Mill Bay II is now closed.
The fortunes of the Joe’s franchise have flowed and ebbed. Its glory days were in the early noughties when it was the place for The Beautiful People to hang out flicking through Sunday supplements over a frothy coffee. Alas, like many other businesses in these economically depressed times, the Newport and Ryde branches have suffered – being recently in administration. However, Union Street’s Joe’s is back on its feet under new management, and Matt and Cat can confirm that its trajectory looks promisingly upward.
Like its coastal sister in Ryde, the Newport branch of Joe’s faded; Christmas 2007 saw the most dismal service at Matt and Cat’s office Christmas lunch and the writing was on the wall. However, things have changed. Both venues are in new hands, with Newport’s bar now being managed by Mr and Mrs Tredwell – veterans of many of the Island’s big eating-houses. With a sprinkling of modification, the vast venue has re-opened as the rather unnecessarily-suffixed Mill Bay II. Cat visited recently and can confirm that the place is now back on its feet and getting ready for another incarnation.
Tripping out of the office on Christmas Eve, Cat and a handful of colleagues played eeny-meeny outside the Hog Shed, Yates’s and Mill Bay II. At first glance there was not much to choose between the three. All are capacious, and the first two offer value conveyor belt-food; deep-fried fodder washed down with cheap booze. Taking the plunge they decided to try the unknown and wandered through the open door of the Mill Bay II.
Before getting stuck into the food, let’s ponder that name for a bit longer. The Mill Bay is a big pub on Ventnor seafront, previously managed by the Tredwells. Leaving aside the absence of any mills or bays in Newport High Street, the Mill Bay II’s neighbours – both part of national pub chain juggernauts – aren’t referred to as Hog’s Head 127 and Yates’s 86. Having II after its name is perhaps a bit unnecessary; if the owners want to link to the established Mill Bay name they could just call it Mill Bay. This tried and tested formula works internationally: imagine if each McDonald’s had its global franchise number in its name! FYI, there are over 31,000 McDonald’s restaurants worldwide, fact fans.
The pub’s windows, although nicely decorated with vinyl etched name signs, were completely steamed up to the point of opaqueness. Cat explored the glass with her outstretched finger and found that the windows were, indeed, obscured with condensation. Unable to peer in, if it hadn’t been for the open door Cat and friends wouldn’t have been entirely sure if the Mill Bay II was open for business. It seemed that they weren’t the only ones who were unsure – the place was empty.
The little crowd chose a table then gathered at the counter to buy drinks and choose their lunches. The bar, a vast wooden construction that previously ran almost the whole length of the venue, had been dissected. Half of the bar area was taken up with a hot food counter, Newport’s first town-centre carvery. This method of feeding people is nothing new – think back to your school dinners – and is a great way of processing large numbers of hungry people. However with National Roast Dinner Day fewer than 24 hours away, Cat and colleagues chose more modest options from the menu.
Beef and mushroom sandwich £4.95
Like most pubs, the Mill Bay II has a lunch menu of sandwiches and baguettes plus cooked meals including steaks, burgers and a small but reasonable vegetarian selection. With her customary lack of foresight, Cat chose roast beef and mushroom sandwich – having forgotten that Matt had bought a juicy joint of Island beef for Christmas Day. The others in the party ordered minestrone soup, pork and apple baguette and tuna jacket potato. No wild-card options, just standard pub grub.
It wasn’t long before the food arrived. Cat’s sandwich, on white bread as requested, contained a few decent-sized slices of lean roast beef and some pleasant warmed flat mushrooms. Alongside came a salad garnish; a freshly-prepared heap of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and the ubiquitous raw onion. The meal was a good substitute for The Cat’s usual work-day packed lunch. She also got the chance to try out some of the Mill Bay II’s chips as a portion had been ordered to share, a true Feast of Stephen. The chips were excellent; perfectly cooked crunchy steak-cut planks of potato.
Although the food was pretty agreeable pub nosh the place lacked a certain something. The atmosphere was a bit flat, particularly given the time of year, and there was a terrific draught from the open door. The barman explained that the installation of the carvery with its simmering vegetables had caused the interior of the Mill Bay II to steam up uncontrollably – hence the open door. However, as this method of dispersion clearly wasn’t working, he kindly closed the door to try and make the place a bit cosier. It didn’t really work.
As the desk jockeys headed back to the office for 2009’s home-straight, they ruminated on their experience of the Mill Bay II. Offering a town centre carvery gives it a unique position in the Island’s county town, so it should do well on Tuesdays – the day when the coachloads of oldsters stroll from their Quayside drop off point to St Thomas’ Square to buy souvenir tea towels. Its location amid the vertical-drinking establishments might see it adopt a split personality; carvery by day, boozer by night. Time will tell and Matt and Cat wish the proprietors luck.