We’ve worked in Newport for years. Years and years. We’ve seen them come and we’ve seen some of them go. Island Images, Mill Bay II, House of Legends, El Patron – all gone. The Farmer’s Market prevails but the alternative Country Market or, as it became known colloquially – the ‘People’s Front of Judea‘ market – furled up its stalls one last time a while back.
This is not to say that there isn’t a thriving lunchtime trade in Newport. There are plenty of workers looking for somewhere to eat, meet and step away from the corporate coal face for their regulation half an hour. We’re habitual patrons of One Holyrood‘s secret garden, the cake-tastic Skintrade Coffee Room and bunny chow purveyor Blue Door Cafe.
Now there’s a new kid on the block – the Real I Love Wight Food Market. Established in Brading, the market is home to food stalls curated by its organisers, Sarah Truckel and Tamara Purves. It was in Brading we discovered the delights of Dumpling Dumpling, Slab Fudge and the Vegan Boys.
As part of ambitious plans to show off Newport Harbour as a vibrant, thriving community, the council has teamed up with Real I Love Wight to bring the Brading experience to Newport. Naysayers might suggest that this is a attempt to create something where there was nothing; if the council really wants to support enterprising local food producers, perhaps some of that regeneration money could have been injected into the established Friday market in St Thomas Square. But the area around the Minster isn’t on the prospectus.
We were more than happy to pop along for the street food market’s inaugural event – particularly as there was a promise of Chinese dumplings and local seafood.
The weather gods smiled down on the first Real Isle of Wight street food market in its new weekly location, up near Jubilee Stores on the banks of the Medina. With blue skies, and plenty of punters (some of whom were lured there with discount vouchers) we were delighted to see our favourites from Brading.
Salty Willy’s Fish Shack was the main attraction for us; we can’t get enough of their freshly-caught and prepared fast fish. Cat, as ever, had a skinless sea bass fillet on a bed of tomatoes, mixed rocket and lamb’s lettuce drizzled with Garlic Farm garlic pesto dressing. It really is fantastic stuff. If you fancy more of a tongue-tingler, try their spicy Cajun prawns. Matt put his hand up for chowder, imaginatively served in a hollowed-out loaf. This warming, hearty stew of smoked haddock and bacon was a great bit of proper street food. Matt loved scooping the creamy stew out with bits of bread torn from the loaf.
Although Salty Willy’s has halloumi, plus its tasty potato cubes as part of its meat-free offering, if you want to go full-on vegan then the next stall along, Souporium, was selling its plant-based soups. On today’s menu was Thai roasted cauliflower; the spoonful that Cat tasted had an encouraging kick to it.
Further along the quayside was Dumpling Dumpling, with a satisfyingly-eager queue of folks keen to try these cute dumplings. There were six flavours to choose from, including the popular hoisin not duck, and a new one to us – the Goan seafood dumpling which we hear was extremely tasty. Alas we left it too late to get a dessert dumpling so Cat satisfied our need for something sweet with a couple of packets of Slab fudge, both limited editions – ‘Stracciatella’: smooth creamy fudge with rich chocolate pieces and ‘Tiger Butter’: peanut butter fudge with chocolate caramel fudge pieces and peanuts.
The last stall we visited was the clever Break Lever; serving pedal-ground coffee and other hot drinks. As we sat with our beverages, overlooking the harbour we considered the market’s future. On a sunny late summer’s afternoon it was a great spot to have a sociable lunch with a decent variety of food – and more stalls to come, we hear, as it develops.
Whether visitors will be so keen to step so far away from the town centre on less clement days remains to be seen. Perhaps the market could take advantage of the existing shelter under the flyover while the little bridge by Quay Arts is out of commission? It would be considerably nearer the town, in closer proximity to the toilet facilities at Riverside and be more conspicuous to those perambulating down Quay Street or along Sea Street. Whether or not a slight change of location will fit in with Newport Harbour regeneration objectives is not for us to say. But Newport’s town centre needs to do what it can to mitigate the arrival of Asda (paradoxically a project supported by the same council that trumpets the food market as a way of “supporting local, independent businesses”).
We’re going to leave all this strategic chat-chat to the politicians. We’re down for the food and we say that the market is well worth the stroll. After all, who doesn’t love a taste of Salty Willy’s?
The Real Isle of Wight street food market is every Friday at Newport Harbour.