This is an archive review. The Coffee Bean is now closed (but the shop is still open). You may have seen them on the...

This is an archive review. The Coffee Bean is now closed (but the shop is still open).

Tea cake and tea

You may have seen them on the streets: people that seem to have given up before they’ve begun. Slobbing around in their onesies and slippers – garments that should only be worn (if they must) within the privacy of one’s home.

Celebrated romantic Barbara Cartland; prolific author, campaigner and ‘pink crusader‘ would have undoubtedly rolled her heavily-mascaraed eyes at this relaxing of standards. The indomitable dame was an unmissable feature on the landscape of the twentieth century. She monopolised the world of romantic fiction, selling a (disputed) billion copies of her books. As one of 1920s society’s Bright Young People, she received countless marriage proposals. She was a champion of sustainability – recycling wedding dresses for forces brides over half a century before EcoIsland had been invented. In the final years of her life the grand dame’s star was fading but undiminished. Determined to keep up appearances, she always wore her trademark pink froufrou and lashings of make-up, which one wit described as ‘cruelty without beauty’. However, she wasn’t just a caricature; she kept her eye on the ball and had a reputation for being razor sharp to the end.

Ryde’s Elizabeth Pack department store seems to have held a position in sartorial society similar to that of the formidable dame. Founded and developed from various respected Island retailers, the existing incarnation opened in 1987 with the laudable aim of continuing the standards established by its owner Elizabeth Barrow: standards that go back to before the Second World War. But just because it’s old, and – like the novelist’s – its exterior has succumbed to the ravages of time, the store’s not yet turned up its toes.

Tea cake and tea

Matt and Cat arranged to meet some friends in the Coffee Bean, the department store’s little first floor café. Tripping up the slightly uneven staircase, they paused on the landing to look at the voguing mannequins. Like Barbara Cartland’s ill-concealed sticking plaster facelift, these models were trying their best to maintain their looks in the face of younger, less brittle ladies.

Matt and Cat’s bill
Teacake and tea @ £2

It’s probable that the decor in the coffee shop started as cutting-edge modern, slinked into a period of being unfashionably-dated and has emerged as bang-on trend vintage. The tiled walls scintillate with a vast groovy radial pattern and local scenes have been wrought in chunky palette knife oils. Like the furniture, the food offering has probably remained unchanged for years – but if a thing ain’t broke, why fix it?

Matt and Cat were taken with the Coffee Bean’s simple honesty with its ‘Heinz soup of the day’ and cheese-dominated menu featuring ‘cheese and chut’ (chutney) and the rather more opaque ‘cheese and pine’ (pineapple?). As keen as Matt is on cheese, they were here for one thing only – the inviting daily special: a toasted tea cake and tea for £2. There will always be little old ladies who need a sit down and a nice cup of tea and Cat was no exception.

A suite of stainless steel vessels was delivered to the table: teapot, milk jug, sugar bowls (brown and white) and extra hot water, natch. Cat could hear the toaster ejaculating its cargo of bisected teacake and in a moment the hot bun was placed in front of her with a couple of pats of soft butter. Matt and their friends had the same and soon all were nibbling – or in the case of Matt, chomping – on their warmed cakes. The tea was good and, with the extra hot water, they wrung the pot out for several cups each as they caught up on the latest Ryde news, as countless other people will have done over the years in the same venue.

And what about the clothes? Pack’s has reputation for being the place to go to for event outfits but it’s not all shimmering boleros and mother-of-the-bride ensembles. Remarkably, Cat spotted a pair of boots identical to some she had ordered online; they were cheaper and without the exorbitant postage. If she’d stayed true to her shop local credit crunch philosophy, she could have bought them on in Pack’s. Dame Barbara would have applauded her style and thriftiness.

This is an archive review. The Coffee Bean is now closed (but the shop is still open).