Remember those days when pubs were just places where we went to drink? A yellowing venue with a dart board, as much passive smoking as your heart and lungs could bear and, on his stool, a resident ‘old boy’. The only pub grub was a packet of salted peanuts tugged from a card display, behind which was a picture of tousle-haired woman in a skimpy bikini.
If you search far enough it is still possible to find a good old-fashioned pub. Similarly, there are still some greasy spoon cafés around. This cousin of the boozer is often found in the vicinity of light industry, as evidenced by Matt and Cat’s choices, Richies Diner and Tumblers. In their own manor, the rather hyperbolically-named Monkton Village, is the Happy Chef.
The Happy Chef café is definitely in the traditional style. There is a nearby industrial estate, good value breakfast is served all day and there are wipe-clean tablecloths. The café has additional features, including an unconventional lack of local radio, and plastic tables and chairs for al fresco eating.
Matt and Cat popped down to the Happy Chef for breakfast at around two o’clock in the afternoon because, as usual, they’d chronically overslept. No matter, breakfasts were still available as well as a selection of mains, burgers and sarnies. Plonking themselves down in the window, they looked at the old Strand Post Office, now alas in a rather sorry state. Tearing their eyes from the broken landmark, they studied the menu.
They both wanted breakfast and, as in the story of Goldilocks, there were three choices. And, unlike the fairy tale, they each found one that was just right. Cat went off to order one small and one large breakfast. Her walk to the counter was an unexpectedly long one; the café was deep (in a physical rather than spiritual way). On her journey to give their order she passed a shelf with beach goods, a counter for solitary diners, and about a dozen tables – plus an old regular who engaged in an entertaining and sometimes eyebrow-raising conversation with the staff.
There was a bit of negotiation over the breakfast order, which was all conducted with extremely good humour. Cat was able to swap her sausage for an additional rasher of bacon but a similar exchange couldn’t be procured for Matt’s rejected beans. It’s a meat-for-meat deal here – and that’s fair enough. She strolled back to the table, shortly followed by the friendly waitress bearing two mugs of coffee. None of your fancy double skinny mochaccino stuff here, just a spoonful of honest instant.
Small breakfast £2.30
Large breakfast £3.60
Extra black pudding 80p
Coffee x 2 £1.80
The breakfasts turned up shortly after. Both dishes were accompanied by a side plate piled high with buttered toast – note: buttered, not margarined. Cat was pleased to have substituted her sausage; her two rashers of bacon were about as lean as bacon could be. The egg, well you know the drill by now – if the yolk is runny it makes the grade in M&C’s books and this fried number was bang on. Matt’s large breakfast had double sausage, double egg and double bacon, mushrooms and tomatoes plus extra black pudding. Yup, that’s large alright. Large and satisfying. Like Matt.
For a while now Matt and Cat have been rolling their eyes at the use of the galvanised bucket as a dispenser (usually for chips but sometimes for cutlery). Newport’s Smokehouse is bucking this trend with its assorted jars and pots, in keeping with its upcycled theme. The Happy Chef’s interior designer has used brightly-coloured miniature plastic bins to hold the cutlery. And somehow this seemed just right.
Bursting their egg yolks, hoovering up their meats and mopping their plates with the remnants of the buttered toast, Matt and Cat turned to stare out of the window again while sipping the last of their coffee.
Monkton Street was the first place Cat lived when she moved to the Island, in a flat almost over the top of the Happy Chef, as it happens. Even now, some twenty-odd years later, this little enclave of small local businesses is home to Matt and Cat’s newsagent, chippy and car wash. And now, it seems, they have found their local decent café.