Last Sunday Matt had his mainlander parents to entertain; plus young Bill and the ever-present Cat twining around his legs. There were too many of them to squeeze into the car and drive to Fields for Sunday lunch so they decided to stroll along Ryde prom and see which venue could accommodate them all.
Cat’s freckly skin does not mix well with the summer sun. She was keen to take advantage of the unexpectedly clement autumn weather and get her bingo wings out without out fear of second-degree burns. So, off they all sauntered in best Sunday bimbling mode, passed children on stabilised bikes and in the incidental company of several dogs.
The upper storeys of the Seashell Cafe were closed and the only available table outside was next to a geriatric man singing karaoke. Nearby most of Ryde’s smokers were enjoying the last of the mild days before they were condemned to suck their poison in the chill winds of winter. It was great to see the seafront so well-used, but it also did not bode well for finding somewhere for lunch. Would the gang of five have to walk to Seaview before they could find room at the inn? Or would a kindly beach hut owner brew up a Pot Noodle for them to share?
Eagle-eyed readers just by reading the title of this review will know that of course the walkers did indeed find succour. For the less attentive, the next venue that Matt and Cat encountered was the Dell Café, previously known as Jill’s Pantry. This unimaginatively designed building is in an absolutely fabulous spot. With no direct access by car, patient walkers are rewarded with a view across the protected zostera beds to Ryde’s famous pier and northwards to Hampshire’s south coast. For those unable to manage the relatively flat walk from Appley car park there’s usually a space at Puckpool Battery.
The patio had just one free table when the party arrived, but that was all they needed. However, they did not particularly need the meal remnants of the previous occupants and Cat, under the supervision of Matt’s mother, clucked about; piling up the debris and fishing discarded crockery from the table and environs. It appeared that the table’s last incumbents had carried out their own makeshift tidying by bunging all the stuff they’d found on the table behind a nearby wall and out of sight. Eventually a waitress turned up with a tray and, after three trips, had cleared all of the plates and cups. Encouraged to bring a wet cloth, she disconsolately flicked all of the remaining food onto the floor, presumably for the dogs, gulls and other scavengers to enjoy later.
With one menu between them Matt and Cat and the rest of the family poured over it intently. By now it was two o’clock and there was still a big queue for food so, having chosen, they sent the most stoic member of the team to place the order. He came back about ten minutes later. Having arrived at the front of the queue he found that the café did not take plastic. Purses were snapped open and folding money was gathered and passed over to Norman who once again took his position at the back of the queue.
Ten minutes later he returned once more. The kitchen, it seemed, had run out of Stilton. this was not necessarily a surprise at the café was extraordinarily busy. But it was a problem as more than half of the party had ordered the tasty-sounding bacon, Stilton and cranberry ciabatta. With the revised selections scribbled on a piece of paper and his fist still full of sterling, it was third time lucky.
By now, the heat of the walk waning, Cat’s bingo wings were getting goose pimples and, spotting a table indoors, she requested that the party reconvene in the shelter of the flat-roofed construction. And so in they trooped, only to sit at yet another table piled up with leftovers, including discarded tissues. Half of the stuff was cleared away, and the table did not need to cower in fear of The Damp Cloth as that had obviously finished its shift. So, using the provided tissues – there were no napkins – Matt’s mum pushed the crumbs about and left the screwed up tissue on the table for lack of anywhere else to put it. When the food arrived the matriarch of the party marched purposefully off in search of cutlery. There was none. Apparently it was all waiting to be washed and she was informed that the kitchen staff would clean some presently. This was indeed that case and dripping utensils were placed in a heap on the table. Strictly, the staff had promised to wash the cutlery, but not to dry it. Fortunately the box of tissues was not depleted so all wiped their fighting-irons dry and commenced the business of eating.
After such a protected and dysfunctional rigmarole to actually obtain food, the party was close to exasperation. Thankfully the food proved to be lovely and, apart from a tale about a balloon, the hungry walkers were disinclined to chat as they munched through the delicious meals.
Cat had a chicken Caesar wrap and Matt had beef pastrami in his ciabatta. All of the dishes came with a good helping of salad, home-made coleslaw, a slice of orange and either vegetable crisps or tortillas. The wrap was nice and soft and stuffed with the perfect Caesar ingredients including a splendid garlicky dressing. The ciabatta was crisp, fresh, and packed with decent meat and tangy rocket. The others nodded their accord: the food was very good.
Minghella ice creams for pudding finished off Sunday lunch at the Dell Café. Obviously the venue is a success, and not due entirely to its spectacular view. The food is great and there is an excellent choice of light meals and a few specials. It’s particularly commendable that this café rejects the typical seaside caff image and serves creative, fresh food that should tempt anybody. On past visits at less busy times M&C have had the same quality stuff from the kitchen, and not had so much trouble with the service. However, this time the service was exceptionally bad. The tables were either not cleared at all, or half-heartedly so. Though the plates dumped behind the wall can’t really be blamed on the café’s staff, those plates shouldn’t really have been left on the table in the first place. That and the pile of wet cutlery were just embarrassing. The experience reminded Cat of the recent visit to Granny Winter’s Pantry and the subsequent comment by Ellen, who implored, “It isn’t their fault that they are constantly rushed off their feet with customers to not have the time to constantly clean cutlery.” Matt and Cat can’t support this view. Having clean tables and cutlery is not incidental to the business of a café, it’s a fundamental part of it. The Dell would be recommended by Matt and Cat if it wasn’t for the lacklustre table hygiene.
Disclosure: Matt has a professional involvement in the management of the surrounding park – but is not connected to the management of the café.
Dell Café, Puckpool