The Isle of Wight is often insulated from mainland trends, but even the Island’s high streets have not escaped the decline of recent years. This national phenomenon has been attributed to anything from online shopping habits, austerity, high business rates and car parking charges, inaccessible public spaces, chuggers, spiceheads and pedestrianisation.
We have our own thoughts about this, but one thing is clear, a return to the old retail model is unlikely to happen – especially on the Island where the clock has to tick forwards before it can be turned back.
Nonetheless, we love our high streets. They’re not just about shopping, but are important public spaces where we can casually bump into our friends and neighbours for a catch up on the local gossip. Places where we can enjoy our sense of community and belonging. Buying stuff is welcome to stay in the virtual world, but things that cannot be bought over the internet, such as a haircut and coffee with a pal, will always have their home in actual reality.
Even so, these services – when done well – are more than just blow-dry or a brew. Customer service is key to the success of any business which has front-facing activities. We eat out a lot and, as well as good food, one thing that will have us returning to a venue is excellent service.
Newport has cafes coming out of its metaphorical ears, but amazingly West Wight has been slow to jump aboard the hipster coffee shop bandwagon. PO41 started the ball rolling, but there is still plenty of space out west for chalkboard menus, Scandi-styling and artisanal brews. Over in Freshwater, the baton has been picked up by a young and enthusiastic couple who have boldly chosen to help revitalise the sleepy town with their vibrant business – The Freshwater Coffee House.
As its name suggests, one thing the coffee house is passionate about is its coffee. The owner is an enthusiastic trained barista, keen to spread the roast-bean gospel. And coffee-lover Cat can confirm that they do indeed serve a damn fine cup of the stuff.
In the area for the re-opening of Yarmouth Pier, we went in search of a light lunch to supplement the lovely canapes we’d had at the pier’s reception. The Freshwater Coffee House was quite the beacon of hope as, being a Monday, some of the area’s other venues were having a well-earned day off after a presumably busy weekend.
Although it was mid-afternoon by the time we rocked up, we were delighted to see that all the breakfast offerings were still available. Cat quickly chose the pancakes with Greek yoghurt, while Matt plumped for Spanish toast from the daily specials list.
Pancakes, berries and yoghurt £4.75
Spanish toast £4.25
Chai latte £2.50
We ordered our lunches, demonstrating a level of self-control not seen outside of a monastery as we resisted the array of delicious-looking home-made cakes on the counter. Sitting at a bench seat in the window with the autumn sun warming our backs, we could see that the venue was a real hub; a nursing mother on a cosy sofa, local knit-and-natter group sharing a big table, plus a brace of solo diners (often a sign of a comfortable and welcoming environment). We watched the owner and his wife work the room. Like the outstanding customer service at Ryde’s No 64, at The Freshwater Coffee House they know how to treat folks by making them feel included and thus building a community.
Cat’s honey-drizzled pancakes arrived with fresh soft fruits and a sliced banana. The jewel-like raspberries glowed in the sunshine, before Cat smothered them with lashings of tangy yoghurt. This simple light dish was well-executed and enthusiastically received.
Matt had a meat-enhanced variation of his favourite comfort food: cheese on toast. Named Spanish Toast this was a hot toasted ciabatta with sliced chorizo and melted cheese, served with crisps and a green salad. Nicely presented, it was a straightforward and very reasonably-priced lunch.
Having tried his first ever chai latte, Matt declared it to be his new drink of choice. This gently-spiced cuppa was like a milky taste of Christmas, and caffeine-free if that’s your tea bag.
The Freshwater Coffee House is astutely positioned, with a big picture window to not only draw in the sun, but also passers-by. With a bus stop outside, and Sainsbos and Hursts within its coffee aroma catchment, it’s no surprise that this stylish venue has hit the ground running. Although the science of coffee making is a particularly grown-up pursuit, The Freshwater Coffee House is deliberately family-friendly, with tea time menu options for children who want to have a light bite while doing their homework, teeny paninis, and meals for those with a smaller appetite. They are also mindful of the demand for various dietary preferences, so meat- and gluten-dodgers should also find something to please them. They even have a plastic-free policy.
If the Freshwater Coffee House were in Newport or Ryde it would be remarkable enough, but in Freshwater it stands out like an oasis in a desert. The people of Freshwater have already taken to their hearts the novelty of town centre barista coffee, simple, well-priced home cooking and stellar service.
This is the full-length version of the review that appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Friendly and welcoming service
- Food for modest budgets
- Community vibe
- Decent coffee (of course!)