If you’re as old as us, you’ll remember the futuristic delight of white sliced bread. Mother’s Pride was a staple ingredient at Cat’s childhood tea table, spread with a layer of margarine. Although seventies dinner party food porn now occupies a specialist corner of the overcrowded food blogging market, we have moved on.
These days, mass-produced grub doesn’t have the cachet it had when we were kids. In these progressive twenty-teens, foraged, home-grown and locavore ingredients are all the rage. Thanks to an intensive re-education programme by Cat’s baker cousin and Cantina‘s own Klaus, we have been inducted into the joys of artisan breads: aerated sourdoughs, squashy focaccias and dense ryes.
Our experiences of these craft foods, including artisan coffees, is mostly limited to hipster joints. You know the kind of venue by now: all hard surfaces, freestyle-written chalkboards and (sometimes surely spurious) claims of the merits of small-batch production. We’ve queued too long for a cup of bitter coffee in a cardboard beaker (one of Cat’s pet hates – china is the only acceptable way when drinking in). We’ve been served overpriced baked goods which we’ve eaten off a communal trestle table in an echoing and uncomfortable barn. But it doesn’t have to be like this.
Island Bakers could never be mistaken for one of those noisy, knowing, and occasionally rip-off cafes. That’s its absolute charm and also the mystery that got us scratching our heads over our lunches. Yes, it has the ubiquitous hard surfaces, but somehow the sound doesn’t bounce around, amplifying with every chair-scrape. True, the signs are mostly handwritten on chalkboards, but in an informative way and without the need for any trite ‘live love laugh’ mottos scribbled in a loopy hand. Undoubtedly the cakes and bread are produced locally, but there is an understated modesty about this fact which might be trumpeted to distraction elsewhere.
Soup of the day £4.50
Grilled ham and cheese sandwich £4.50
Cherry almond tart £2
Speciality tea £2.20
The cafe has a bakery counter running its whole length, with tempting cakes in the front and wooden shelves of bread behind. You’ll have to be quick to get the bread, mind – it is very popular. On the day we popped in, Cat only got as far as the first item on the short menu, happy to be tempted by soup of the day: a sublime pea, mint and wild garlic blend. It was served with a small loaf of rosemary-garnished sourdough and an enamelled ramekin of crunchy croutons. The soup was delicious with a gentle texture, thankfully not a baby-food-smooth pea puree – which it could have become with a coarser hand on the blender. We’ve had similar wild garlic dishes in very fancy places and this Island Bakers soup is pretty much at the top of the charts.
The simple grilled cheese sandwich can be elevated significantly when good bread is used, and here of course that is a given. Matt’s cheese and ham sandwich was oozing rich, strong cheddar and butter; with plenty of proper sliced ham inside. The bread itself was Island Bakers’ own seeded loaf, and it was the perfect medium to soak up the juices from this piping hot, fresh sandwich. With a choice of mustard or home-made chutney, this was a grilled cheese sandwich Matt wasn’t going to forget.
Cat had a few mouthfuls of her Jaspers roasted coffee left and so she and Matt had a cake course to help it down. It was always going to be thus, as Matt had spied jam doughnuts on the counter as soon as they had entered the shop. His doughnut was a classy upgrade from the standard jam-filled stodge; although it was essentially the same concept. Real fruity jam oozed from a big, soft doughy ball that was coated with a thick shell of sticky sugar. Delightful.
Cat chose the last slice of cherry and almond tart. Having grown up enjoying Mr Kipling’s bakewell, Cat is a big fan of almonds. Pretty much the only alcohol she likes is amaretto; she’ll snaffle the thickest iced marzipan corner of Christmas cake, and steal the apostle from your simnel cake. Island Bakers’ cherry and almond cake looked quite different from the ‘exceedingly good’ cakemaker’s bakewell tart, which has a thick layer of fondant icing and feathered chocolate decoration. This thin pastry case was filled with nutty paste, of the sort found in almond croissants. It was accompanied by the cherry compote then the lot topped with an almond macaroon-style crust. Boy, was it good; super-almondy and a wonderful combination of textures, from the gooey paste to the slightly chewy macaroon. It made Cat realise what a travesty her 1970s mealtimes had been!
Island Bakers is a pleasant environment in which to enjoy delicious locally-created produce. The cafe is gentler than the macho aggrandisement you sometimes get from speciality coffee professionals behind their laboratory-style counters. We had polite, friendly service in a mellow atmosphere, with some decent daylight to illuminate our photos. And most importantly, the food and drink was of unimpeachable quality. Island Bakers is a real star in Newport’s firmament.
This is the full-length version of the review that first appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Nice venue, with cakes and breads temptingly on display
- Home-made produce
- Did we mention those fabulous cakes?
- Cosy cafe; not always a free table.
- Some dishes sell out.