Update 5 October 2016 – I understand there are some changes happening at Newman Arms, so the offer is different to that described below. The kitchen is closed for the moment. Will add notes when I know more.
Just a few words on a low-key dining room on the first floor of a pub which, it turns out, is one of central London’s top options for relaxed yet quality dining:
Under the moniker ‘The Cornwall Project‘, Matt Chatfield has been sharing the very best of Cornwall’s fish, meat and vegetables with the very best and forward thinking of London’s chefs and restaurants for, I’d guess, five or six years now. If you’ve eaten at The Ledbury, The Clove Club, Kitchen Table, Pitt Cue, Lyle’s, Smoking Goat … the components of your meal may well have spent time in the back of his van.
In 2015 Matt took over Fitzrovia’s Newman Arms, putting that produce to work in his own restaurant, and Cornish ales alongside London’s craft beers in the small, endearingly traditional bar downstairs.
There was a clutch of rave reviews from diners in the know around the time it opened (such as Fay and Lisa), though having finally eaten there myself, I’m not sure why the other critics of singular names, (Marina, Giles, Adrian, Grace and Jay) didn’t immediately visit and then follow with the full 62 gun salute.
So whilst it’s late in the day for words on the matter, it seems to me this is a joint that’s not yet overdone. Indeed, two meals there over the last month are worth writing home about (hi, Mum).
The small, olde English wood panelled room reminds me of Upstairs at the Ten Bells in the way that it sets you at ease, whilst singularly failing to prepare you for modern, light touch yet flavour heavy and aesthetically pleasing cooking coming out of a tiny kitchen. This is a good thing.
During the best value lunch I can remember for some time (3 quality courses for £19) I ate blushing pink duck hearts on toasted sourdough dripping with moreish wild garlic butter. Simple but incredibly satisfying, and I can still remember every bite one month later. Next came an outstanding piece of pollock. Firm, meaty and with far more flavour than most examples of this fish that I’ve eaten (brined?), its soft flesh and crisp, golden crust was offset by sweet, charred hispi cabbage (of course) dressed in an intense lemon emulsion. Oyster leaf, ever surprising in its minerality, tied the brassica and fish together; the meeting point of land and sea.
For dinner on another occasion, delicate, creamy sweetbreads were given a buttery, lightly curried crust and served with baby gem and black garlic purées and sauces. Around the table others enjoyed plates of English asparagus in puddles of rapeseed oil, artfully topped with flakes Corra Linn cheese – no need for olives and Parmesan up here. Similarly seasonal was a starter of Jersey Royals, shrouded in a glossy and voluminous cloak of buttermilk.
Mains included generous portions of intense, pink tranches of mutton served with smoked mash and mushrooms; and large pieces of meaty, fresh as can be monkfish with a paprika sauce and more charred hispi (this time the cabbage had been fermented before griddling). I wasn’t wholly convinced by the light, red pepper and paprika sauce (a touch of the Heinz tomato soup), but as with the pollock on the previous visit, the quality of the fish and the way it had been cooked and seasoned was first class. In any event, across mains, starters and desserts, no plate on the table was left without finger marks running across it. The acid test, no?
Honourable mention needs to be made of one of the side dish options: deep fried pink firs. Sorry kids, but these eclipse even *those* St John B&W / Quality Chop House confit layered spuds as London’s best chip. A flared crisp outside, light fluff in the middle. I’ve no idea how many times they get dunked in the frier, but wow they’re good.
Desserts are decent – the best I’ve tried was a salt caramel tart with pretzel ice cream. A sweet, well toffee brown pastry case contained silky set caramel custard, which could have passed for dulce de leche.
And it’s worth noting that the package comes with a friendly and extremely competent waitress and kitchen team; who barely flinched when serving, at a good pace, our second sitting five person table alongside a large, 18 man group and a couple of other twos and threes. That’s impressive juggling from such a small team, btw.
I’m moving back, as I think others are too, towards a desire for my own starter, main and dessert, rather than share small plates for the table. Wandering around the Charlotte St neighbourhood for ten minutes before dinner the other night, it was apparent that form of eating is pretty difficult to find; and certainly not at the value offered by The Cornwall Project’s dining room. Newman Arms’ prices are higher in the evening than at lunch time (starters and desserts at £6/7, mains around £18), but that still feels like a relative bargain for what you get.
It’s a lovely little spot up there in the quiet of Rathbone Street’s first floor – out of sight from the chains of Charlotte Street and the masses who window shop them. You should go.
Newman Arms in 3 words
Unassuming, unexpected, endearing.
3 courses at lunch is a faintly ridiculous £19. Dinner is more like £35-40 per head for food and service. Plus, of course, whatever you spend on very reasonably priced wines and beer.
www.newmanarmspub.com – 23 Rathbone Street, W1T 1NG – 0203 643 6285