We often reminisce about Brading Waxworks. This much-loved tourist attraction closed in 2010, after 45 years. Tantalisingly, if it had hung on just a few more seasons, we reckon it might have seen its fortunes turn. After all, these days post-ironic tourism is big business, and goodness knows the erstwhile Osborn-Smiths had plenty of that.
So we should cherish those quirky old bits of the Island that are still with us, and which stand a chance of attracting tourists bent on finding authenticity. In a world of slick Disney-esque theme parks and Hogwarts fantasy experiences, sometimes the scent of a musty museum can transport us to another time in a way a facsimile ticket from platform 9¾ never can. After all, being behind the times is what this island is good at, so why not sweat those assets?
A prime example is the remarkable cafe and tearooms at God’s Providence House, Newport. Not only is it in a charmingly ancient and rambling building, but it serves up traditional, comforting food with classic service, as it has done for over a century.
The first thing you notice about Gods’ Prov is that its interior is divided into small parlours, like a house – probably because it was one. As we stepped into the hallway over the five-hundred-year-old flagstones we interrupted the maitre’d in the process of taking down the lavish Christmas decorations that adorned the huge Jacobean-style staircase in the middle of the building. Another member of staff attended to us and soon we were sitting in a comfy front room, pouring leaf tea from a be-cosied pot through a tea-strainer into real china cups. In 2012, we wrote, “This was amongst the best cups of tea to be had on the whole Island” – we stand by that judgement today.
We sometimes get asked about facilities for the disabled and, to the hearing-loss campaigners, we loudly proclaim God’s Providence House is the place for you. The carpeted floors and small rooms – plus a rare treat these days, no piped music – mean that it’s possible to not only talk without having to shout but to actually hear your companion without battling the din of scraping chairs, muzak and echoing babble. So, as we sat in relative peace, occasionally from another room we heard the comforting clatter of crockery, and the jingle-jangle of knives and forks and sometimes a bit of giggling.
Matt knew what he wanted. He has long mourned the lack of suet pudding on modern menus – but this is a place where it is an infallible fixture. Admittedly the puddings are not steak AND kidney, but otherwise you really can’t go wrong with the celebrated God’s Providence home-made steak pudding. Thick, soft, fresh suet pastry encases chunks of proper beef, with a generous spoonful of extra filling ladled on alongside. The whole thing is served with freshly roast veg and a bewilderingly broad choice of chips, roast, new or baked potatoes. Matt couldn’t fault it.
Pot of tea for two: £3.90
Home-made steak pie £9.95
Tuna mayonnaise sandwich £5.95
Cat’s tuna sandwich was substantial. The chilled filling was stuffed between slices of soft white bread, with a tiny garnish with fresh tomatoes. This standard light lunch is never going to set the world alight, nor compete with smashed avocado on sourdough, but it was a tasty dish and, washed down with the tea, most satisfying.
As our teapot’s contents were showing no signs of being depleted we ordered a big slice of lemon meringue pie to help soak it up. The towering tart’s wobbly top looked like it had been baked in two storeys to gain maximum height. It was certainly an impressive structure, almost architectural – putting Cat in mind of New York’s Flatiron building. The lemony bit was as tangy as you like, if a tad firm, and the meringue was delightfully soft and fluffy. We doused the pie with the very generous ration of cream, which was absorbed in a satisfying way.
So, this splendid institution in the heart of Newport is not just a tourist novelty. The white pinnies of the waitresses might now be replaced by smart uniforms, but you can still get a lunch or tea at God’s Prov that a visitor from fifty years ago would recognise and appreciate. The food is good – and sometimes very good – the prices are sensible, and the service is cheerfully attentive. All too often, ‘old-fashioned’ has been used as an excuse for ‘dismal’. Not here. God’s Providence is proud of its heritage, and uses it to good effect: we recommend it.
This is the full-length version of the review that appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Homemade food
- Quiet, intimate venue
- Cheerful and attentive table service
- Gents toilet has seen better days