Matt and Cat love to find new places to eat and are regularly recommended pubs, restaurants and cafes by friends and colleagues.
One suggested establishment is the elusive Greasy Lil’s – M and C have been unable to find this notorious greasy spoon café and the person who proposed it is suspiciously vague about its whereabouts. This is a big disappointment to Matt, as he likes nothing more than to stick his nose in the fry-up trough at a good old English café.
Yes, the humble café – it’s an often-overlooked gem of English culture. Travel to Europe and you’ll hardly be off the boat or plane before you fall over bistros, bars and tavernas. The chic of these exotic haunts has for years been brought back to England by wistful holidaymakers: cafés and bars inspired by seemingly every nation in Europe fill our streets. But people often ask where all the English eateries are? Of course they are there. Every town has one, sometimes more, hidden away in some back alley or sidestreet, where the locals go, and have gone for years. It’s a café. Unlike its continental counterparts, the English café rarely serves alcohol, and now never allows smoking, but despite this still upholds its own special place representing England in the pantheon of café culture.
Joyce’s Café, in Newport, is a typical example of the genre. Almost impossible to find without specialist knowledge, this spacious café is actually inside another building in Scarrot’s Lane where a few lacklustre stalls and shops cluster together. One lunchtime Matt and Cat had been in the little indoor market looking in a goth clothing shop only slightly bigger than a cupboard, until the smell of pachouli oil and damp cardboard finally drove them out. At this point they happened upon Joyce’s Cafe, which is by far the biggest and most tidy of all the shops. Thinking of a nice cup of tea and a sit down they ventured inside.
The choice is almost overwhelming – blackboards and signs adorned much of the room giving a vast range of choices and prices. Nevertheless, Matt and Cat knew exactly what they wanted and the cheery lady behind the counter yelled their order through to the chap in the kitchen behind, who hollered back confirmation good-naturedly. This to-and-fro proved to be a regular feature of Joyce’s. Cat went for a meal which, despite the huge lists of choices, was actually not on the menu. Scrambled egg, white toast and mushrooms, with the egg not on the toast. Cat’s very particular about this, and Joyce’s not only accommodated this precision with good grace, but also managed to deliver exactly what was requested.
Matt went straight for a dish that can only ever be eaten in a proper English cafe: liver, onions and bacon. A classic ‘workman’s lunch’ that never goes out of fashion, the only change in 100 years has probably been the substitution of chips for what was once the standard mashed potato.
Whilst waiting, your reviewers sipped their scalding mugs of tea and enjoyed the unique ambience. Local radio, slightly out-of-tune, warbled away in the background. Free tabloid newspapers were to hand – by this time of the day looking a little tatty and stained, showing that, like most such establishments, Joyce’s is well-patronised by the early rising workers who like a bit of breakfast. A steady stream of diners came and went, exchanging pleasantries with the staff and occasionally shouting through to the kitchen.
Joyce’s delivered the perfect example of liver and bacon, with fresh and piping hot liver and onions, neither overcooked nor tough. Tinned peas alongside a decent slop of gravy set off this satisfying meal.
Cat’s mini-breakfast was very pleasant. A good pile of fluffy egg shared the plate with some fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced and fried, and thick buttered toast. Nice and filling.
Certainly one of the best traditional cafes that Matt and Cat have enjoyed on the Island, Joyce’s is well worth a visit for a cheap, good quality lunch or breakfast, or just a cup of tea. The good service, astonishing range, and satisfying food make this a place to recommend.