Even when driving on the Island’s quiet rural roads, it is easy to be overwhelmed with highways signage and, in the towns this pervasive...

Even when driving on the Island’s quiet rural roads, it is easy to be overwhelmed with highways signage and, in the towns this pervasive blight is so ubiquitous that the messages merge and homogenise, ceasing to be of any real use. In fact last year the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England was proposing that local authorities carry out ‘clutter audits’ to make sure that signs do not cause unnecessary visual intrusion as they say ‘too much information can actually reduce road safety’. However, this is not just a highways issue as can be seen here.

On a sunny Sunday in June a rather cool welcome awaited the visitor to the Tollgate Cafe, Bembridge. The serving ladies offered a polite if perfunctory service in this perfectly located beachfront shack but it is the omnipresent signage that revealed the true feelings behind this business.

Tollgate Cafe, Bembridge

On almost every surface was some legend; over half a dozen messages were recorded by your reviewers, all of which had a rather unfriendly tone:

  • no barbeques
  • no skateboards or bikes at any time
  • no china to be taken on to the beach
  • only food purchased from the Tollgate Cafe is to be consumed on the outside tables
  • dogs water bowls are not allowed inside this cafe
  • anyone wet from the sea please wait outside for service
  • please do not places nappies or doggie bags in this bin
  • do not sit babies on the counter
  • no animals from abroad may be landed (although this sign may be courtesy of the HM Revenue and Customs)
Tollgate Cafe, Bembridge

As well as the messages being lost in such a sea of directives, this scattered collection of instructions reminded Matt and Cat of their recent visit to The Sloop where the waitress greeted them with a list of food that was not available. Still, as they had only popped into the Tollgate for a cup of tea and a cake, should they have expected anything less than a swift and indifferent transaction?

From the roadside the Tollgate Cafe looks a bit utilitarian. On entering it starts to exude the slightest whiff of charm with its homemade cakes and stencilled transport cafe-style menu. For a seaside eatery the Tollgate has a comprehensive choice of hot food: burgers, chips, pies and nuggets as well as toasted sandwiches. Despite being refused a cream tea (as it was not on the menu), Matt and Cat decided to stay and have a tea cake and a cuppa. Making their way through the cafe to the harbour-side seating, M and C found the secret of the cafe’s success. The outside seating is in a suntrap with an enviable position adjacent to some excellent sanddunes which, at the time of Matt and Cat’s visit, were abundant with flowers.

The big buttered teacakes arrived with two steaming mugs of tea and it was then that Matt and Cat started to thaw a little towards this rather bizarre little cafe. Surely loved by the east Wight’s second-homers for its unspoilt charm and holiday makers likewise, the Tollgate Cafe is trading on its location. And the teacakes were really very good. Perhaps the proprietors could ease up a bit with the instructions or maybe sneak in a few that say things like ‘welcome’ and ‘we hope you enjoy your visit’.

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  • da yw wyth

    24th December 2013 #1 Author

    Top marks to the Tollgate which was open on usual times on Christmas Eve when all other cafes between Ryde and Bembridge seemed to have better things to do. Yes, very welcoming, and a proper seaside cafe, full of proper Island seaside characters. The other places may be swankier, but where are they when the chips are down?! And it’s open Boxing Day too. Yes, and with a genuine welcome!

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  • Mumof3

    29th October 2013 #2 Author

    What a hole! Popped in there for lunch today with my 3 year old and 13 month old twins. No highchairs to start with. Not too much of a problem, I thought; I had portable ones. But… Such a poor layout inside so no chance of getting the double buggy inside. So I took the 3 year old in and sat him down, and installed the portable highchairs. This upset the babies who, understandably didn’t understand why I was leaving them. I then had to get one at a time, which also upset them both. No offer of help from the staff in the cafe. I don’t expect help, but it would have been nice, don’t you think?

    The menu had nothing better than chicken nuggets or fish fingers for children. Is this really what they think children want to eat? I reluctantly chose fish fingers for them and went to order, upsetting them all again at being left (they were hungry, so the slightest thing upset them). At the counter, the lady said ‘is that your lot?’, which really went a long way to make us feel welcome as valued customers!!!!

    After 45 minutes we asked how much longer. They had one more order to cook before starting ours. They cook each order individually, on eater the other. Not wonder it was taking so long! I ended up apologising for being unhappy at waiting so long, and that the children had had enough of waiting. Their response? They’d had enough of us waiting too. I asked for a refund. I’m still struck by how expensive our order was for junk food. Why this place is still in business is beyond me. I guess for a cup of tea if you’re a walker or on the beach it might be ok. Definitely not child friendly. Not really customer friendly. If it wouldn’t have upset my 3 year old so much I would have asked for a refund for the little boat I bought him to play with while we were waiting. It sickens me that they got even a penny out of us. Not only rude to customers, but unprofessional too, with the two old ladies shouting at and arguing with each other.

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  • C & R

    26th March 2011 #3 Author

    The teacakes are very good. The attitude of the proprietor, however, is terrible if you dare to complain! Stopped by yesterday for a teacake for my children and a slice of carrot cake for myself. The cake was awful – very stale – rock hard to the point of inedible. It smelled of musty clingfilm. I went back inside and found myself apologising for complaining and simply asked if the cake could be swapped for something else. The little old lady behind the counter was very apologetic but ‘Trevor’, who appeared from the kitchen on hearing my complaint, was very rude! He whisked my cardboard cake away and exclaimed, “just have your money back, that would be better!”. How ignorant. We won’t go back. Maybe he should erect yet another sign informing customers not to complain?

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  • VFBB

    20th March 2010 #4 Author

    I went there once a few years ago and was too taken aback by the amount of signs instructing customers on what not to do. So much for a warm welcome! A beach side cafe that asks sandy people to stand outside are surely missing the point. Whilst there I witnessed the lady that works there be very rude to a child and her mother. The little girl said she felt sick however the toilet was engaged. She came back in in tears asking for a bowl but couldn’t wait and was sick on the floor. She was obviously very embarrased, poorly and tearful and the mother apologetic. The lady was very rude to them, cruel in my opinion, and since that day I have never been back.

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  • Cpt. Carling

    22nd January 2010 #5 Author

    Rubish. I would rather eat my own arm than eat here. They don’t fry anything, so no chance of a bacon sarnie or a fried egg with your breakfast.

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