The day after mourning the closure of High Street stalwart Island Images, Cat and a pal ventured into the heart of the town to try Love Coffee.
Technically a new venue, this centrally-located coffee shop is probably more well-known as its previous incarnation of the franchise Coffee Republic. Occupying the site of historic feed-store Guy’s, the café is well-placed to catch those in need of a caffeinated pick-me-up: perhaps after staggering out of nearby clothes warehouse TK Maxx, or taking a break from their desk-bound existence in one of Newport’s many offices.
Nowadays coffee is the new gardening or knitting or sex or whatever. Bean-jockeys mix their own blends; have a special job title – barista – and can even attend training sessions to learn about latte art and brew-ratios. But aside from foam swans, what customers really want from their coffee shop is somewhere comfortable to sit, with free Wifi as standard, some delicious eats and fabulous coffee. Can Love Coffee measure up?
Matt and Cat are regularly asked to recommend a good place for coffee. Despite many decent local venues, there has been much debate on Twitter about the merits and likelihood of international chain Starbucks establishing itself on the Island. M&C have found Starbucks a bit underwhelming, to be honest, and certainly there are more than enough independent places to pick up a respectable macchiato or regular Americano with milk. Caffe Isola does a good cup; Olivo too. In Ryde you’ll get a hit of Union-brand coffee at Missy J Café. Even some of the Island pubs are moving beyond the stagnant jug of filter coffee and splash of UHT which, back in the day, customers accepted as a fitting end to their dinner of chicken in a basket.
Cat and her friend certainly got the best seat in the house when they visited Love Coffee; perched on high stools by the vast picture window, they had a pretty good view of Pyle Street’s human traffic. The venue also had free Wifi on request – so far so good. Bagsying the table with her coat, Cat then dithered in front of the counter, looking for something savoury for her lunch. The cabinets were choc-full of cakes and pastries, and there were fizzy drinks in the chiller. The boards displayed prices for drinks – a rather lunch-budget-gobbling £3.50 for a smoothie – plus a comprehensive coffee menu although, at first glance, no signs of a light lunch. Cat’s friend, seeing her puzzled look, pointed out the sarnies and such-like in the fridge behind her.
Choosing a tuna melt, Cat presented it at the counter where she was asked if she wanted it as part of a meal deal. Somehow the ladies who lunch had both missed this offer, due most certainly to their lack of looking rather than the absence of publicity, so it was nice to have it pointed out. Pairing the sandwich with a cup of Americano, Cat paid her £3.99 and stood expectantly at the counter waiting for her drink and feeling a bit disappointed that the Love Coffee meal deal did not include crisps or a cake, like most other places’ lunch combos.
A brief exchange established that the coffee and toasted sandwich would be delivered to the table so Cat obediently returned to her seat. She used the time in which she waited for her lunch to clear away the previous customers’ debris; cups, spilled sugar, sarnie packets etc. Moving the detritus to another table she observed the counter staff make several passes before finally clearing it up. In a café as small as Love Coffee and with such a high-volume turn-over, table clearing ought to be higher on the agenda. Matt and Cat are always amazed about how regularly staff in eateries make their way back to the kitchen empty-handed when dirty crockery or spilt items need attention and vacated tables cry out for a wipe with a damp cloth. Following a second visit the same week, Cat had to ask for her chair to be wiped of milk and, optimistically lifting her coffee cup from the table to demonstrate that it needed wiping too, she ended up having to give a direct instruction to the cloth-wielder.
The toasted sandwich and coffee arrived promptly, accompanied by Cat’s companion’s soup of the day. The sarnie was a perfunctory and unadorned butty. Filled with a generous dollop of cheese, tuna and mayonnaise, the crunchy granary bread was moistened by the tasty filling. It was a functional lunch, serving the purpose of providing fuel but not much more. Despite that, the Love Coffee Americano was nice and pokey; a good warm cup of coffee in a nice china mug, and Cat felt its effects later that afternoon as she jittered about her business. The flavour of her companion’s soup was not specified, although it was clearly a Campbells-a-like mushroom. Also part of a meal deal it was, like the sandwich, not the best value in Newport’s crowded eatery market.
When there’s a proposed development for a new out-of-town supermarket, there’s an assumption that there are sufficient outlets for existing business and any additional retailers will put the squeeze on established venues. However, much like the unchecked proliferation of hairdressers and betting shops in Ryde, there doesn’t seem to yet be a critical mass of lunchtime eateries in Newport. It’s possible that Island Images closed due to healthy neighbourhood competition, but perhaps not. Certainly Matt and Cat are happy to spend their dinner money in local cafés, having recently had mouth-watering mid-day meals at the Blue Door, Quay Arts and Olivo. Love Coffee fills yet another niche; clearly its owners are confident enough to become an independent business in these uncertain times. However, with work-a-day lunches and costly coffee, plus the casual attitude to table clearing, Love Coffee seems to have metropolitan aspirations with a distinctly provincial edge.