In the week that Ryde was awarded a share of the government’s High Streets Heritage Action Zone fund, we thought we’d visit the town and eat in one of its most venerable venues. We could, of course, have popped into Yelf’s Hotel. The hostelry undoubtedly counts as historic, having been warmly welcoming guests since around 1802. Fowlers, too, originates in the nineteenth century, but the current home of Wetherspoons is a facsimile of the original department store which was destroyed by fire in 1991.
We fancied somewhere a bit more prosaic. The Coffee Bean at Elizabeth Pack is no more, and the Wimpy is now ADA Mediterranean Kitchen. Tucked unassumingly next to the toy shop (itself established in 1955) is the Coffee Pot Snack Bar. This modest cafe celebrated its golden jubilee in 2018, so it has definitely earned its place as one of Ryde Leisure Strip’s more enduring businesses. The cafe must clearly be doing something right to survive its next-door-but-one neighbour the Marchesa Bar, which itself was preceded by the wonderful Liberty’s, the erstwhile home – as any Ryde gubber will tell you – of the Thumbs Up family restaurant.
It’s possible that some of the heritage bung from the government’s Magic Money Tree™ will be spent on restoring the town’s glorious Georgian facades and shop fronts. As laudable as this is, we must be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath water. The twentieth century exterior of the Coffee Pot, with its faded Pepsi branding and louvre windows, is as much a part of the street scene as the opulent Royal Victoria Arcade’s magnificent coat of arms.
We first reviewed the Coffee Pot back in 2008, eulogising about the cafe’s historical ambience, hearty fried breakfasts and sturdy meals. To be honest, little has changed. The half-height net curtains are still there. The laminated menu is almost the same; smashed avocado or granola are most definitely not on offer. Being the thorough archivists that we are, we have a copy of the menu from over a decade ago, and can tell you that the prices have gone up slightly – but that is only to be expected. There also seems to be an extra level of patina about the place; a smattering of dust and an intensity in the orangey pallor of the wooden walls but, other than that, it seemed to be very much business as usual.
The charming young chap at the counter breezily tried to upsell Cat a mug, rather than a cup of coffee, but when she caught a glimpse of the container of granules she declined. Trendy baristas have really spoiled her; instant just won’t cut it for her these days. Nonetheless, he made a frothy hat for the drink and she took her cup along with a mug of builder’s back to Matt at their streetside table.
We had a bit of time to people watch before our plates arrived. Scrambled eggs and toast for The Cat, which she pimped up with extra mushrooms. The eggs were pretty standard but the mushrooms were good; buttery and seasoned. Two rounds of toast were liberally spread with marge in the style of the last millennium.
King size breakfast £6
Scrambled egg and toast £2.70
Extra mushrooms £1
Mug of tea £1.50
Cup of coffee £1
Matt’s king size breakfast would, in a industrial-luxe hipster venue probably be called the royal brekkie, or some gender-non-specific term. Or maybe ‘dirty breakfast’, to use modern parlance. Whatevs. This was the king size and, for six quid, it was certainly impressive. Remarkably, just like our last visit all those years ago, the discs of fresh home-cooked bubble and squeak alternated with rings of black pudding and hash browns in a satisfying signature display of striation. This cheerful full English was a meal that Ryde’s flower children of 1968 would have enjoyed – fifty years on, the Coffee Pot hasn’t varied the winning formula.
There’s something pleasingly anachronistic about the Coffee Pot. It’s an increasingly rare and intact example of its genre; one that we hope won’t be too tittivated by the heritage grant. The cafe’s homely and unhurried atmosphere, matched with that pervasive smell of frying, make it the acme of vernacular dining. Heck, it even has shakers of white pepper on the tables.
To have survived so long on what is probably the most expensive shopping strip on the Island is testament to the fact the Coffee Pot is doing something right. Certainly the succession of regulars – some greeted by name – clearly love the place. Although maybe not one, who was asked ” How was that for you, John?” “It was horrible,” came the reply, “I’m not coming again.” Yet his smile told a different story – they knew he would. And so should we, maybe we won’t leave it eleven years next time.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.