All together now… “Monday, Tuesday, Happy Days, Wednesday, Thursday, Happy Days“, etc. As the refrain of that 1970s television tea time staple Happy Days becomes your day’s earworm, you may wonder what the heck it was all about. Like the film Grease, it was so far removed from Matt and Cat’s teenage years as to be almost incomprehensible. Children (played by adult actors) drove cars bigger than English sheds to a ‘drive-in’ restaurant – whatever that was. The lead character, who dressed like your unconventional uncle – you know, the one with quiff and Norton motorbike – was not the hard rocker that he appeared to be. Instead he was a goonish manchild with a monosyllabic catchword. And the whole premise of Happy Days was some kind of coarse-filtered and idealised view of the 1950s created in a post-hippy era.
And so that pastiche of fifties America has itself been re-imagined, relocated and given an Isle of Wight spin in the form of Ritchie’s Diner. The charismatic Fonz has been adequately represented by a lifesize wooden-hearted Elvis, frozen in hip-shaking pose. Sodas have been replaced by a nice cup of builder’s tea, and music is provided not by a jukebox but via a radio in the English café style. Matt and Cat wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, Cat was recently stateside and can confirm that even the most authentic of diners is more likely to cater for blue collar workers than turned-up collar fictional shark-jumpers.
Conforming to type, the tables at Ritchie’s Diner had wipe-clean cloths and bottles of condiments ready to dispense their saucy cargo. Tabloid papers, including the Island’s own County Press, were available for customers’ delectation. Unlike a fictional American diner no roller-skating waitress arrived table-side to reel off the dishes; instead the menu at Ritchie’s is writ-large on a massive chalkboard above the counter. Frankly, if the café had been in the United States of kiss-my-ass then there probably wouldn’t have been liver and bacon on the menu, nor bubble-and-squeak.
Let’s dispense with the tiresome American analogies and cut to the chase: Ritchies is an English café on the Isle of Wight which serves liver, cabbage and fried eggs. Proper grub. And unlike some cafés on the Island which steadfastly refuse to allow any variation (why Eegon’s, WHY?), Ritchie’s chef was happy to rustle a couple of poached eggs and mushrooms on white bread for Cat. Where she went wrong in creating her own dish was neglecting to include Ritchie’s famous bubble and squeak. Other than that oversight, the eggs and mushrooms were just to Cat’s liking. Channelling her inner Goldilocks, Cat was pleased to see that the yolks weren’t too hard, nor the whites too runny, but both eggs were just right. As she prodded the yolk of one with her knife, it seeped out and slowly made a yellow puddle which was gradually absorbed by her buttered white toast. A perfect example of the genre.
Bubble and squeak special £5.00
Poached egg and mushrooms £3.95
Orange juice £1.25
Matt, a veteran of Ritchie’s, was there for one reason: bubble and squeak. The rest of the menu was probably good. He didn’t look. Bubble and squeak is an institution that rarely finds its way onto café plates these days – occasionally on a Monday lunchtime, but as a staple item? Very unusual. At Ritchie’s, it’s on the menu most days, and today was no exception. Matt’s B&S special came with a vast pile of perfectly fried potato and veg, seared so there were plenty of those crisp edges, but few of those stodgy middle bits. Really, your mum could hardly have done better. Egg, bacon and tomato completed the meal, and with complementary bread and tea or coffee, this was astounding value at only £5.
Supping up their tea and orange juice to finish their meals, M&C folded the County Press and returned it to the café’s library. With a cheery farewell from the waitress they were on their way. Despite being about as near in age to teenagers as the actors playing Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson, M&C were not heading to some romanticised view of high school (Cat’s comprehensive was definitely more Grange Hill than Rydell High). Nope, they were on their way to a factory on Sandown airport to see some manufacturing. Proper activity to carry out after a Monday lunchtime fry-up in a café in a former fridge factory.
Ritchie’s is in an unprepossessing environment, but its interior and welcome are warm and pleasant. Even though it gives more than a nod the romanticised 1970s interpretation of the fifties diner, at its heart it is still an English greasy spoon. Matt and Cat use this term not pejoratively, but with affection. Places like Ritchie’s abound on the Island but you have to seek them out, often in the places that the tourists don’t go. But make the effort and at Ritchie’s you will be rewarded with the most delicious bubble and squeak known to man.
- Nice cup of builder’s tea
- Friendly service
- That bubble and squeak!
- Not in the most picturesque of locations
- Daytime opening hours only