Guinness World Records is an astonishing institution. Under what other circumstances would the oldest ever person, the world’s longest human nose and Norma Stitz’s …ahem… assets appear in the same publication?
And how about that perennial favourite world record: how many women can be squeezed into a Mini? What do you think the record is? Five? Ten? Surely no more than that? Well, if you imagine that the Mini is Newport, and the women are coffee shops, how many do you think now?*
With the opening of Starbucks last year Matt and Cat thought the town must’ve reached peak café. But no. Subway, Nosh, and others have arrived on the scene since then. Only this week the Foundation Bakery re-opened its doors, and still Newport’s bulging coffee sack hasn’t burst open at the seams. Even the Island’s very own UKIP councillor is suggesting that the council should address its £23-million pound deficit with a coffee shop of its own. Nobody is holding their breaths for that. Meanwhile Skintrade, the venerable trendy clothes shop in Newport’s Sts Thomas Square, has diversified into coffee. Matt and Cat climbed the steep winding stairs to the appropriately stylish little café, and found a sunny world of stripped pine, pews and vintage furniture with great views over the minster and square.
Cat trotted up to the counter to place her order, only to discover The Coffee Room @ Skintrade has table service – an excellent feature, and one that is a good idea in quite a confined space. Looking at the small but interesting menu chalked on a big board over the fireplace, Cat asked for a fish finger sandwich. Her butty came with a choice of sauces – she picked tartare, after pondering the alternates of ketchup and brown. Matt chose the lively-sounding Texan Toastie, which included turkey breast, smoked bacon, cheddar and sticky BBQ sauce – presumably this latter was what gave it that lone-star distinctiveness.
Being a coffee room, it would’ve been neglectful not to have a cup of the old bean. At Skintrade this is provided by local roasters Jasper’s. Matt and Cat have enjoyed their tasty coffee before, from their adorable little van during Arts Isle. Here at Skintrade someone had been paying close attention to the details, which included using a neo-modernist-style milk jug and sugar cube bowl, instead of those fiddly little sugar packets. Matt’s smooth flat white was decorated with a design most typical of the barista’s art, the latte leaf. But the experience wasn’t all about the coffee – although it so could have been.
The food was shortly delivered on slates. That’s right, slates. The bane of all waiting staff’s fingernails is still going strong. And just in case the minimal austerity-chic décor hadn’t got the message home, the drinks came in jam jars. But not actual jam jars, these were Kilner-branded jars with handles. For now, the jam jar thing is right on trend. Will it last? M&C predict that in a season’s time, you can expect to see these curious hybrid jar-mugs retired in favour of glass slippers. Or something.
Texan toastie £4
Fish finger sandwich £3.50
And the food? It was perfect lunchtime fare and pretty good value for a cooked-to-order hot filled roll. Matt’s Texan was unexpectedly mild and rich, not quite the blast of meaty flavour the name might have suggested. Plenty of thickly-sliced turkey breast was garnished with a little bacon and cheese, and a sensible smear of BBQ sauce that was, as promised, sticky.
The fish finger sandwich looked good. There is a big movement in craft breads; Matt loves nothing more than a slice of crunchy-crusted sourdough. It may make Cat sound like a barbarian but she has a very soft spot for sliced white, and she waxed lyrical about her floury bap. So far so good. The fingers weren’t the artisan type – you know the ones: gnarly and uneven like an old ladies arthritic digits. No, these were fish fingers in a pleasingly-retro style, leading Cat to get all nostalgic about her student days when she subsisted on a diet of the things. The fish fingers lay on a bed of rocket – one of The Cat’s preferred leaves. And there you have it, a hat-trick of Cat’s favourite foods with a dollop of tartare, nicely presented and specially cooked for her for a mere three English pounds and a shiny 50p piece.
While Matt and Cat sat in the afternoon sun, the busy little venue thinned out as patrons made their way down the stairs and back to their business. M&C felt relaxed enough to order a second round – Cat had spotted some cute cupcakes, and Matt had his eye on a cheese scone. Again, these were presented with panache, this time on little wooden boards. Both proved to be highly satisfactory. Cupcakes may not be the ubiquitous treat they were a couple of years ago but the sight of the vanilla one was enough to destroy Cat’s resolve to give up sweet things for Lent. (M&C went to Skintrade on Ash Wednesday, which gives you some idea of the allure of the cupcake – or the strength of Cat’s will).
Skintrade has taken on what some may have suggested was an already saturated market sector and added something of their own. With a top notch location and lovely coffee, it’s a sunny and friendly environment – plus the cakes are home-made. Yes, Newport, M&C reckon that there is definitely room to squeeze in at least one more if it is of this calibre.
*By the way, the current record for stuffing women into a Mini is 28.
A shorter version of this review appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on the 27th of February 2015.
- Very friendly service
- Unusual and good hot light lunches
- Includes a trendy shoe shop
- Window seats give great views of St Thomas Square.
- Venue is up a lot of winding stairs. Buggies not recommended
- Limited space inside