Matt and Cat have been part of the Isle of Wight community for many years even if they can’t boast actual Caulkhead status. As taxpayers, voters and residents however, they like to think that they are nonetheless entitled to comment on local matters – not just the food. And their simple message to Sandown is this: you can do it.
Not that long ago, Ventnor was in the doldrums; it had ruinous shops and tired venues struggling to survive at the arse-end of the Island. However, what it did have was a fabulous beach. With a bit of tender love and cash, the town reversed its decline and now has a vibrant arts scene, plenty of decent restaurants and, of course, that wonderful beach.
There has been much said about Sandown by ‘miserable, whining tightwads‘, about how the council should do more to help this impoverished town. Of course an injection of moolah could do wonders – how couldn’t it? However, like pioneering Ventnor, maybe Sandown could take matters into its own hands. The town has recently been fly-posted by an anonymous campaigner who, by dint of their actions has made the shabby properties look a bit shabbier – even if their dereliction-shaming has been done with the best intentions. Matt and Cat agree that perhaps the property owners could do a bit more to smarten up their own little piece of Sandown, as its clear there’s no point holding out for public money.
But it’s not all doom and dereliction in Sandown. No, far from it. Yes, a few landmark properties are in a shameful condition, but that beach is still magnificent. M&C have already reviewed a couple of extremely agreeable venues in the past year, the proprietors of which have made considerable investment in their seafront restaurants. They sincerely hope that the arrival of a talent like Ocean Deck‘s Alan Staley might cause a positive ripple effect in the town, the same way that Robert Thompson did when he won Michelin status for Ventnor’s Hambrough.
One fine Saturday Matt and Cat headed to Sandown for breakfast and were quite spoiled for choice. They parked at the seafront and, happy to pay the charges – after all, how else if the public realm going to be maintained if we don’t all put our hands in our pockets – and walked up Pier Street.
Although there are several cafes in the vicinity, Fresh Coffee House drew M&C in, initially tempted by the Bristot coffee signs. Right from their arrival the service was friendly and keen, with their sugar bowl being replenished as they sat down and a cheery “be with you soon”, as Cat went to order. She busied herself looking at the cakes on the counter while she waited for service. There was a pretty tempting-looking spread, including raspberry and chocolate brownie layer cake, plus gluten-free chocolate cake made with potatoes (which apparently helps retain the cake’s moisture).
Eggs and tomatoes: £3.10
Pot of tea: £1.75
Orange juice: £1.00
Matt and Cat’s drinks arrived very promptly and the waiter deftly served Matt’s tea with all the trimmings, plus Cat’s double-shot Americano, its own milk jug, bonus chocolate coins, and a glass of orange juice. The coffee was very good, as hoped, and Matt was pleased to get his tea in a pot with extra boiling water.
Matt’s breakfast came with a dizzying amount of options. Eggs scrambled or poached? Tinned or grilled tomatoes? White or wholemeal bread? Cat was rather hoping that she could supplement her poached egg breakfast with mushrooms but, rather unexpectedly, there were none to be had. Surely they are a key ingredient of the seaside cafe breakfast. And why were the eggs only available as scrambled or poached? All became apparent – the chef at Fresh Coffee House doesn’t do frying. Matt’s full English was, therefore a tour de force of grilling, poaching and toasting. This was, to Cat’s delight, a fry-free brekkie. She was surprised that more wasn’t made of this USP in the cafe’s menu. Her poached eggs were perfect – you know the drill by now – soft and runny on the inside with firmish whites, not too snotty. The grilled tomatoes were a fine substitute for mushrooms and she washed her breakfast down with her juice and coffee.
Matt and Cat’s positive experience at Fresh Coffee House was not just about the nammet, which was an above average example of the cooked breakfast genre – though there was a big discussion at the table, both for and against the fry-free ‘fry’ up. Despite their thoughts about this, the service, environment and presentation was smart and considered. Clearly Sandown has some reputation management issues but, if M&C’s experience of this and many of the town’s other restaurants is to go by then clearly its trajectory is going in the right direction.
A shorter version of this review appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Fry-free breakfast.
- Friendly service.
- Homemade cakes, including gluten-free option.
- Decent coffee.
- That fry-free breakfast may not appeal to those who like a good portion of grease.