When: July 2023
Who: Solo travelling
Why: Flying Fish Stewardess course
Cowes on the gorgeous Isle of Wight is a small town in two parts. Here I’ll be talking about West Cowes (aka just Cowes) and not East Cowes.
I got on the Red Jet at Southampton and quick as a flash I was on the Isle of Wight. The Red Jet is the passenger only service that speeds across the Solent in about 25 minutes flat. Please note if you’re wanting to drive over the IOW from Southampton you will need to take the Red Funnel - both leave from the same ferry port but are very different services and even drop off on different sides of Cowes. Geographically, Cowes is split in two by the River Medina into East and West Cowes, with a view over the Solent to Southampton and Portsmouth. West Cowes is where the main action seems to be going on, with East Cowes acting as a more rural residential area.
Hop off the Red Jet and you’re met with a taxi rank. Or so you think. It would be easy here to stroll down to the stone gate and on into town. This would be a mistake. Hang back and walk down the row of shops on your right and you’ll get to Little French Franks. Whether you’re craving a coffee or a snack, tumble in there and the FF crew will take good care of you. Shout out to Michel and the rest of the team - have to admit I went in there at least 5 times in the two weeks I was there (twice in one day at one point) and every single one of them had a smile on their face every time. My tip would be go here for your coffee and not a certain Coffee Chain that begins with C that you may find a little further down the high street, because the quality of cuppa, service and price are so much more desirable at French Franks. And it’s not just a tourist place to go - whenever we got in a taxi every driver had an iconic brown and green French Franks recyclable coffee cup in their cup holder. My other tip would be that their egg mayonnaise and salmon sandwich for breakfast is golden and I’m already craving one even though it’s only been a day. Fish not for you? Well don’t have the prawn mayo salad then because it is full of prawns and all sorts of other goodness ugh it’s so good. Also a shout out to any fellow coronation chicken fans because FF’s does it all.
Okay, you’ve got your French Franks cup in hand, now we can continue. Head towards the stone arches. Welcome to Cowes! Turn right for a restaurant called Gastronomy - truth time I never went but someone should go and tell me what it’s like because it looked amazing. Keep going past Gastronomy and you’ll reach a couple of foodie hot spots. On the left you will see a cream windowed bakery with cardboard signs scattered around. I honestly can’t remember what this one is called but it’s unmissable - everything is homemade and the mushroom soup I had their was one of the most wholesome meals I had the whole two weeks I was there. It was very “good for the soul” food. Note - they don’t do gluten free items there were lots of signs making that very clear so if that’s an issue head somewhere else.
Around that bakery, there’s a pizza shop and across the road a sign pointing to the Garden pop up. Head down the alleyway and you’ll be on top of the sea in a cosy little garden bar. These guys do a few signature cocktails but the piece de resistance is their pizzas. I had ham and mozzarella with rocket and balsamic vinegar. Chefs kiss so good.
Fancy a pub? Ignore the signs for the Garden bar and head down the alley by the Union pub (apparently this pub was the after party place but I didn’t stay out of bed long enough to try this out). Now you’re by the sea on the promenade. Continue on down the prom for a great walk by the sea (I saw someone catch a shark once!), or take a left and head into the Pier View. This place was our study pub primarily but one lunchtime we went for lunch there because they had an amazing deal. Between 1-3 you could get a fish and chips and a soft drink for a really reasonable price that I can’t remember right now but trust when I say it was the best fish and chips I have had in years. It came with mushy peas which usually I wouldn’t eat but they looked and tasted like green mash potato - they were sublime.
Wind back to the Red Jet terminal. We’re turning left now. Across from the terminal is Wine Therapy. This wine shop has some amazing bottles with a variety of price tags. We had the great pleasure of spending an afternoon here as part of our course, doing some wine tasting. The owners are the most down to earth and friendly people, who clearly love everything about wine (I mean what’s not to love - job and life goals). Head over there for some prime gift giving advice. Continue and you’ll find M&S up a hill on your right. I’m not reviewing M&S are you joking. That’s like reviewing an All Bar One.
Ignore M&S, nobody likes hills. Continue past the greatest Poundland on earth, maybe pop in for a vitamin water or a nail kit. On your left opposite P-land is the amazing Flying Fish training centre - wave at the building and think of me. Marsek’s cafe is next door to P-land - good coffee and doughnuts and always busy.
Here we go here we go here we go. The Smoking Lobster is one of those once in a lifetime restaurants where you know that whatever you order you’re just going to have to go for it, because you’ll only go once. I had one fresh raw oyster with miso, followed by a lobster that was cooked with garlic butter and arrived with new potatoes. The friends I went to this restaurant with me have since described what followed after my plate was laid in front of me as nothing short of a sensual experience. Me and that lobster went places; I still have dreams about it. Don’t head here if you’re on a tight budget, but if you’ve earned your supper or fancy a treat then get yourself down there. Just up the hill, you’ve got another great restaurant called the Coast. This place had a very cosy vibe, and an array of dishes on their menu. I went for the steak (I know who do I think I am but trust me when I say I had earned these treats) and it was delicious. Friends had the seafood pasta or a pizza and said they were great too (most of us had the steak and were all in agreement that it was worth every penny).
“But Emma, what about places to go out, I hear Cowes is dead quiet” no stop take your pre-judgements away. My next highlight spot is the Anchor. By highlight I mean…well I don’t even know what I mean. I went in there 3 times and each time was totally different. Make sure you take your ID because they will take your drinks away if you don’t have ID and take a sip from someone else’s. Go on a Friday because they have live music in the back. Be prepared to be surrounded by yachties or wannabe yachties. It’s that first pub where you meet on a night out for a quick one. Or for live music.
“So what’s next” I hear you cry. Patience, because next we are heading to the Vectis pub. Thursday night is karaoke night and it gets major busy especially on race days. Friday it’s DJ Rum who jokes that he needs shots from you before you can ask for a song to be played (don’t believe him cos I made that mistake). Saturday is classic locals night with the same DJ. If you want a dance, head there. If you want classy conversation and calm vibes, run. You could run to the Greene King next door. This place has reasonably priced drinks, a nice outdoor area at the back that looks onto the dockyard and across the Solent, and some really nice items on their menu (I can recommend the fish cakes topped with cheese, yum).
As a town, I really fell in love with Cowes. It’s a very simple place, with friendly people and an array of eateries and drinking holes. The major culture here is yachting, with the clothes shops revolving around sailing and outdoor wear. It’s definitely a nice place for a whistle stop tour. I lived there for two weeks and had started waving at people through shop windows which meant it was definitely time for me to go! But getting back on the Red Jet to head back to the mainland, I couldn’t ignore the lump in my throat. Thank you Cowes - Isle be back ;)