This article first appeared in the July / August 2021 edition of Style of Wight magazine
Perched on the edge of Ventnor, overlooking the sparkly blue seas of The Channel, is The Hambrough; a hallowed name amongst foodie visitors and Islanders in the know. As the doors opened this year for another season of hospitality and fine dining, someone new was at the culinary helm – Michelin-starred chef and Roux Scholar, Matt Tomkinson.
The awards might sound intimidating but, as Matt emerges from the aromatic steam of The Hambrough kitchen, you soon realise he’s one of the most humble, welcoming and relaxed people you could possibly meet and someone who still seems a bit surprised by their own success.
Back in 2005, Matt was awarded the coveted Roux Scholarship after a panel of judges that included Rick Stein and Gary Rhodes deemed him to be the most talented of the up-and-coming British chefs competing that year – although Matt added: “it took me ‘till about 2009 to realise they’re not going to ask me to hand my badge back.” A few years later, whilst working at The Goose in Oxfordshire, he won his first Michelin star “by surprise,” followed by another shortly after at The Montagu Arms in Hampshire.
Now he has taken up a new post as The Hambrough’s executive chef – a move which he says feels right for so many reasons. “When I moved jobs last time it was nice to receive a few good luck messages, but it was nowhere near the outpouring I’ve received this time. There seems to be so much love for the place – The Hambrough, Ventnor, the Island – and so many people have a connection with it.” This even includes Matt’s girlfriend Alex, whose great-grandmother grew up here.
Matt has brought his clean and simple food style with him, described as modern British with some classical French influences and a hint of spice too. From the latest menu, you could opt for a slow-cooked red lentil dhal, spiced paneer and Isle of Wight tomato salad as a starter, followed by a roast rump of local lamb with rosemary fondant, potato spinach and Provençal courgettes for a main, rounded off by a pear sorbet and chilled Isle of Wight vodka to finish.
Joining Matt in the kitchen are local chef Craig (who returned from Warwickshire to work alongside him) and apprentice Franklin, as well as the warm and friendly front-of-house staff. “We’re a small team but they’re fantastic. They just want to look after people. When you arrive, they’ll give you a drink, take your coat, that’s all really important to me.”
This relaxed, informal style of hospitality and care for every diner is a key component of Matt’s approach and something he’ll never lose sight of. He still remembers with warmth his first big competition when Michel Roux Senior took the time to make him a coffee: “can you imagine how many people would make Michel Roux a coffee, and he’s there at the machine making us all coffees, and I just thought, yeah, that’s it, he’s being hospitable and he’s been successful doing it, you don’t have to sacrifice one to do the other.”
There are certainly exciting times ahead for Matt and The Hambrough; though his immediate focus is on understanding the clientele, discovering more local suppliers, and getting to know the Island better. “It’s devastatingly beautiful; like Chale, no matter how many times you go that way it always looks different, it’s probably my favourite view in the world.”
The Hambrough, Hambrough Road, Ventnor, Isle of Wight, PO38 1SQ
Words: James Rayner
Photography: Christian Warren