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?
Think back to your childhood, and one of those family days out to meet the relatives. If you're anything like Matt and Cat, such a visit would have either been the best thing ever, or a dismal chore that nobody looked forward to. Some relatives always seemed to be worth the journey - others you just knew would be a bore.
That's the way it is with re-reviews, too. Matt and Cat have been buzzing around commenting on their dinners since 2005, and so some of their reviews are admittedly a bit long in the tooth. But there are a few that just keep on getting put off. Falling into this category is the Hare and Hounds. A big family dining pub, at a focal location, the place should have everything going for it. On top of that, it was a venue with good memories for Matt, who spent happy teenage evenings propping up the bar and sipping daringly on Watney's Red Barrel. When they first reviewed it back in 2007, Matt and Cat found the Hare and Hounds to be satisfactory, if uninspiring.
In subsequent years, comments on their review showed a consistent rising tide of disapproval - remarks such as "the worst the Island has to offer"; "VILE"; and "AVOID AT ALL COSTS!" Even stalwart commenter da yw wyth - normally the most temperate of critics - was moved to say "the main let-down was the food itself". It was perhaps to be expected then, that Matt and Cat somehow didn't get around to making a revisit themselves. Clearly things were not going well at the Hare and Hounds, and it was no surprise when it closed down in late 2012 for a major refurbishment. But what would the new incarnation be? Could hospitality behemoth Greene King turn the pub around? Soon after it reopened, a few comments seemed to suggest that it had - and da yw wyth said "the refurbishment certainly has made a gigantic difference!" That was enough for M&C, and they were finally galvanised to make that long overdue revisit to the Island's highest pub.
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.
Even the most casual reader of this website can’t fail to have noticed that Matt likes a fry-up.
Cat will, if pressed, eventually confess to being partial to a cooked breakfast - usually a bespoke combination of eggs and mushrooms with, occasionally, some bacon added for valuable protein - not just, you understand, because everything is improved with the application of bacon (go on, think of something that wouldn’t be better with a rasher).
On hearing that Joyce’s Café, Newport was under new management, Matt and Cat gathered a couple of friends one lunchtime with the lure of a traditional 'greasy spoon'. It’s probably not by chance that the people that M&C like to hang out with are partial to a full English, so they didn’t take much persuading.
But things had changed down Scarrot's Lane. When Matt and Cat's party of four stepped over the threshold of Newport Café, they were greeted by a very friendly man who proceeded to tell them all about the homemade soup of the day, and marinated chicken that he was intending to serve up in a bap. This piqued their interest. It was quite a change from the decent, but strictly transport-café style of the previous establishment.