After months of lockdown, punctuated with the compassion behind #ClapForCarers and diligent social distancing, girls – and boys – just wanna have fun. And while for some people that might mean the pub, for us it is a cafe. So, on the first day bars and restaurants reopened their doors we, like many others, inched a tentative toe across the threshold of our chosen venue.
On 4 July 2020 we were allowed, nay almost encouraged, by the government to visit a hostelry of some sort. Theatres and galleries were almost all steadfastly closed, but we wanted to give our support to one of the Island’s key places of culture. Or should that be Quay places? Never mind. We booked a table at Newport’s Quay Arts and submitted to the new normal.
Staff, clad in plastic visors, welcomed us warmly and briefed us on the protocol. Having already given our names in order to get a booking, our phone number was required in case the worst should happen. We sanitised our hands, then followed the spaced dots on the floor to our seats at an isolated table.
Back in the olden days, Quay Arts was one of our go-to venues. We like the menu, the friendly ambience and the sunny terrace. The centre has held some great exhibitions and we’ve bought some lovely items in its fabulous craft shop. In these coronavirus times, the menu was reduced, but not utterly depleted. The Learning Curve and West galleries were open and, if it hadn’t been raining, we might have sat on the terrace and had a staring competition with a swan or pigeon.
Chicken and avocado salad £9.45
Macaroni cheese £7.50
Thatcher’s Gold £4.25
Coffee was the first thing on the list. Cat’s been sweating her Aeropress pretty much every day since March, but there was something about her barista-made brew which induced tears to prick at her eyes. As she took delivery of a foamy cappuccino with its dusting of chocolatey powder, she found herself ridiculously grateful. Grateful for the semblance of normality, for the chance for a bit of idle chatter with the waiting staff and for the long-missed pleasure of a milky moustache. We’ve missed you, Quay Arts.
Matt tucked into the delicious cheesy macaroni cheese as if it had been months, which it had. Chasing it down with a sip of Thatchers Gold, he stared out of the cafe’s open doors at the drizzle dancing on the newly-decked terrace beyond. We’re not incompetent; we have been able to feed ourselves more than adequately since the lockdown. In fact Matt’s own homemade mac was probably on a par with the Quay’s version, presented to him with a side salad and a couple of chunks of garlic bread. He noted, as he twanged the strings of the stretchy cheesy topping, that – like himself – the chef had failed to source the traditional macaroni pasta; but penne was a reasonable substitute. Someone somewhere on the Island has a mighty stockpile of macaroni, presumably gathered in those early crazy days of the virus when we thought the sky was going to fall in. As it yet might.
The chicken and avocado salad was a goodly pile of quite conventional ingredients. The Quay’s signature cauliflower salad, one of Cat’s favourite ways to eat this vegetable, was alas not present. Nor the oft-served medleys of cous-cous and pulses. But the leaves, slices of seedless cucumber and diced peppers were plentiful. Nicely dressed and presented, it was a wholesome lunch.
We were quite emotional at being back in a restaurant. The food is only a part of the best meals – and we hadn’t really realised just how much of the experience we would miss. We appreciate anew the journey, the service, the venue and above all the casual company of other people, both fellow diners and serving staff. We’re grateful to be back. But who knows how sustainable social distanced drinking and dining will be for the Island’s businesses? With a much reduced number of covers plus some potential customers still rightly unsure about mixing with others, it could be difficult times ahead. But, to those people who have accused us of “destroying local businesses”, we have put our lives on the line today for a hobby that we love. And a venue we love too. Stay safe, people. And cheers!
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Strong vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free menu
- Great venue with waterside terrace
- Cultural centre