Although there are a couple of pretty fine restaurants in town, Newport's food offering is primarily geared towards lunches.
From about midday, office workers can be found insouciantly perusing the menu in Olivo in the way that only those with more than the statutory half an hour break can afford to do. Those who have to cram in a visit to the post office and, consequently, only have a few moments to actually refuel, may snatch a filled 'sub' or prepackaged sarnie from various retailers. For a sit-down lunch, the choice of sandwich bars, coffee vendors and traditional cafes is pretty comprehensive. On a warm day, if you can bagsy one of the benches by the church or in St James' Square, you should purchase one of the more unconventional hot grub offerings to eat al fresco. Much has been said about Noodle Pot - including fresh, tasty and excellent value. Now, these words can also be used to sum up the new kid in town: Seafood Corner.
The people who have been dishing up fried fish at Ventnor Fishery and latterly the mobile Crab on Chips wagon have now opened a permanent base in Newport, in a very prominent corner of St Thomas Square. Without resorting to clever fish-related puns like most jolly fryers, Seafood Corner has gone for the obvious. It sells seafood in a corner shop - 'nuff said.
Matt and Cat are well-known to the staff and management of Ryde Thai, and their enthusiasm for its previous incarnation in Seaview, the now-closed Khrua Thai, is well documented. At their very first visit way back in 2009 Matt and Cat famously ate the wonderful 'Set Menu B' and said of it "the food itself was faultless, and the service charming. Its extraordinary alchemy of tastes and textures was a pleasure to eat". Since then, Matt and Cat have had family dinners, takeaways and even birthday parties to the taste of this great Thai food. And, like a great many regular customers, have become friends of the management and staff. So they could hardly be their usual impartial selves.
As is occasionally their habit they sent trustworthy but unknown agents instead. This time it was local writer Emma Brown and her husband Stephen. Matt and Cat promised to publish Emma's unexpurgated views, both praise and criticism. So read on to see what Emma made of Ryde Thai, before seeing Matt and Cat's own conclusions at the end.
I'd been following the transformation of Khrua Thai in Seaview to Ryde Thai quite closely, especially after they caused a bit of a stir when their new cooker got stuck in the door. Not being a resident of Ryde, I wasn't sure where they had moved to so checked their website but unfortunately it hasn't been updated and states that they're still based in Seaview. Google soon assured me that they can now be found at the bottom end of Union Street so I booked for us to go on the day after Valentine's Day.
When Sandown boy Matt worked in the Fens he was struck by three things: the searingly cold easterly wind, the uncanny flatness of the countryside and the dialect.
He learnt how to stoke up a woodburner, heard the legend of Ol? Shuck and updated his vocabulary with words including 'clunch' and ?docky?. The docky hut was a shed with runners that was dragged about the fields and parked up to provide a temporary shelter for men to eat their lunch - or 'docky'.
It is entirely right that something as important as lunch has its own local word, and on the Isle of Wight docky is called nammet. In 2013 a new restaurant appeared in Shanklin calling itself - with commendable local distinctiveness - Fine Nammet. It goes without saying that to wear such a name with honour, Fine Nammet would need to be a cut above your average cheese sarnie.
It?s amazing how many people think that they are a ?natural? at something. For every warbling show-off who imagines that their dreary back-story and falsetto interpretation of ?Oops I Did It Again? on Britain?s Got Asthma is the route to instant glory, there are thousands of people who know that hard work and a decent education are truly the key to long-term rewards.
Matt and Cat have from time to time visited restaurants and been served by uninterested children without the wherewithal to even make eye contact. And do you know why? It?s because people imagine that hospitality work is that which any fule can do. Well it isn?t. Like being a successful pop star, it takes training and guidance and mentoring and on-the-job experience.
Having had a fabulous Sunday lunch at the award-winning Isle of Wight College-based UKSA Essential Marine Hospitality kitchen, Matt and Cat were keen to see to see where other fledgling chefs, servers and restaurateurs learn their craft. As it happens, the hospitality trainees at the Isle of Wight College need to have people to practice their craft on, and some friends had invited Matt and Cat to join them for dinner there. So it was back to the college, this time to the student-run restaurant.
Back in the day a handy man named Phil refurbished a greasy spoon called Top of the Town. He was so pleased with his work that he took over the venue and named it after himself, and thus Original Phil's was born.
There was the possibility that Phil donned his pinny and was flipping burgers at an early stage in the career of his eponymous restaurant, but if so, he didn't hang around for long. After several iterations, in summer 2013 the café was once more reborn with new management and high aspirations. This can only be a good thing: Original Phil's for some years featured as one of Matt and Cat's top recommendations, but had got bit less original of late.
New people full of energy and excitement could be just the thing to put some fizz back into Original Phil's soda, some sizzle into his sausage and insert some meat between his buns. Or something. Anyway, the new brooms' bold claim, "We are upping the game with uniformed table service, fresh hand-made burgers with real steak every day" strongly suggested that, while Cat was picking through some lunchtime lettuce somewhere, Matt should go and put the diner to the test.