This is an archive review. Urban Diner is now closed.
Ah bless the Isle of Wight, so steadfastly stuck in the middle ages. Or at least the middle of the twentieth century, if you believe the laziest of stereotypes. No, you dont need a passport. Yes, there is a Marks and Sparks. Praise the Lord, theres even a travelator. The county town Newport is quite the commercial hub these days, doncha know.
OK, Newport isn’t New York but, as an administrative centre and flagship town it can hold its head up high. Coppins Bridge in rush hour may not be exactly Piccadilly Circus, the double decker buses are green and not red, and the snaking river is a trickle compared to the Thames but hey, its as urban as we’ve got. Briefly nicknamed Westminster-by-Sea is the office block County Hall, and it is down this end of town you’ll find the Urban Diner.
This double-fronted cafe had a distinctive metropolitan livery, based on the London Transport roundel and featuring the London skyline. Tables were named after underground stations, and the smartly uniformed staff all had red outfits with a bit of a ‘clippie‘ feel to them. Perhaps they should have used Newports (not quite so iconic) skyline; and maybe the Southern Vectis bus stop names dont have the cachet of tube stations but hey, it would be a boost for local distinctiveness!
Urban-Style pancakes and coffee £3.25
Full English and coffee £5.75
Orange juice £1.25
Since Urban Diner opened, Matt and Cat have been persuading people that, although the cafe looks gloomy and closed from the outside, it is indeed open for business. On the darkest of winter days when the cafe was lit from inside it looked open and welcoming but somehow it often looks shut, even when it isn’t. Luckily, this summer the staff have taken to leaving their big doors open to the pavement which not only creates a pleasing streetside dining environment for those within, it also makes it fairly easy to determine that the venue is in fact open for business.
Breakfast was what Matt and Cat wanted. They noted with approval that Urban Diner had a scattering of workmen reading red-top tabloids and getting stuck into platefuls of the full English. That’s always an encouraging sign. The breakfast menu was helpfully diverse, with a ‘light’ option at only £4.50 still looking like a decent meal, going right up to the ‘Urban Diner’ breakfast which, for £6.95 featured three eggs, three sausages plus three rashers of bacon. That was more than enough even for Matt, who took the middle way with the standard two-egg ‘Full English’. Cat was considering the attractive veggie breakfast when her attention was caught and unshakably held by the ‘Urban Style’ breakfast – homemade pancakes with bacon and maple syrup.
While placing the order there was a diverting dialogue with the waitress, who had an extensive series of variations to satisfy: the full English had options for toast or fried bread, brown or white, and even a choice of how the eggs were done. And was that tea or coffee? Clearly, whatever was produced, it was going to be a bespoke creation.
Matt and Cat were not disappointed. The full English was substantial, and cooked just as Matt had requested. Particularly noteworthy were the sausages. Billed as Isle of Wight made, they were better than your average breakfast sausage, being solid and tasty with an irregular shape and texture that implied real meat. The sweet taste and firmness of the mushrooms meant they were clearly freshly cut and fried, not reheated from some sad oily grave as is far too often the case with such meals. This was a good breakfast.
And did the bacon, pancakes and maple syrup score similarly highly? Cats previous experience of this American staple was a version served with those heavy-duty pre-constructed cakes. What drew her eye to the Urban Diners interpretation of this Stateside classic was the homemade element. And she was right. Like a Christmas Cadburys selection box or Terrys Chocolate Orange at Easter, pancakes were a once-a-year indulgence in The Cats home and she still considers them a treat. Enveloped in the trio of pancakes were three lean rashers of bacon and, alongside, a puddle of maple syrup. Cat anointed the pancakes and announced her meal to be the perfect start to the day; this brekkie fuelled her until dinner time.
So Urban Diner is definitely worth a walk down the High Street. It’s smart and cheerful, with great value food that is nonetheless good quality. Above-average ingredients – some locally sourced, both breakfasts were perfectly cooked and the free drinks refills was a nice touch. Recommended.
A shorter version of this review appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on the 18th of July 2014.