Does an average diner reach the same conclusions about restaurants as a food pro, who may get special treatment if recognised?* Rebecca Seal and olive reader Caro McAdam compare notes on the Newman Arms
Rebecca Seal is a food and drink journalist and presenter on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. Her latest book, The Islands of Greece, is out now. (£25, Hardie Grant)
Caro McAdam lives in Walthamstow and practices as a criminal lawyer. Her best eating experience came when she had white truffle risotto at the Neal Street Restaurant. Her guilty pleasure is peanut butter Oreos.
Set up five years ago by Matt Chatfield, The Cornwall Project was originally designed to supply Cornish produce to top London chefs (The Ledbury and The Clove Club are buyers) and invigorate the local economy.The Newman Arms is the latest of four Cornwall Project residencies in London.The pub counts an eclectic mix of ad execs, choir singers and publishers among its locals but brings to Fitzrovia the charm and welcoming warmth of a traditional alehouse. Newmanarmspub.com
This was one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time, which was as much down to the service as the excellent food. Nothing was too much trouble – not even carrying a buggy and baby up and down a spiral staircase. (It helped, perhaps, that we visited on their very first lunch service and were one of only two tables.) *I wasn’t recognised, although they registered my guest – also a food writer – via her Instagram snap of our lunch.
Service is friendly and efficient from the off: a chunky china-stoppered bottle of tap water appears moments after we sit down. The young guy looking after us answers our questions with authority and obvious enthusiasm – the perfect combination of attentive and unobtrusive.
Kitchen residencies are a great idea for pubs and chefs alike – the pub (hopefully) gets exceptional food from their existing kitchen and the chefs get to do their own thing without all the costs associated with a brand new venue. When it’s The Cornwall Project behind a residency, it’s an even better idea.
The menu is compact – just two or three starters and three or four mains, plus one pudding, with a vegetarian option each course – but bristles with delicious things to try. We ordered and loved both starters: sweet baby carrots and sour pickled shiitake mushrooms, served with Old Ford cheese and crunchy buckwheat; and fine slivers of baby beetroot arranged around tender duck hearts, scattered with edible marigold leaves. Crispy pork belly was an indecently good main course – meltingly tender with a tooth-shattering layer of crackled fat on top, offset by smoked spelt grains and a sharp sauerkraut purée. Crisp fillets of mackerel with shaved ribbons of yellow courgette and broad beans were declared, ‘fresher than a spring day’ by my guest. We shared a rustic, slice of beetroot and blackcurrant cake, with a dollop of moussey vanilla ice cream.
Such stellar raw materials need little embellishment. Here, a short menu has wide appeal. We start with mackerel, fermented gherkin and fresh almonds, and the white beetroot, Worksop blue cheese, currants and hazelnuts. The fish comes in melting, wafer-thin fillets, their delicate sweetness pairing beautifully with the almond nibs and discs of crunchy gherkin. The beetroot is dotted with golden white-currants. The combination of baked beet reduced to its sweet, earthy essence, with creamy cheese, crunchy hazelnuts and sharp fruit, is a clever mix of tastes and textures.
Nor do main courses disappoint. Beef short-rib, bone marrow crumb, heritage carrot, pickled shiitake and confit garlic is cooked to an unctuous stickiness, elevated by the sweet-sour mushroom and garlic purée. Roasted lamb rump, turnip, seaweed sauce, nasturtium and smoked spelt is dreamlike – juicy and velvety, enhanced by caramelized turnip and a chlorophyll tang in the sauce.
We shared one pudding, and cheese. Cherry and almond cake with vanilla ice cream is light, buttery, salty and heavy with fruit. The Tunworth, Stichelton and Cardo are all yieldingly ripe, glorious examples of their type; even the grapes are exceptional.
The bottom line
Frankly, I can’t wait to get back to the Newman Arms’ tiny, wood-panelled dining room and while away an evening working through the exceptional wine list and the rest of the keenly priced menu. Go, now, before it’s impossible to bag a table. Bill was £80.21 for two, including service
FOOD: 9/10; ATMOSPHERE 8/10; SERVICE 9/10; TOTAL 26/30
The Newman Arms is a tiny, 18th-century pub in the heart of Fitzrovia. Its surprisingly spacious dining room, with prints of hunting dogs on the dark wood-panelled wall, and sash windows open to the warm evening air, offers a great escape from the streets below.We’ll definitely be back! Bill was £103.50 for two, including service
FOOD: 9/10; ATMOSPHERE 8/10; SERVICE 9/10; TOTAL 26/30
Food Made Good Rating: 6/10
The Cornwall Project currently works closely with about 100 farmers: the beef short-rib is free range, while the lamb is most likely hogget; Chatfield says he prefers not to use spring lamb.All its fish is caught by day boats operating off the Cornish coast. Despite best intentions, the Newman Arms has no real community engagement yet. Key is the support provided to farmers and the ingenious plan to deliver food waste back to Cornwall for pig feed; there are, though, few measures to reduce the restaurant’s impact on the environment. thesra.org
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