NB: this cafe is now closed.
Thirty years ago, vegetarian cafes were an unusual niche market for the really committed restaurateur, and one that had some success. These days herbivores do not have to go to an exclusively vegetarian restaurant to eat meat-free food as almost every eaterie will offer a couple of vegetarian dishes, and many present a whole range. So with a vegetarian cafe only slightly less unusual than a a menu proclaiming ‘meat only’, is there still a role for the exclusively vegetarian establishment outside of Brighton?
In the post-Christmas lull, Matt and Cat tramped Newport’s chilly streets in search of a bargain, and, along with other dead-eyed shoppers, were in need of a quick bite to eat. Ex-vegetarian and potter Cat wondered if the old-fashioned aura of rustic earthenware crafts and hessian would dominate the recent addition to Newport’s Upper St James’ Street – the New Vegetarian Cafe. New it certainly is – but how will it fare under Matt and Cat’s scrutiny? Enticed by the vast glass frontage of the New Vegetarian Cafe, they stepped through the door.
The very friendly proprietress soon made herself known and expressed the view that she was just thinking of shutting up, as the day had been so quiet. Matt and Cat were her only customers and she seemed pleased if a little surprised to see them (or anyone). She pointed out that the menu was much reduced given the festive season. So it proved, with only a handful of items on offer. Matt was keen for something hot so asked the lady’s recommendation for a warming meal. He was a little nonplussed when she rather defensively proclaimed, ‘Well, I’m a vegetarian myself you know’. Perhaps she had been expecting him to start foaming at the mouth hollering for meat? The confusion was soon sorted out and she cheerfully suggested her own favourite, cheese and mushroom baguette. This sounded good to Matt. Cat, meanwhile, knew exactly what she wanted: a brie and cranberry panini. Two cups of tea finished off the order.
The prime seat by the window was vacant and M and C settled in to watch the goings on in Node Hill. A beautiful arrangement of flowers was delivered from the nearby Flower Garden to the Nabab Indian restaurant. A heavily pregnant woman in a chunky white cardigan was mistaken for a snowman. Count Arthur Strong (or someone very like him) strolled past with his trilby at an insouciant angle.
As the view of the street became obscured by condensation, Cat tried on her twinkly new earrings, bought in Dragonfly whilst Matt, gazing around the rather sparse interior, observed a rather forthright sign – complete with greengrocers’ apostrophe. On enquiry Matt discovered that people did indeed have the nerve to actually buy meals from the nearby McDonald’s and then eat them in the relative comfort of the New Vegetarian Cafe. The veggie proprietress was understandably upset by the odour of fried beef in her establishment (and the cheek of it) – hence the notice.
The sight of Matt and Cat sat in the window had obviously acted as a lure; the cafe started filling up. In fact, it got to be so full that soon there were no spare seats left and prospective punters turned away empty-stomached.
Some time passed before Matt and Cat received their food although they were not without sustenance during the wait – there was the tea. The tea started promisingly with steaming water being poured into a small ceramic teapot. After that, the recipe became a little unorthodox – the water-filled pot was agitated vigorously in the company of a teabag and poured into cups without a moment’s brewing. The full cups were then handed over. Why, wondered your reviewers, weren’t they just given the full teapot, and the accompanying cups, to pour at their leisure? Was it the only teapot in the place? If so, why bother going through the rigmarole of creating tea in it – a teabag in a cup would’ve produced the same result? The head scratching was interrupted by the delivery of the food.
Cat’s pannini looked great; melted chunks of creamy cheese atop a generous dollop of cranberry sauce. The accompanying vegetation, although extremely perky and fresh, could only be described as a gesture, barely a garnish and certainly not a side salad. Still, what might one expect in a vegetarian cafe opposite a comprehensively stocked greengrocers?
Matt’s mushroom and cheese baguette wasn’t quite what he was expecting. Not because it wasn’t very nice: it was. The very fresh wholemeal baguette was generously filled with plenty of grated cheese and freshly-fried mushrooms. But, having specifically asked the proprietress to recommend something hot, he was offered a tepid baguette with a cold filling. Pleasant, certainly, but not quite a winter warmer.
Matt and Cat like to check out new businesses, and anything with a bit of a novel gimmick is usually an attraction. So the New Vegetarian, unique on the Island as a specifically vegetarian cafe, was one they were keen to try out. Conclusions? A nice, simple cafe, possibly even a bit too simple (outside toilets? Mmm!), with some pleasant food, and slightly distracted service.