Long ago, Monkton Street was the bustling thoroughfare down which hordes of visitors travelled between Ryde Pier and St John’s station – which was until 1880 the nearest railway. A few local amenities still linger en route in what is now Ryde’s trendy gentrification hotspot, Monkton Village. One of these is the Happy Chef, a classic old-fashioned cafe that still shows hints of its origins as a tourists’ stopover, with an oranged and ancient navigational map on the wall by a little shelf of buckets, spades and other beach goods still on display as you enter the venue.
We settled in there on Saturday morning for a lazy breakfast, and with an eye on the grey skies decided not to sit on one of the pavement seats that might otherwise have been a pleasant place to greet our neighbours as they walked by.
A mug of builders tea for Matt – thick, hot and most welcome. Cat’s cup of coffee was similarly potent, and we supped gratefully on these as we awaited our order. The venue had the reassuring detail of a good cafe – wipe-clean plastic gingham, attentive service, and even a chatty scaffolder coming in to get his mid-morning snack. It’s encouraging to see local workmen patronising a cafe – they usually know a place worth visiting. On the shelf nearby was a little takeaway station for customers to help themselves to napkins, plastic cutlery and sachets of sugar and condiments: a thoughtful feature.
The chef did indeed sound perfectly happy, and as he knocked up our breakfasts we heard him expounding his interpretation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – “We’re not too badly off, really.” was his suitably optimistic conclusion.
Extra large breakfast £5.95
A three-egg omelette with symmetrically-numbered filling of ham, cheese and mushroom arrived. Cat had swapped out the promised salad for a huge portion of hot baked beans. Leaves for breakfast? She ain’t no Gwyneth Paltrow. Alongside came a pile of chips, to Matt’s delight – he knew she’d flinch at the generous stack and he would be called to help out. He was right of course, but not before she’d made a substantial dent in the robust and satisfying omelette. Plenty of cheese was the magic ingredient that held the whole thing together, emphasising a nice saltiness that hinted at being cooked with butter.
Matt decided against the mega breakfast – his days of challenge eating are probably behind him. Even so, the slightly smaller extra large breakfast was a terrific feast, and stunningly good value at only £5.95. The breakfast had been cooked hot, as it should be, giving that hint of seared fat about it that marks a true greasy spoon. You can’t simulate that taste at home, however hard you try. There was plentiful everything, including black pudding and fried bread both finely judged to avoid greasiness but still retain the structure necessary to absorb the other elements. Tomatoes soaked delightfully into the bread, and fried eggs drooled enticingly over the buttered toast. Matt actually left some, there was so much. A roundly satisfying breakfast.
Monkton Village has a community feel that has outlasted many changes in the passing trade, from fisherfolk, to tourists, to locals, to Down-From-London downsizing second-homers. The Happy Chef sits comfortably at the heart of the area, and seems to be providing a much-appreciated service. Maybe in years to come the beach goods will finally be put away in favour of jars of nocellara olives with hand-extruded bronze-die pasta, and the incredible scale and extent of the bargain Mega Breakfast will simply be a story that nostalgic parents tell to wide-eyed children on cold winter nights. Or maybe the Happy Chef will prevail. We hope so: it’s a very good example of its genre.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Excellent value
- Friendly cafe
- Plenty of toast