If you're hungry for lunch and in Newport you're probably in the right place.
From traditional cafés like one-of-a-kind Chapel Coffee Lounge to international identikit fast food franchises, the town has a good range of offerings. Admittedly, in the evening the choice is a bit slimmer, but for the busy shopper or office drone Newport's rarely a let-down for a mid-day repast. If, like Matt and Cat, you'd built up a substantial appetite staggering blank-eyed round the post-Christmas sales in an attempt to shake off the festive cabin fever, you could eat at dozens of revitalising places, each with its own personality.
And of those many lunching-places, none is more central than the Blue Door, located in the shadow of the Victoria memorial in the very middle of town. Most of the year, this busy corner has a little group of tables outside, where Matt and Cat often while away a happy lunchbreak in the sun, watching the world go by and almost invariably passing the time with someone they know. Such is Island life.
It comes to something when the first frost of the winter is in the second week of the new year.
But it was on a cold January morning that Matt and Cat first had to scrape the ice off the car before setting off to work. Still, a year ago they were digging the same car out of the snow with a shovel, so in some ways things have changed. But these days of cold seemed almost welcome after so much unseasonably mild, damp weather in midwinter. Wandering the streets of Cowes, which looked unexpectedly empty even for January, those hardy souls who had braved the chill wind were well wrapped up. There was even one boat crew passing by, dressed impressively in full foul-weather gear and looking suitably grizzled.
On the hunt for a warming lunch, Matt and Cat spotted the bright little frontage of Sails Café, and, perhaps more pertinently, the promise of home-made beef stew and dumplings on the specials board outside. It provoked a minor outburst from Matt, bemoaning the decline of the traditional suet dumpling. A forkful of stolid, hearty dumpling is to his vicarage-raised palette the acme of accompaniments to a winter stew. A crusty baguette, a floury bap or even a toasted brioche can only ever be a disappointing also-ran in any comparison. Sadly, such substitutions are common. Rarely does a stew with dumplings get top billing - if stewed beef is to be served with anything, it is perhaps most commonly served in a pie, and even then the accompaniment is sometimes just a flimsy hat of puff-pastry. Sails Café, by contrast, was keeping the dumpling faith. Such stoicism earned it Matt and Cat’s lunchtime custom.
Years ago, Matt and Cat had a very enjoyable visit to Lizzie's Diner, an old skool café set in a windowless industrial unit in Lake's old fridge factory.
The experience was pretty good - in fact, they described the place as "a perfect example of the genre at its finest". Even fussy Cat, who usually disapproves of so-called 'greasy-spoon' food, was pleased with her lunch there (a mushroom omelette, pictured below).
Since then, Lizzie's Diner has been reborn, occupying a bigger unit with a major new feature - windows! Proprietors Anna and Ritchie Newton wrote to Matt and Cat in 2010 and explained: Not only do we have beautiful new premises with windows but we have also taken the opportunity to finally, after 4 years hard work, let Ritchie have his name above the door. The Diner is now renamed 'Ritchies Diner'.
Now, in some idle discussion on Twitter, Matt, a notorious vegesceptic, was challenged to eat a meat-free breakfast by two of his vegetarian friends, @MattdaWhittaker and @MintyMat. Observant readers will notice that all these three chaps are called Mat(t). They issued an invitation to all other Island folk called Matt to join them. A number of applicants were rejected for quite obviously not being called Matt. Filtering out the non-Matts with this sole yet rigidly-applied criteria, there was a trio of genuine Matts present at the inaugural Matts' Meat-free Morning.
It may be the depths of winter now, but imagine the scene: having spent all day on the beach during a rare hot August Bank Holiday, a day-tripping family tidies up their detritus.
Nan is levered out of the deckchair and Dad bounces assiduously on the hissing inflatable banana until it slowly goes flaccid and is packed away. Struggling back up the hill, the whining kids, piebald with suncream, are famished from a long day of throwing sand at each other, and Mum’s thinking with little relish about the prospect of heating up tomato soup on the Camping Gaz stove. Just then, a fish and chip shop comes into view, the tempting aroma of hot oil wafting across the pavement and drawing the hapless tourists unresistingly inside.
If our hypothetical hungry family is in Ryde, they’d do well to stop at the first chippy near Appley beach, Monkton Village’s Chipmunks. Matt and Cat have reviewed that venue favourably, but it is only one of several contenders in the town. The family could maybe step a bit further west. No, no, not to the Codfather, slightly south west and up the hill to Wights. Although a tad more than a hop, skip and jump from the beach, this chippy is well-placed at the junction of Ryde’s precinct, near a pub, cinema and bingo hall - perfect for passing hot-snack-hunters. And so it was that Wights was Matt and Cat’s chosen venue for a fish and chip supper with a visiting relative from London.
This is a collection of short reviews of Matt and Cat's Christmas meals throughout December 2011.
See our conclusions and recommendations at the end of this article. We’ll be giving out some awards, too:
- Best value Christmas night out
- Best Christmas food
- Top service at Christmas
- Most festive atmosphere
- Overall best Christmas dinner
For a heterogeneous bunch of diners, it seems that curry is becoming a popular alternative to turkey as a Christmas dinner. Matt and Cat joined such a group in Ryde’s Cinnamon restaurant to enjoy their third seasonal spicefest. They were, surprisingly, almost the only diners there that night, which was probably a good thing given the size and liveliness of the party.