God’s Providence House is in a fine old building in the heart of Newport.
This beautiful and historic tea room has since the dawn of time run on the most traditional lines, and evokes a feeling almost of time travel. One can imagine oneself taking refreshment in a more genteel era; of tweed and hat-wearing men, powdered ladies with patent leather handbags and everyone smoking. Although many people would love England – and especially the Isle of Wight – to return to some imagined ‘good old days’, the irreversible passage of time makes this unlikely. But at least one can still sample that old-style ambience in a few places such as God’s Providence House.
One Saturday morning in early Spring, Matt and Cat were shopping in Newport and looking for a place for breakfast. They were keen to try the new Metro café in South Street, but it was rammed, and so on they went to the always-welcoming doors of God’s Providence.
The old building retains an intimate interior; a series of little rooms suggest that this was once a home, although the original house was all but destroyed by fire in 1699. Matt and Cat made their way to the same window seat they’d enjoyed in 2005 and again in 2009 when they last reviewed this perennial feature of Newport’s vibrant tea-shop scene. Since then the venerable establishment has been taken over by the Crawley family, including yet another Royal Hotel alumnus, chef David Crawley. They’ve wisely made few overt changes to the classic formula of God’s Providence, although Matt and Cat detected a change of focus – the service was informal, and the menu was shorter, more focussed and definitely more up-to-date, with proper vegetarian options and some attractive home-made lunches.
Expecting the traditional pinnied waitress to approach deferentially, M&C were surprised when the manager himself strolled over and jauntily asked if he could get some drinks for ‘you guys’. Well, sure, dude, why not? But hold on, this is God’s Providence! What happened to ‘Sir’ and ‘Madam’? Matt and Cat wondered if the new team were playing with fire here – after all, the unique and powerful brand of God’s Prov is definitely the old school look and feel of the place. If that goes, then will it have what it takes to stand out in a crowded market? Whilst the waitresses were still clad in the familiar black and white, the manager wasn’t. Still, maybe even God’s Providence must move with the times. And if the service wasn’t quite Downton Abbey, it was fast and friendly, which is far more important. Only a few moments after ordering it, Matt and Cat had tea and orange juice to sup whilst waiting for their breakfast.
There is a great deal to be said about the service of the tea at GPH that other establishments would be well-advised to note. Loose-leaf tea is presented in a china pot; cups and saucers, a jug of milk and an extra jug of hot water and tea strainer completed the tea set. Like the Japanese, for the English a cup of tea can be a ritual process as well as an end result. Neither are enhanced by wrestling with a carton of UHT milk and the indignity of stirring said beverage with a plastic spatula. For the tea alone, God’s Providence House gets a big thumbs up: this was amongst the best cups of tea to be had on the whole Island – and at a reasonable price too.
Full English £6.00
Scrambled egg on toast £4.75
Extra mushroom 50p
Tea for one £1.65
Orange juice £1.50
The breakfasts were impressive – very impressive, in fact. Both featured a huge portabello mushroom, cooked in the magical way that gives it a tiny bit of crispiness and flavour, without any hint of wateriness. How do they do that? Goodness only knows. But Cat knew that it was worth the extra 50p she’d paid to go off-menu and have a mushroom with her scrambled egg on toast. Matt’s full English was just as good. He didn’t even need to swap the beans, because there were none. The tomatoes were freshly fried, and like the mushroom, perfect. A tasty sausage, some bacon with just the right hint of browning at the edge… it all worked remarkably well. If the butter (which was correctly served at room temperature) had been in a little dish and not prewrapped in foil, it would have been a breakfast worthy of the best hotel.
A bit later in the day, Matt and Cat would undoubtedly have been taking a look at the very impressive cake cabinet – some really tempting cakes, tarts and other dessert concoctions dwelt within but, at breakfast time, they were just going to have to stay there. The reviewers were pleased by the revived God’s Providence: the new brooms have certainly made their mark, with some impressive food from a choice menu. The word is that the Crawleys are planning to open God’s Providence in the evening in due course – Matt and Cat predict that if this can be done without compromising the unique heritage of the existing venue, it could be a success.
God’s Providence House, Newport