many sub-tropical plants grow unprotected outdoors, impossible in other parts of the mainland.
The gardens are split into geographical regions, so you can experience a journey around the world while wandering the extensive 22-acre site. Sustainability is key here and it’s hoped the garden will be carbon-neutral by 2020.
Shanklin Chine, which recently celebrated its 200th anniversary, is the island’s oldest attraction. The chine, meaning a deep ravine with running water to the sea, is great to visit day and night. Illuminations light up the narrow pathways and waterfalls on evenings from May to November. After wandering down its steep walkways, pop into the informative Heritage Centre for an insight into the Chine’s history.
Brading Roman Villa is among the UK’s finest sites. Excavated in Victorian times, a grand stone-built villa with a central courtyard once stood in the middle of the lush countryside. Its luxurious rooms once contained lavish mosaic floors, which are wonderfully preserved and on display. Visit the award-winning visitor centre and museum where you’ll find an extensive collection of Roman items, including pottery, tools and coins.
Where to stay
Premier Inn (premierinn.com) has a hotel close to Newport, which is perfectly positioned in the centre of the island. Although within walking distance of the main shopping area, the hotel is set in a peaceful location alongside the River Medina and offers free parking.
For further information on Wightlink Ferries, call 0333 999 7333 or visit wightlink.co.uk. For more details on the Isle of Wight generally, check out the main website visitisleofwight.co.uk.
Journalist Richard Webber writes for, among others, The Sunday Telegraph, Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Weekly News and Wedding Ideas magazine. An avid traveller and keen walker, he lives on the edge of Exmoor with his wife and two kids.