Has Newport reached ‘peak coffee shop’? Back in 2015 we wondered this in our review of the then brand-new Coffee Room at Skintrade. People probably asked the same question when the venerable God’s Providence House opened its doors back in the last century – yet seemingly the demand for a nice cuppa and a sit down remains unsated.
While not a new name in Newport’s crowded coffee market, Caffe Isola has moved from its modest home in Scarrott’s Lane to a shiny new temple to the roasted bean in the old Beavis shop at the rapidly gentrifying Node Hill. At its original venue the cafe served decent coffee and light bites for the lunchtime crowd. But could there really be enough business in peddling paninis and flat whites to justify this fantastic investment?
We watched with interest the many months of activity at this former chapel. And when we first went to the new Caffe Isola in the week it opened it was unbelievably busy. People were keen to see what had been under those wraps for so many months.
The paper had finally came off the windows, the doors were opened, and it revealed a magnificent and sympathetic conversion. There’s not much sign of Beavis left, not even the central staircase; instead the erstwhile place of worship has come to the fore, and God’s name is coffee. The venue takes its visual cues from the many hipster coffee shops on the mainland, with its hard surfaces, filament lightbulbs and utilitarian furniture. And rightly so – this is a successful formula, popular with patrons the world over. We joined the punters gaping at the high ceiling, glass-fronted mezzanine and hexagonal floor tiles laid in a pleasingly haphazard way around the vast counter. We had a coffee, vowing to revisit once the honeymoon period was over.
Three months in, and the initial surge of enthusiasm has not abated so much as grown. It cannot be overstated how popular this venue is; we’ve been thwarted a few times in attempts to find a table but, at last we had success – and then only just. A major draw is the coffee, of course. Using its own small batch Island Roasted blend, Isola is justly celebrated for some of the best coffee on the Island.
The popularity of the place shows in its staffing; a host of cheerful people are behind the counter, preparing meals, brewing hot drinks and taking orders. Out front too, there is much activity. Our table was cleared three times during our stay and the service was prompt, bright and efficient throughout. This is a lesson which should be noted carefully by some other Island venues which encounter the inconvenience of large numbers of customers.
From the specials board Cat chose ham, smoked cheese and garlic mushrooms. She went off-menu, preferring a wrap instead of a panini. In return Caffe Isola went off-menu and Cat had to substitute garlic mushrooms for roasted vegetables as there had been an unprecedented run on this sarnie. Shame, as it was the garlic mushrooms that had caught her eye. The wrap was pretty small, but well-filled; the smoky cheese and caramelised onion were highlights, complimenting each other well. The scattering of vegetable crisps and salad garnish looked a bit lost on the long plate, but the honey and mustard dressing perked up what there was.
Avocado and chicken sandwich £6.50
Ham and cheese wrap £6.50
Pot of tea £2.20
Bakewell tart £2.90
Caramel slice £2.60
Matt ordered the other special: chicken, avocado and tomato doorstep sandwich, with the same garnish as the wrap. It didn’t help that the scantily-dressed avocado was unripe and woody, and the big tomato chunks made the butty fall apart – perhaps slices would’ve been better. Yes, it was a satisfactory sandwich, but only that. A few years ago such a presentation would have caused excitement. Since One Holyrood arrived on the scene, this is entry-level for lunches. The bar is set higher than Isola is aiming.
Cake came next, and this is where Isola has really got something going for it. Somehow this felt like the right thing to be doing in this glorious venue – and the broad range of cakes to choose from were reassuringly good. Matt’s toffee slice was a delightfully soft and sticky rendition of the teatime classic. Cat, who loves a Bakewell, couldn’t get enough of her sweet almond tartlet, with its decent strata of jam.
The gentrification of Node Hill is a real thing, people. With the Tony Trowbridge artwork adorning the fronts of several independent retailers and the addition of Island Roasted’s flagship coffee shop, this little enclave of Newport’s shopping constellation is offering an alternative to the nearby chain stores of ‘towny central’. Since the day it opened its doors, Caffe Isola has been packing them in; mums with pushchairs, pensioners scanning their Facebook feeds and folks popping in for a takeaway butty. Clearly the demand for coffee in Newport has not yet reached its acme – and the upgraded Caffe Isola adds to the ever-improving choice of the town’s lunchtime venues.
- Decent coffee
- Good cakes
- Accessible venue, suitable for wheeled users
- Can be hard to get a table at busy times...
- ...which means it can get pretty noisy!