The Foundation Bakery is the latest venue to jostle for a place in Newport’s crowded lunchtime market.
Just when things seemed to have reached a critical mass with the arrival of national coffee outlet Costa Coffee, and rumours of Subway's imminent arrival finally confirmed, the bakery too has opened its doors to those seeking light refreshments.
The café has taken shape inside a disused furniture store on the periphery of Newport's main drag. However, Matt and Cat aren’t necessarily seduced by a prime town centre location; some of the best places to eat are worth that extra step. Take the Isobel Centre; although it’s far from the beaten track in the heart of Pan, it's well worth the diversion. Similarly the John Cheverton Centre provides a tranquil spot for a light lunch and delicious cake. But what have these venues and the Foundation Bakery got in common that may help them keep buoyant in these uncertain times?
Unlike Newport's commercial lunchtime offers such as Matt and Cat's favoured haunt the Blue Door Café, the Issy, JC and Foundation Bakery are supported by public money, charitable donations or philanthropy. Most businesses can benefit from a financial leg-up (some of the Island's most prestigious venues have silent benefactors) and the charitable ones are, by their very nature, supported through the munificence of others. At both the Isobel and John Cheverton Centres, Matt and Cat have had the pleasure of being served homemade cake by charming volunteers in clean and pleasant surroundings. Would the Foundation Bakery be able to complete the hat trick?
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.
Matt and Cat love the Isle of Wight. They love its history, geology, landscape and wildlife. And of course the food. All of these things make it a great place to live and to visit. Almost everywhere you go you’ll see something that adds to its fabulousness.
Take the West Wight for example. It’s got a long-standing reputation for history and culture thanks to its most famous former resident, Victorian poet laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson. Then there’s some of the south coast’s most exciting geology: chines, landslips, chalk downland, coloured sands and the world famous Needles. Get up close and personal with the grassland on the heritage coast and you may be lucky enough to see a Glanville fritillary butterfly or a rare lichen. At night, once your eyes have adjusted to the spectacular dark skies, you can enjoy feeling insignificant as you gawp open-mouthed at the Milky Way. The Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty really is a constant delight. It’s easy to see why the this corner of the Island is so popular with visitors - the holiday camps scattered along the clifftop pay testament to this.
But time moves on and the holiday camps’ heyday has waned. Some local camps are now used for other things - such as Isle of Wight Pearl, which is based in a faded 1930s building, once the thriving Chilton Holiday Camp. With its curvy glass windows, bold architecture and views across the English Channel to Dorset, it's not hard to imagine what drew the ascetic citizens of inter-war years Britain to this remote spot to indulge their new enthusiasm for recreation, health and fitness.
Cat was born in Essex. Not quite within the sound of Bow Bells, but surely it makes her more of a Cockney than Sussex lad Matt?
Yet it’s been a while since she cavorted in the streets of Dagenham - Cat is now a confirmed Wightophile. But they say that you can’t take Essex out of the girl so Cat, in an attempt to introduce Matt to a bit of estuary culture, took him by the hand and led him on a mystery tour which started with a walk along Ryde seafront. There they admired the expanse of flat sands, home to a variety of edible shellfish, including the saucy-looking razor clam.
Onwards they went to Ryde Esplanade station. Here they could have swerved northwards and caught a ferry then a train to Rainham and purchased a punnet of cockles from a chirpy street vendor. But there is more to East End cliché than salty molluscs and pearly royalty.
Instead Matt and Cat climbed aboard the ex-London tube train and enjoyed a rattling journey southwards to Sandown station. By now Matt was seriously intrigued. The seaside town was his childhood home but he has no memories of eating winkles and jellied eels in the vicarage. These days one could be forgiven for imagining that Sandown's eating-out firmament is illuminated only by the singular but impossibly bright magnificence of the constant stream of celebrities and government ministers enjoying the facilities of Rapanui's eponymous coffee shop. But far from it. Sandown still has plenty else to offer, and in 2012 the new café at Sandown railway station was awarded an impressive third prize in the national Community Rail Awards Best Station/Train Retail Awards. So suddenly, the reason for Matt and Cat's culinary journey became clear. As the metaphorical steam from the engine cleared away, they spotted the sign for refreshments and Matt finally knew he’d been brought to the Larder and Pie House.
Unless it’s in the resort of Ryde, Sandown or Shanklin, any beach on the Isle of Wight usually earns the title of Locals’ Secret Location. This sobriquet is bandied around so often that one could assume that the majority of the Island’s coastline is a hidden gem. Which, to be honest, it probably is.
Matt and Cat have read national reviews of the "locals’ secret" Boathouse restaurant at Steephill Cove, they’ve eaten at The Priory Bay Hotel, with its secret private beach, and even well-publicised Barefoot on the Beach requires the surefootedness of a native guide as it's certainly tricky to find of an evening.
And so to locals’ secret location Bembridge Forelands. Last century, this wonderful place was the backdrop to childhood family trips on endless hot summer days for Matt and so many others. After filling his metal pail with rockpool treasures, he and his sandy-fingered siblings ate ice lollies bought from the beachside kiosk. Fast forward forty years and the pleasures of Bembridge Ledges remain as delightfully unsophisticated. In order to get the true locals’ off-season experience Matt and Cat made it their mission to spend a bracing November morning playing along the beautiful beach collecting fossils and a progress-inhibiting amount of clay on their wellies, before seeking lunch at the beach kiosk's successor: the Beach Hut.