Over the long, long months, even years of the COVID-19 crisis we’ve been consistently amazed and delighted by the spirit and optimism of the Island’s food and hospitality venues. Not just keeping open in difficult circumstances, some restaurateurs have even gone so far as to set up entirely new ventures, without any certainty that they would even be able to welcome any customers.
Now the time has come, and the doors to venues old and new are opening to hordes of eager diners. Perhaps one of the most eagerly awaited of the new crop is Sweet Charlie’s, in Newport High Street.
The location of Sweet Charlie’s is one with a chequered, but memorable recent history. It is possible to date the age of one’s audience by whether they remember it as where Bar 21 used to be, where Zanzibar and Moda used to be, where the woeful House of Legends used to be, where – very briefly – the Mill Bay II carvery used to be, or perhaps most memorably, where Joe’s used to be. We might have missed a few out there, but you will probably recognise one of them.
Matt and companion took a working lunch at Sweet Charlie’s, expecting to maybe enjoy a coffee and cake combo, and ending up having a two-course meal. The venue has been radically transformed from previous incarnations, with charmingly on-theme candy-stripe paintwork everywhere, and extensive displays of ice cream, sweets and other dessert delights. This place is made to appeal viscerally and unswervingly to kids – and bigger kids. In fact, it seems to have two very different, but not entirely exclusive markets: families during the day, and the young-at-heart falling out of the pubs and restaurants in the evening. This is something we have seen on the mainland, sometimes with posh gelateries, sometimes with student-focussed waffle houses. After a really great meal at a restaurant we don’t always feel tempted by the dessert menu, but following a short stroll in the street the appeal of an insanely sweet ice-cream-based dessert becomes insistent. Now this service is available on the Island and we predict a high demand for it.
Surprisingly, Sweet Charlie’s has a savoury section to the menu; albeit limited to crepes. Each toasted pancake came with a handful of those fancy vegetable crisps, and a few bits of fresh salad. The crepes themselves were nicely cooked and presented: fresh, hot and crispy. Chicken, red pesto and avocado crepe was simple but enjoyable; slightly more adventurous was cheese, big hunks of pineapple and a warm, paprika-rich chorizo which met with approval.
But in Sweet Charlie’s, the clue is in the name. Nobody will be coming here on the strength of the savoury crepes alone, perfectly good though they are. This place is overwhelmingly, outrageously all about the desserts. A range of ice creams is on display in the big freezer cabinets, cunningly arranged just at toddler eye-height. On the many shelves are arrayed examples of Sweet Charlie’s other product range – spectacular, Instagram-ready bouquets of sweets. And on the menu is a big selection of fresh desserts: waffles, crepes, sundaes and more. It is possible to pick your own combo from the colossal range of fillings – including lemon curd, cinnamon and marshmallow fluff – or just sit back and order a house special that’s been pre-designed.
Just managing to resist the “Treat Yo’Self” special (Ferraro Rocher, Reece’s Cups, peanut butter, Nutella, hazelnut sauce and crushed nuts) Matt thought that if this was an evening, after a few shandies, he would have probably ordered the lot. As it was, with an afternoon in the office ahead of him, he went for the more traditional Eton Mess waffle. In fact a half waffle, as it is possible to order smaller sizes at a lesser price. The Eton Mess had all the expected ingredients, including some deliciously sweet fresh strawberries on the perfect cusp of over-ripeness, a scattering of meringue and gooey strawberry sauce. The waffle itself was impressive. Thick, warm and freshly made, this was not anything like the rubbery slabs that sometimes find themselves on the dessert menu in much more prestigious establishments. Squirty cream was perfectly acceptable in this environment, and the whole thing was unexpectedly light and refreshing. We also had a banoffee Biscoff half-waffle which was altogether a more substantial thing: loaded with rich toffee sauce, slathered with Nutella and crushed Biscoff. Oh, and bananas, obviously, lots of bananas. Both these desserts were very positive experiences – and left the diners wondering whether they might order a whole waffle next time.
Cheese and pineapple crepe with chorizo: £5.95
Chicken, pesto and avocado crepe: £6.95
Eton mess half waffle: £4.25
Banoffee half waffle: £4.25
It would be wrong to conclude without a word on the service. It was outstanding. The atmosphere was friendly and welcoming, the place was busy with family groups and everybody was getting personal attention – as we did. A whole troupe of smartly uniformed staff were busy behind the counter, meaning that ordering was quick and easy, and the food arrived very promptly. At one point we even met Charlie herself who came over to check all was well.
This new venture is something different for Newport and for the Island, and one that looks as though it has got a bright future ahead of it. If you like sweet desserts, you’re going to really like Sweet Charlie’s, whether you’re a family with kids, looking for a late night post-pub sugar-rush, or even going out for a working lunch.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Great fun environment
- Big range of sweets and desserts
- Confectionary bouquets