Sometimes it’s good to go to a place without much in the way of expectations. The Newman Street Tavern sounded on the face of it like just another restaurant climbing on the fashionable Fitzrovia bandwagon . . .
A chef who wasn’t on my radar, the usual guff about sourcing the best ingredients and a name that suggests what Americans might think of as a British pub.
Chef Peter Weeden comes from the former Conran empire (Paternoster Chop House and The Boundary), a heritage you can immediately spot from the crustacea bar common to Conran restaurants in their heyday. Fish comes in daily from Cornwall. Meat is aged in a maturing room downstairs and butchered on the spot. Bread (good old fashioned white and wholemeal loaves) is freshly baked in house.
Our meal kicked off with briny oysters (Colchester rock served with shallot vinegar and a cucumber and manzanilla dressing) and, for the oyster-intolerant, some lovely sweet, simply dressed crab.
There was a small bowl of very intensely flavoured red mullet soup (using 'all the bits of the fish', as Weeden nicely put it) made in a British fashion with saffron but without tomato and some well-judged finely shredded orange which offset the slight bitterness of the livers.
Soused red mullet followed in a sharply-flavoured vinegary broth. You might be thinking 'too much red mullet' but I really liked the fact that the same ingredient was used two different ways because it was good and in season.
There was a perfectly judged rosy pink rib of beef served with a fiery beetroot and horseradish sauce and some amazingly good triple fried potatoes finished with a lavish amount of garlic oil from which you can see that NST would be a good place to go for Sunday lunch.
And very English puddings of the kind you'd expect to find at a dinner party thrown by a foodie friend: the inevitable sticky toffee pudding - the chocolate fondant de nos jours - and a delicious crabapple 'autumn' jelly served with rich chunks of quince and a small lake of double cream.
The wine list, which has been drawn up by co-owner Nigel Sutcliffe who used to work at the Fat Duck, is also a draw: 250 interesting wines divided up into enticing categories like Sea and Ocean and Mountain Reds. Several are available by the glass. and a good number are natural which certainly rocked my boat. The headily perfumed 2009 Vacqueyras "Les Restanques de Cabassole" Roucas-Tomba we had with the beef (albeit an eye-watering £66*) was utterly delicious. As indeed it should have been for that price though there are many cheaper options.
Bar food such as Spicy Moon's Farm beer sticks (aka scratchings) sounds fun and would make the Newman Street Tavern a good option for what Fergus Henderson of St John calls 'a little bun moment' round about 4 in the afternoon. That and its menu of Bloody Marys . . .
On the downside, it’s quite crowded and noisy, even in the upstairs restaurant and I suspect service could get a little slow at busy times.
Good for: visitors to the UK wanting a typically English experience, wine lovers
Not so good for: quiet romantic evenings, vegetarians
Newman Street Tavern is - surprise, surprise - in Newman Street (no 48) just north of Oxford Street and west of Tottenham Court Road. Tel: 020 3667 1445.
*I ate at the Newman Street Tavern as a guest of the restaurant. And we were served a set menu so didn't get a full chance to put the dining room through its paces. I would/will go back though.