There are pubs, there are gastropubs and there is the Newman Arms – a place that combines all of what we love about both: the charm and style of a great boozer and a high level of refinement in the cooking. Too often these days, gastropubs are soulless lifestyle ‘venues’ about which one can usually remember only pale wood and goats cheese and red onion tarts.
The Newman Arms was established in 1730 and, so the story goes, is that which inspired the ‘Proles’ Pub’ in George Orwell’s 1984. A pixelated portrait of Orwell sits above the bar without mention of this fact; instead you’re to rely on the extremely warm and affable staff to explain why he’s there.
This is a pub unlike any other in London. Downstairs it is tiny, and its low ceilings and dark wood resemble an old ale house from a different era – one that today counts professional choir singers, hairdressers, ad execs and publishers among its regulars. But because of what is now happening in the upstairs dining room, soon to that eclectic list we can surely add ‘foodies’. The cooking here is excellent, inventive and makes use of some of the finest ingredients available anywhere in the city.
The Newman Arms 2015 incarnation is one led by Matt Chatfield – whose Cornwall Project initiative is designed to support the best producers and bring the best ingredients from that county into London. This was the guy who only this year hung up his keys and stopped personally delivering the finest aged beef from Philip Warrens to The Ledbury, ChezBruce and The Clove Club.
Chatfield has assembled a very competent team to oversee this particular part of the project: leading as executive chef is Chris Johns who comes from Antidote; the day-to-day cooking in the shoebox kitchen upstairs is done by Eryk Bautista – a name to remember if this level is maintained.
A starter of cured mackerel with fermented gherkin and fresh almonds and main of turbot with baby fennel, smoked new potatoes and olive sauce show off both the quality of the seafood from Matthew Stevens & Sons and the subtle expertise of the team in the kitchen. Both dishes are clean, vivid and balanced.
A glazed slab of slow-cooked short-rib falls apart with unusual ease – a succulent, rich exercise in umami. Meanwhile, with vegetables from The Modern Salad Grower, the ‘vegetarian options’ are anything but an afterthought demanded by necessity; they stand up as brilliant dishes in their own right. The baby carrot, pickled shitake, Old Ford cheese and hazelnut would match any Michelin-starred restaurant for presentation and immaculate flavour/texture combinations.
The wine list has been curated by a blogger-cum-consultant whose knowledge of the market and suppliers delivers quality, value and some nice little surprises. Zeren Wilson, who writes under the name Bitten & Written, has included, for example, the excellent Californian 2012 Ridge Lytton Springs at £48 per bottle. This is far from the typically unimaginative dross so often right at the bottom of the list of priorities in pubs.
What front-of-house has managed to achieve is a balance between an out-of-London warmth with good knowledge of the menu and that wine list. Nothing is overly rehearsed and everything is understated; refreshingly fallible. Much like the Cornish Chatfield himself, who perfectly combines his role as landlord with bar-propping punter; indeed he can often be found sipping his brother-in-law’s Castle Gold – one from the in-cask range of Tintangel Brewery ales.
The Newman Arms smacks of a ‘local’, which, in central London, lends it a unique charm. What Chatfield has done is harness that spirit and added to it with Cornish quirks and an ‘everybody’s welcome’ approach to service. The irony is that with such great food, reasonably priced, it’s hard to imagine that there is going to be anything like the availability to meet the inevitable demand.
By Adam Coghlan
Photographs by Paul Winch-Furness
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