Guinness World Records is an astonishing institution. Under what other circumstances would the oldest ever person, the world's longest human nose and Norma Stitz's ...ahem... assets appear in the same publication?
And how about that perennial favourite world record: how many women can be squeezed into a Mini? What do you think the record is? Five? Ten? Surely no more than that? Well, if you imagine that the Mini is Newport, and the women are coffee shops, how many do you think now?*
With the opening of Starbucks last year Matt and Cat thought the town must've reached peak café. But no. Subway, Nosh, and others have arrived on the scene since then. Only this week the Foundation Bakery re-opened its doors, and still Newport's bulging coffee sack hasn't burst open at the seams. Even the Island's very own UKIP councillor is suggesting that the council should address its £23-million pound deficit with a coffee shop of its own. Nobody is holding their breaths for that. Meanwhile Skintrade, the venerable trendy clothes shop in Newport's St Thomas Square, has diversified into coffee. Matt and Cat climbed the steep winding stairs to the appropriately stylish little café upstairs, and found a sunny world of stripped pine, pews and vintage furniture with great views over the minster and square.
Has anyone opened a café recently that isn't vintage-themed? Is there actually any room in the market for a place where you can just eat a cheese sandwich and not have to be reminded of the joys of rationing, ersatz coffee and lend-lease bacon? Well, of course the answer is yes, and there are plenty. But 1940s nostalgia is most definitely the thing these days, so it is perhaps not surprising that wartime décor is to today's cafés as 1950s American diner-style was to those of the 1990s.
Violet's 1940's café has perhaps more of a justification for this theme than some others as it is set in the heart of Northwood's Conflict History and Remembrance Museum: C.H.A.R.M. This museum is in the process of being assembled, and at the moment its acronym can only be ironic. Visually, the outside of the museum is a windswept yard surrounded by blank industrial units, an array of abandoned caravans and a smattering of military vehicles in various states of restoration. The vehicles are actually a pretty interesting spectacle, but they provide a curious backdrop to lunch.
A Frequently Asked Question of Matt and Cat is 'are you guys really fat?'. Another question in the top ten would be 'where's the best place to eat?'. That question is much harder to answer than the first (which, by the way, is dodged by the statement 'Cat is not a guy').
The best place on the Island to eat depends on many factors: budget, tastes, company and occasion. For example, Matt and Cat would not recommend the same venue to a lively hen night (Moo Cow) as to a family on a budget looking for somewhere to celebrate an elderly lady's birthday (Appley Manor). It should go without saying that a children's party venue has different requirements to a romantic supper for two.
Ahh, a romantic supper for two... As it happens Love is in the Air (according to Clintons), as this review was written just before St Valentine's Day. Militant singletons may sneer at this contrived celebration of love and romance, yet it still must be one of the busiest days in the restaurant calendar. As Dry January putters to a welcome end and pay day has sorted out the worst of the Christmas overspend, people are emerging from their slankets, blinking into the light and going out for dinner.
Matt and Cat, by dint of this website, have enjoyed many, MANY dinners for two and have been making personal Valentine supper recommendations for weeks now, via Twitter, Facebook, emails and even word of mouth. This review was intended to be of the acme of all dinners, where the boat is well and truly pushed out to impress a loved one (or soon-to-be loved one if the protagonist plays his/her cards right). However, the Royal Hotel was booked up for dinner so, M&C decided to have afternoon tea there instead.
For a county with nearly seventy miles of coastline, there are surprisingly few venues with a sea view. Pretty much the whole of the south west coastline has nowhere punters can enjoy a bite to eat and a glass of something stimulating while contemplating the English Channel. Even the Island's northern shores have a dearth of coastal venues apart from a few isolated cafes and a prestigious hotel here and there.
If you want a guaranteed sight of the sea while you enjoy your supper you're best off heading eastside. In the olden days, Sandown and Shanklin were neighbouring resorts but the marketeers have conflated and rebranded the Island's favourite bucket-and-spade coastline as The Bay. Despite this arguably misguided attempt to put the sizzle in these venerable resorts' sausage, the beaches remain beautifully sandy and, sure as eggs is eggs, the tide continues to ebb and flow.
Like Sandown, Shanklin is a town of several parts - a high street elevated from the shore and an esplanade with typical seaside amenities and hotels. Shanklin also has the picturesque Old Village and the wonderful Chine, not to mention its very own Elvis Presley memorial.
Matt and Cat caught up with some old colleagues in the Waterfront Inn. With the lights of distant boats twinkling on the horizon, M&C and friends had dinner and a good old gossip. The Waterfront Inn has recently had a change of management. Has anything else altered in this popular eatery?
Remember those days when pubs were just places where we went to drink? A yellowing venue with a dart board, as much passive smoking as your heart and lungs could bear and, on his stool, a resident 'old boy'. The only pub grub was a packet of salted peanuts tugged from a card display, behind which was a picture of tousle-haired woman in a skimpy bikini.
If you search far enough it is still possible to find a good old-fashioned pub. Similarly, there are still some greasy spoon cafés around. This cousin of the boozer is often found in the vicinity of light industry, as evidenced by Matt and Cat's choices, Richies Diner and Tumblers. In their own manor, the rather hyperbolically-named Monkton Village, is the Happy Chef.