''I was filled with anxiety when Les asked me to contribute a post about last night’s dinner, after all, my knowledge of things food could probably fit on a postage stamp. Godammit, I don’t even cook! My usual haunts are those sort of places oft despised by foodies but loved by the “man in the street” (with one exception, a delightful Italian eaterie whose owner I’m familiar with, which will remain anonymous).
The Newman Arms in Rathbone St, W1, from the outside looks like one of those timeless places which might have been there since horse drawn carriages were the popular mode of transport. It’s a tall, thin building sandwiched in a terrace not far behind Tottenham Court Road. Even though it was Thursday, rather than Friday, night, it was already packed inside and spilling out onto the pavement. Our mutual friend and fellow diner, KC, assured me this was because the area was Media Land, and these people aren’t really affected by the recession.
I get nervous around large crowds in confined spaces so I was grateful when we went straight upstairs to the dining area. From the outside, the Newman Arms appears to have three more floors above ground level so I was surprised that only the first was being used for dining - it would be hard to imagine more than twenty diners fitting in. No wonder when Les and KC went there unannounced some while ago they were strictly limited to one-hour maximum!
This time the table had been booked so no such restriction applied. Both Les and I finished our main course first and our plates were cleared away before KC had finished which I thought a bit unprofessional. Les assured me it’s normal practice in pubs! I did get the vague impression that we were, although not exactly “hurried along”, being kept to a fairly tight schedule.
The Newman Arms does pies, so that’s what we had.
Well, Les had Steak and Kidney pudding whilst KC and I had pies. My Steak and Guinness pie was fine, attractively presented, vegetables fashionably undercooked, and steak chunks pretty edible, if not exactly premium quality, in a nice tangy gravy. For the very reasonable price, it was a very reasonable dish.
KC knew exactly what he wanted without consulting the menu. Turns out he’d already consulted the menu on the web before we even got there. Got to admire planning like that. But, it didn’t quite work out. He ordered Chicken, Gammon and Leek pie, which had even me, with my love of steak, getting a bit envious
As we were tucking in I noticed KC rummaging around inside the pie and enquired what he was looking for.
Turns out the gammon was not just minimal, it was, err, completely absent. The leek was represented by a few mixed in bits of green which, as KC later pointed out, could have been virtually anything of green colour! He’s not one to complain and stoically worked his way through what was apparently a perfectly good chicken pie. When I offered him a bit of my gravy for flavour he gratefully accepted, so I imagine it was a bit bland. Les managed to catch the waitresses’ eye and explained the problem.
I found her explanation that it was mixed and cooked in a large pot and therefore subject to some portions (pies) getting more of one ingredient than another rather implausible, as there was not a single, minute, bit of gammon in sight. We queried it again, but she was adamant that no mix-up had taken place, just a lack of proper mixing, as it were. I wasn’t impressed by her certainty in the face of the bleedin’ obvious! Anyhow, KC was offered a free drink by way of compensation, which alas he didn’t take up, as he didn’t desire any further liquid.
Dessert went off without further hitch,
with both Les and I having a delicious Spotted Dick with custard pudding.
KC had apple pie with ice cream. He said it was OK, possibly a little bland and dry. It wasn’t really his lucky night! My coffee was OK. Not the best, but respectable for an English diner.
I enjoyed my meal, as I believe did Les. KC didn’t fare quite so well, though he, being the discreet, modest person that he is, didn’t want to complain about it. A bit more humility on the part of the, otherwise pleasant and efficient, waitress wouldn’t have gone amiss. Other than that, a nice meal in a hospitable, if rather cramped, pub, at a decent enough price.''
Thank you Pete.
And for my tuppence worth: this family-run pub serves gratifying pastry-based grub Delia would’ve been proud of and smitten with. Despite the denial of the ‘customer-is-always-right’ policy regarding the awol gammon from the chicken, gammon and leek pie (and the latter for that matter), the Newman Arms deserves a strong commendation for serving delicious pies as good as your Nan’s or Mum’s efforts.
Message to all my non-foodie and non-Brit. friends- suet has never been primarily vegetarian and it’s certainly not margarine or a veg…Taps (plonker and all), you were thinking of swede!
23 Rathbone Street
(off Charlotte Street)
London W1T 1NG