Sometime soon, if the futurologists are to be believed, we’ll be shuttled around in driverless electric cars – our every move monitored and tagged by our robot overlords. But until that particular utopia arrives, we’ll have to make do with more prosaic ways of getting about. And, in Ryde, one finds the confluence of several forms of existing transportation: the jaunty catamaran, historic boneshaking Island Line train, awesome hovercraft, taxis, and Southern Vectis people’s ride pretty much all merging at the dry end of Ryde Pier.
We’ve often thought how undervalued this gateway to the Island is. Which of you can honestly say you’ve never pointed in excitement at the hovercraft? Or delighted on being the first on the bus and nabbing the much-coveted ‘Chewbacca seat’, as you pretend the number nine is, in fact the Millennium Falcon? Just Cat then.
Anyway, at the heart of this transport hub is Ryde Pier Cafe – with its chunky-tyred electric beach scooter adding to the vehicular iSpy. The erstwhile Delicious cafe is now in new hands, has undergone a makeover and sports a new brand. Ryde Pier Cafe manages to be both seaside and urban, nestled among the flowerbeds of Western Gardens under the shade of a venerable tulip tree.
With a remarkable bit of planning – sorely missing from the back-to-front restaurant in the town’s Co-op – Ryde Pier Cafe faces the right way to catch the best of the day’s sun, plus those lovely sunsets that the Island’s west-facing properties enjoy. On the longest day, it would be rude not to sit outside and soak up the evening’s rays, so that’s what we did, nabbing one of the many patio seats with a view over the municipal geraniums.
The venue has been causing a stir on social media with its craft beers and burgers, so to be honest we’re surprised it took us so long. Cat was straight in with an order for vegan pulled porkies burger, but was encouraged by the chef to instead have the plant burger with its Instagram-friendly charcoal bun. Matt went full-on meat option, with a portion of skinny fries.
We toasted the weekend with a bottle of refreshing BrewDog IPA for Matt, with Cat swigging a glass of Thank-Gawd-It’s-Friday prosecco. As the sun’s light glowed through Cat’s bubbles, we reflected on the pleasure of living Wightside. Imagine sweating for hours in traffic to return to some miserable box in an identikit dormitory town, miles from the coast. We raised our glasses towards the mainland and wished those suckers well.
Plant burger £7
Steak and cheese burger £7
Now that Jamie Oliver’s restaurants have all but gone into administration, there might be a surplus of enamel plates on the market. This utilitarian crockery is actually perfect for a venue like Ryde Pier Cafe and, of course, presses the hipster button with full force. Likewise Cat’s charcoal bun. When it arrived, her dinner made a suitable entrance – even the people at the next table stopped talking to their dogs for a moment to glance at the statement burger.
Under the lid of the sesame seed-studded black brioche was a well-dressed burger. For a soy-based patty it was surprisingly meaty-looking. The pink innards were created from a variety of vegetables including beetroot to give it that rosy hue. Cat had the veggie version, which was enlivened with a slice of melting Dairylea, plenty of American mustard and pickle. It was spectacularly moist and tasty, and slipped about inside the bun as Cat bit into it. With the sauces dribbling satisfyingly down her fingers she made short work of the burger and, at seven quid, it was good value.
The Island steak cheeseburger was probably one of the best burgers that Matt has ever eaten outside. Forget any idea of the dismal dry burger-in-a-bun that some traditional seaside cafe might serve up, maybe with soggy onions if you’re lucky. This was something new and different, a bang on trend in all the best ways. A big, fresh meaty burger nestled in a mess of juicy sauce and cheese, liberally adorned with pickle slices and bacon. The bun itself was not equal to its mighty contents and soon gave up the ghost, but Matt didn’t care.
There were enough skinny fries for us to share. We anointed them with the cafe’s own recipe barbecue sauce. It was way better than expected. BBQ sauce is typically a cloying and syrupy ketchup with a powerful synthetic smoky taste and little to redeem it. The Ryde Pier Cafe interpretation was homemade; rich but not over dominant (as Cat likes her men!). With discernible chunks of actual tomato, it gave the food a complementary rather than an overpowering taste and was the perfect lubricant for the very generous pile of fries.
The midsummer sun was still a long way from setting when we finally continued our journey home from work. Ryde Pier Cafe is an ambitious venture. Like most places with a majority outside seating, its fortunes could be weather-dependent. There is some talent and imagination in the kitchen, plus a finger on the pulse of the plant-based food trend, and these could well see it enjoy a successful summer and beyond. We reckon that the cafe has what it takes to be the ‘first and last’ port of call for Island visitors and folks waiting for their connections.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Fabulous west-facing space
- Decent fast food
- Relaxed vibe
- Weather dependent