Category: Local produce
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?
M&C visited the Priory Bay Hotel for the first time in September 2011. Unexpectedly, their conclusion back then was a less than ringing endorsement. They said "The meal satisfied the tongue, but didn’t stimulate the imagination. And when dining at this level - and at this cost - one should not be afraid to expect to come away amazed and intrigued."
Since then, there have been big changes behind the scenes. A new kid has appeared on the block - local man and ex-Noma alumnus Oliver Stephens - who is creating quite a buzz with his lively advocacy of foraged food and hyper-local ingredients. He has a flamboyant cooking style which Matt and Cat witnessed at a Red Funnel food show. As well as tempting the food theatre’s audience with his own pickled whelks, Stephens also cooked some locally-shot duck by pan-frying it, covering it in hay and bits of Christmas tree before setting light to the lot with a blowtorch. Judging by his impressively theatrical performance, Matt and Cat were keen to see if he'd ignited a fire under the Priory.
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.
If you are a contestant on one of the ceaseless merry-go-round of televised cookery shows, you must practise, practise, practise your recipe. It’s no good window-shopping the sexed-up photographs in a celebrity chef’s recipe book the night before and settling on salmon en croute, if you don’t know how to turn on your oven. Unless you're after some kind of pity vote.
Matt and Cat would never put themselves forward for Come Dine With Me; they are more than ready to acknowledge their culinary limitations. Sure they both have the ability to cook a meal - believe it or not they don’t eat out every day - but they are very modest about their efforts in the kitchen. Cat’s signature dish is poached egg on muffin and Matt can rustle up a passable spaghetti bolognese, but they rarely cook for others. Fortunately there are plenty of people on the Island who are delighted to share their culinary talents and charge accordingly, so why would M&C ever need to slave in front of their own stoves? Their continuing odyssey around the commercial eateries of the Isle of Wight makes their mealtimes more interesting.
And thus it was that Matt and Cat found themselves in Carisbrooke’s Café 44 one sunny autumn Sunday. The new proprietors at this prominent village eatery had been very proactive in encouraging Matt and Cat to revisit the café to see how they had changed things.
Matt and Cat’s lunch breaks are usually taken within a set radius from their Newport workplaces.
Their invisible umbilicus allows them to range to Olivo, French Franks and the Blue Door. Tugging a bit tighter on the string, they can make it to the Noodle Pot and even Original Phil’s. However, one day they decided to test its full extent and managed to get all the way to Pan before there was no more slack.
There may be some among you who hold an old-fashioned view about this vast housing estate. However, the area formerly known euphemistically as 'disadvantaged' is these days enjoying an unlikely mini-revival. Word had spread to Matt and Cat that a feature of Pan's new neighbourhood spirit is the social café in the portacabin known as the Isobel Centre. Now, some might baulk at venturing into Pan and seeking out a portacabin for lunch - if so, they should get over themselves. Matt and Cat make a point of discovering and enjoying the Island's good food, service and cooking wherever they can find it. Fancy restaurant and hotels certainly feature on that odyssey, but so do industrial cafés, burger vans and ice-cream kiosks. A big part of the fun is going to unlikely places and making unexpected discoveries. The Isobel Centre fulfils both those criteria.