This is an archive review: the Tea Depot is closed.
There’s a joke that’s made on the Isle of Wight every March when the clocks change, which is: “Don’t forget to put your clock forward – to 1952”. Well, in East Cowes there’s at least one person whose clock resolutely stopped somewhen in the mid-1940s.
In their first review of Mrs Jones Tea Depot, M&C made reference to the reality of life in the war years, as experienced by Cat’s grandparents. It was pretty bleak existence, by Madge and Fred’s reckoning. So, this time, Matt and Cat instead concentrate on the joy of life in the 1940s, as seen through the rose-tinted spectacles of vintage revivalists. An age of everyone knowing their neighbours, home baking and cheerful men in uniform. These homelier aspects are abundant in Mrs Jones’ Tea Depot: a brace of squashy floral armchairs positioned either side of a fire, a mirrored hall stand decorated with veiled hats, and teapots kept warm under knitted cosies. You could almost hear the uplifting crackle of ‘Workers’ Playtime‘ on the Home Service.
Mrs Jones has cranked the vintage dial up to eleven – transforming the cafe’s interior into your granny’s mid-twentieth century parlour. Every surface both horizontal and vertical is adorned with topical artefacts. Photos of moustached men and laughing young women, propaganda posters, and mirrors suspended from chains steal focus as one’s eyes dart about the room.
The facsimile ‘Ministry of Food’ menu is full of wartime references, with NAAFI and Full Monty breakfasts, plus quips like ‘Fancy a bit of crumpet’. Cat went for the Rationed Breakfast; perhaps compared to the others on the list it seemed meagre, but it would’ve certainly used up most of the coupons in a housewife’s ration book.
As M&C ordered, they enjoyed the little call-and-response song that Mrs Jones must go through a billion times a day: “Toast or fried bread?” she trilled. “Fried.” replied Matt. “Brown or white?” “One of each,” Matt and Cat intoned. “How would you like your eggs?” was the next verse. “Poached. No, scrambled.” came Cat’s antiphon. With Matt’s tea and Cat’s coffee also efficiently determined, Mrs Jones bustled off.
Since their last visit, the teapots now have trivets and also some truly magnificent knitted cosies. M&C’s was an elaborate woollen construction depicting a fried breakfast, the sausage of which made Mrs Jones come over all funny. Matt poured tea, using the tea strainer for the period-correct loose-leaf tea as Cat tried on the crinkly hats which were hanging from the hat stand. M&C are partial to a hat, and think it’s a shame that most people don’t wear a daily titfer. As Cat returned the natty veiled number to its hook she decided to write an article about hats one day. A hat is like an animal’s tail – so much can be deduced from its positioning.
The breakfasts arrived. And what a spread! Lord knows what the wartime rationees would have made of the size of the toast. Words cannot do justice to the pieces of bread. Doorstops is wrong – they weren’t wedge-shaped. Slice is too understated; half a loaf is more in the region. Imagine the depth of a hefty paperback; maybe a Jilly Cooper or Jeffrey Archer and you’re about there – though with considerably more taste obviously. It is possible to request your bread in a thinner gauge, but why would anyone do that? These massive chunks are Mrs Jones’ signature dish, and it’s worth the journey to East Cowes simply to experience them.
Cat’s ration of butter was delivered in a cute little glass pot, soft and easily spreadable on the block of satisfyingly hot toast. There’s nothing worse than toast with unmelted butter; if you want that sort of nonsense, go elsewhere. The scrambled eggs were the perfect consistency. Substituting sausage for mushrooms had been an inspired idea of Cat’s; these mushrooms had been cooked in butter, judging by their pleasing saltiness. And there were two rashers of bacon. Clearly Cat had some black market allowance here! The breakfast was remarkable, tasty and delivered on fancy porcelain as God intended (probably).
Full Monty breakfast £6.45
Rationed breakfast £3.50
Matt, too, had been allowed to make a substitution (unlike in some other more rigidly-regulated menus), ditching beans for extra black pudding. Cripes, no wonder we won the war with this sort of diet! His breakfast, the Full Monty, was a fine assemblage, with four whole rounds of black pudding. Accompanied by the awesome toast this was a breakfast Matt could reckon with.
Still the tea came forth from the copious pot – Matt, deftly manipulating the tea strainer and sugartongs, was determined to empty it. Cat, in the spirit of Allied unity, washed her breakfast down with a very acceptable Americano. Eventually the breakfasts were defeated, the teapot was honourably discharged, and as the long clock chimed Matt and Cat concluded that breakfast at Mrs Jones’ Tea Depot was their finest hour. Never, in the field of breakfast consumption, has so much been enjoyed by Matt and Cat, at such reasonable prices.
A shorter version of this review appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on the 2nd of January 2015.
This is an archive review: the Tea Depot is closed.