1968 is probably too long ago for most people to remember with much clarity, although it was a year with some significant milestones. Outside the pleasant parochial world of the Isle of Wight, the Vietnam War was raging. Closer to home, yachtsman Alec Rose received a hero’s welcome as he sailed into Portsmouth after his 354-day round-the-world trip. And, closer still, the Coffee Pot opened its doors.
Although Matt and Cat hadn’t set foot in the cafe until its Ruby Jubilee (2008), when they did they were easily able to imagine that the place had probably not changed much over its 40 years.
Whilst sitting in the gloomy interior, its walls clad in pine like a Swedish steam room, Matt and Cat were sure they felt the presence of generations of mods, teddy boys, punks and builders – some of whom had taken the trouble to carve immortal hieroglyphics into the tabletops. Like so many other cafes for generations, the interior bore an atmospheric orangish patina of aged tobacco fumes on every internal surface. To add to the historical ambiance, a curling and much sellotaped map of the Isle of Wight languished against the wall, held up with drawing pins and 40 years of indifference. It was the kind of map of which Long John would be proud.
It’s probable that the menu has changed little from those early days; hearty fried breakfasts and sturdy meals such as lamb stew, liver, and various meat pies – all served with mash, veg and gravy – were on the bill of fare when Matt and Cat paid their visit. It’s possible that the prices were converted from old money when the country went decimal in 1971, as the meals were extremely purse-friendly: £1.60 for a jacket potato, £3.00 for bacon, egg and chips.
Matt and Cat stuck with tradition and chose all-day breakfast. Cat had the regular portion (£2.80) and Matt upgraded to kingsize (£4.60); two mugs of tea completed the order. Despite the seemingly prescriptive content of the breakfasts, the kind lady at the counter allowed some substitution – unlike Eegons, where there can be No Deviation. Whilst ordering, Cat couldn’t help but notice the big metal coffee pot on the counter, decorated with jaunty flowers in a canalware style. Was this the eponymous vessel?
Matt and Cat perused one of the complimentary daily papers whilst waiting for their fry-up. One thing that had changed, at least since Cat last looked at page three of The Sun, was that the lady had a bra on. Tits away for the lads, in these politically correct times (or perhaps because it was Saturday?). The cafe’s Ghosts of Punters Past rattled their chains in dismay.
The breakfasts arrived. Cat, having sampled the World’s Cheapest Breakfast (Ryde), was delighted with the difference an extra quid makes. Her breakfast steamed with 2 x very lean bacon, 1 x sausage, a perfectly fried egg, toast and a big pile of fresh mushrooms (in place of beans). Matt’s heartier breakfast had a varied pile which included all of the above plus chopped tomatoes, hash browns (instead of beans) and discs of fresh home-cooked bubble and squeak alternated with rings of black pudding in a satisfying display of striation. Rarely does a cafe breakfast offer bubble and squeak – and in this case it was implemented flawlessly.
The food was lovely; perfectly cooked and with good quality ingredients. The cafe itself may be showing its age but it’s an agreeably old-fashioned atmosphere, and, with 40 years of preparing breakfasts in Union Street, the Coffee Pot’s years of experience make all the difference.
The Coffee Pot, Ryde