Imagine that you had a huge plot of vacant land in an elevated position with a stunning northerly outlook overlooking a beautiful Victorian town, with the glistening and bustling Solent in the mid-ground and, in the distance, the shimmering metropolis of Portsmouth and Southsea. Assume that you had permission to build on it a supermarket, and that in this there would be a cafeteria. Would you orientate the supermarket’s cafe so that, from its massive picture windows, punters could gawp at the panoramic view described above? Or perhaps position the cafe so it looked out over the back of some shops and a wall? Thought so. Nevertheless, ten years ago, during the construction of Ryde’s Somerfield, Cat watched stunned as the cafe’s windows were positioned away from the view. Somerfield’s windowless northern elevation is an opportunity wasted by the supermarket’s architects – did they even visit the site? But does this architectural gaffe affect the eating experience?
Matt and Cat, desperate for something to eat in Ryde at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, found that most of the town’s eateries were no longer serving. However, Somerfield’s cafe continues to dispense food until about 15:30.
On drawing up at the bright, clean counter Matt and Cat were pleased to examine the surprisingly varied menu which included two flavours of soup, pasta bake, and several breakfast combinations, including vegetarian, regular and small. Additionally there were prepared sandwiches in the chiller and plenty of cakes and light snacks. Cat considered the small breakfast which, at a mere £1.99, suggested that it might be the perfect amount for her small appetite. However, on enquiring, Cat was told that the small breakfast consisted of a sausage, bacon, fried bread, tomatoes, egg and toast! As her eyes slightly boggled her mind joined in, wondering what quantities the regular breakfast contained. She opted for the less trouser-bursting egg on toast and the chef obligingly complied with Cat’s request for white bread, scrambled egg instead of fried and the egg next to the bread, not on top. She knows what she likes, does Cat.
Matt was less particular, choosing his old favourite ham, egg and chips. With a cup of self-service tea each, which could be dispensed in a variety of combinations: from a pot, in a mug or via a cup and saucer, Matt and Cat sat by the vast window and peered through the gaps in its closed blinds. It wasn’t bad; there was plenty of activity on the town square. But it was nowhere near as spectacular as the elusive view of the Solent over the rooftops.
Still, they didn’t have too much time to consider the landward vista as their lunches arrived in quick time. Cat’s scrambled egg and toast was just as requested; toast on the side. However, the egg was just a bit rubbery and the toast was slightly burnt but the lashings of butter gave it a very pleasant flavour, and it was nice and moist. Matt’s plate contained two lean but generous pieces of thinly sliced ham, a freshly-fried egg and a decent portion of very good chips.
For less than a fiver, Matt and Cat ate well and managed to squeeze about four cups of tea out of their two teapots. That’s good value by anyone’s standards. The staff were exceptionally friendly and accommodating, the food was better than expected and, unlike some other supermarket cafes, Somerfield’s food is freshly prepared on the premises, not just nicked out of the shop’s freezers and nuked. Shame about the view!