Monday, 7 September 2015
The Newman Arms, Fitzrovia
Most of the time, a good restaurant is not a surprise. When the team behind Trishna opened Gymkhana, the chances were always high it was going to be another complete knockout of a place, and indeed it was. When the annoyingly talented Robin Gill, chef of the Dairy, opened the Manor and then Paradise Garage, that both of these new restaurants also turned out to be serving some of the best Modern British food in the capital, we were impressed, grateful, even, but not shocked. And even when Tom Harris, Michelin-starred chef of St John Hotel and then 1 Leicester Street moved East to open the Marksman, well, quite how brilliant it was raised plenty of eyebrows, but he'd hardly gone from a standing start. The guy had form.
But just occasionally, a restaurant appears in this city that despite no obvious pedigree and with very little fanfare, manages to completely and utterly knock for six. That's not to say that the team behind The Cornwall Project aren't incredibly good at what they do, but in previous locations (for example at the Adam & Eve in Homerton) they've made a name serving up enjoyable, solid dishes using good Cornish ingredients for not much money. But now, at the Newman Arms, they've somehow stumbled upon a chef, Eryk Bautista, whose blinding talent matched with the UK's finest produce has, almost instantly, created a real superstar food destination.
I've made two pilgrimages to the Newman Arms, the first a few weeks back on a mini press invite organised by the head of the Cornwall Project, Matt Chatfield. Despite being open barely a few days and with the paint drying on the walls, the food was still spectacular; I got the distinct impression (I'm sure he won't mind me saying) that even Matt couldn't believe his luck. Above is strips of mackerel with delicate house fermented gherkin and bright white fresh almonds, a work of art on a plate that made the absolute best of the finest Cornish fish.
White beetroot, with that same subtle touch on the pickling, came with toasted hazelnuts and melted blue cheese - Worksop is apparently what Stichelton becomes when it's allowed to ripen even more than usual. But almost the most impressive thing about this dish were the powerfully sharp (white) currants, which matched so well with the cheese it's a wonder you don't see the combination more often. Maybe we will, now.
Short rib had a marvellous loose texture and that dense, rich hit of the finest grass-fed Warrens beef. What at first glance looked like breadcrumbs sprinkled on top turned out to be somehow made of bone marrow, so added yet more animal flavour as well as a clever bit of texture. And I know it's only a little thing, but not only were the green beans perfectly cooked (possibly poached in stock, they had so much flavour), but I particularly liked the way they'd been wound into a little coil for extra presentational flair.
The same stripped-back style of presentation was also used to great effect in this lamb dish; just two generous, pink slabs of lamb separated by a vibrant seaweed sauce and salt-baked turnips. Not an ingredient too many and no sign of frilly or frothy cheffy affectation, just perfectly cooked meat & veg, lifted by a remarkable visual elegance.
Similarly this turbot, a gorgeously browned exterior containing bright-white super-fresh dayboat flesh inside. Draped artfully next to it, a whole baby fennel plant, the root sweet and soft, the head crisp and dry. Without the very best ingredients, this dish could have been disappointing, but I don't think I've ever had a better tasting turbot. Someone once told me that some fish, such as turbot, is actually better being left for a few days before eating; something to do with allowing the flesh to firm up. I asked Matt about this theory. "That sounds like something someone who couldn't get hold of day boat turbot would say" he replied.
Desserts at the Newman Arms generally consist of some kind of cake and their home made ice cream, sweet and soft and darkened with massive amounts of real vanilla. Above is a cherry & almond cake from a few weeks back, but on a more recent lunch I had a stunning blackcurrant and beetroot affair, equally pretty and equally glorious.
On the same return trip I started with this colourful plate of duck hearts and pickled baby beets, and was lucky enough to try their prototype steak & kidney pie. And yes, they know it's not a proper pie if it doesn't have a base. They're working on this. But it already tastes incredible, the parsley sauce and buttery mash also being about as good as you could want.
But the fact the work-in-progress pie was one of the few examples of dishes that could be improved just shows kind of standard at which the Newman Arms is already operating. Good ingredients treated well is hardly a groundbreaking formula for a successful restaurant and like other popular, ingredients-led gastropubs such as the Drapers Arms or the Marksman, the Newman Arms proves again that if you start with good produce and get hold of some good chefs, you're onto a winner. But only very once in a while do you have the perfect marriage of the UK's very finest ingredients fresh from Cornwall and a kitchen team uniquely skilled to make the very most of them. Whether by design or by accident, this lovely old pub is one of the very best places to eat in London right now. And it's only going to get better.
The Newman Arms will definitely be in the next version of the app. Meanwhile, see where else is good. My first meal was by kind invite of the Cornwall Project.