Cafés and culture go hand in hand, so it’s hardly surprising that most historic and cultural attractions have a refreshment offering for the somewhat captive audience. However, the concept of a café within a historic building is actually relatively new. The world’s first museum café opened in London in 1856 in what was then the South Kensington Museum, now known worldwide as the V&A Museum.
Today, you can hardly leave an attraction without entering the refreshment room (quickly followed by the gift shop!) but some of the cafés within these buildings are destinations in their own right.
We’ve taken the time (and sampled) some of the Island’s heritage cafés, here are those not to be missed…
The Forum Café is based at Brading Roman Villa. Set in rolling countryside, overlooking Sandown Bay, it is one of the finest Roman sites in the whole of the UK. Boasting stunning panoramic views of Sandown Bay, the café has a relaxed feeling, and you don’t have to enter the Villa to experience this. Enjoy a range of hot and cold food plus there’s a fully licensed bar in operation offering locally produced cider and ales. Choose from daily homemade specials that make the most of the Island’s local produce.
The Wight Military and Heritage Museum in Northwood is home to a huge range of historic military and other exhibits. Boasting a mix of tanks, artefacts, military vehicles, small arms and a range of uniforms from the 19th century to the present day. Once you have seen it all, a visit to the on-site café is a must. Churchills is like stepping back into the 1940s with its decor and styling. Offering a range of light lunches and snacks, it also does a good line in cakes and cream teas.
Julia’s Tea Room at Dimbola Museum and Galleries is a real hidden gem. Situated in the former home of pioneering Victorian photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron, it’s full of eclectic charm. Expect tea to be served in mismatched vintage china, whilst an array of delicious homemade cakes, including the incredibly pretty gluten-free pistachio rose cake, are displayed temptingly on a long table. Take your tea in the pretty, sunny garden with views to Freshwater Bay and the sea.
There’s usually an exhibition of local art in the tea room. In the main galleries you will find the beautiful Cameron photographs, as well as regularly changing exhibitions from both local and international photographers.
Quarr Abbey, home to a small group of Benedictine monks, is a must-stop when on the Island. Set in a 200 acre estate, you will find the historic abbey and ruins of the original, an art gallery, beautiful country walks, plus the abbey’s very own pigs to visit. The stunning setting provides a peaceful and tranquil place to explore with the whole family, including the dog.
The Tea Shop is nestled in the picturesque walled gardens where you can sit outside amongst the nature and wildlife, including the abbey’s resident hens, some of whom roam freely. The vast majority of the menu is grown on site, with chefs working closely with the gardening team to showcase what is the best of the season. Salads are freshly picked alongside vegetables and fruit which are taken directly from the plot. You can also sample the abbey’s own chutneys, preserves and honey – even wash it down with a glug of Quarr Abbey Ale, resulting in perhaps the most local lunch on the Island!
Enjoy a ‘Royal” cup of tea at Osborne. English Heritage owned, the Italianate former home to Queen Victoria is a sight to behold and certainly one of the jewels in the crown of the Isle of Wight. Famous in the world of desserts – Osborne is associated with the Victoria Sponge, the Battenburg Cake, Beatrice Cakes and Osborne Pudding!
Today, you can treat yourself to lunch or a high-tea (choose from four different types of Victoria Sponge) in the Terrace Restaurant, an ice-cream on Queen Victoria’s private beach, a snack in the Petty Officers’ Quarters or a quick bite from the Gazelle House in the royal children’s Swiss Cottage grounds.