As exciting as the Needles is with its internationally famous chalk stacks, geologist-stimulating coloured cliffs and the thrill-seekers’ chairlift; you can get a bunch of similar experiences at the eastern end of the Isle of Wight. OK, there aren’t any chalky pinnacles stretching out towards Selsey, but there is the awesome Culver Cliff. When the tide is in your favour you can walk to the very end of the Island and stare up at the cliff in awe.
As at the western end, the coloured cliffs are there; vertical stripes of different rocks, clayey sands and sandy clays – plus the legendary Bembridge coal. Not quite the stuff of marmotinto or striated souvenirs but certainly equally as exciting to geologists. As for thrill-seekers, they will have to make do with the steep footpath from the Away Resorts holiday park to the beach, as did we.
After a nail-biting game of crazy golf outside the Nab Bar, we tottered down the windy path to the beach. There has been some considerable work down there since our last visit. The path is now cunningly extended to corral walkers to the significantly upgraded Beach Cafe (previously the Tuppenny Cafe). We popped in but there was nothing in the way of of food except ‘grab ‘n’ go’ snacks, the fellas explained. We did the ‘go’ bit, grabbing nothing.
A few steps further down the beach we found the newly restored Wonky Cafe. As the name suggests, restoration is a fairly regular necessity on this unstable site, and certainly in the time we have known it, the Wonky has been stabilised at least twice. Currently, it’s in good shape, and by comparison with the rather quiet Beach Cafe, this venue was full of enthusiastic beach-goers. Families were queuing for ice creams, drinks and snacks, and the little kitchen was busy. Outside, the long verandah gave splendid views across the beautiful Whitecliff Bay, but there are seats indoors for those of flimsy constitution and clothing. As it was a bit blustery we took a window seat inside with the same panoramic view, but warmer.
Seeing a huge baked spud going by, dripping with cheese, Matt was sorely tempted, but inevitably homed in on the full breakfast. Interestingly, and maybe to avoid any accusation of unnecessary nationalism, it wasn’t called a Full English. As is his custom, Matt declined the beans, and asked for more bacon instead. The waitress reacted with approval, asserting “You really can’t have too much bacon.” When the meal arrived, her admirable sentiment had been made good. There was a stack of excellent rashers of back bacon (none of your cheap streaky) cooked perfectly; moist, tasty and with the fat just crisping on the edges. Alongside: perfectly-executed egg, sausage, hash browns, tomato and a couple of rather apologetic mushrooms. Four pieces of buttered toast were served on a separate plate and a pot of hot tea completed the ritual – it was probably a good job it wasn’t a Full English or Matt might have ended his meal by standing on the table and singing ‘Jerusalem’.
Full breakfast £6.60
Fish finger sandwich £3.80
The fish finger butty is becoming quite the trend and the Wonky Cafe is on board with it. Their four finger version is served in the classic floured bap, or white or wholemeal bread if you prefer. There wasn’t any accompanying rocket, Skintrade style, but Cat did manage to procure some tartare sauce which gave the steaming butty a bit of zing. She washed it down with a strong cup of Americano and then had her Lotus biscuit for pudding.
We dallied for ages, using the free Wonky wi-fi to fiddle on our phones instead of looking at that great view of the imposing Culver Cliff and the sandy beach, front and centre. Still, we weren’t harassed to leave. Despite the busyness of the afternoon, the ladies who served us were quick and polite, and showed great interest in the trapped bee we rescued.
The Wonky Cafe may have lost some of its wonky charm with its necessary refurbishment, but it’s really all about the location. Whereas the Needles is a busy tourist mecca, Whitecliff Bay genuinely is one of the locals’ secrets and the Wonky Cafe is well-positioned to capitalise on those low-key heritage experiences that the slow movement probably advocates. With freshly-prepared hot meals, drinks and snacks, plus charming and friendly service, we’re delighted to report that the Wonky Cafe is still going strong.