A legend used to be an unverifiable but historical tale, handed down the generations in a tradition of story-telling.
When it opened, Newport's House of Legends was a themed eatery focussed on showbiz 'legends', such as film stars, musicians and the like - whose faces Matt and Cat were exhorted to identify on a branded House of Legends paper placemat. However, the word legend has been devalued through overuse (along with 'genius') and is applied as a very mild superlative - occasionally to describe someone of distinctly dubious virtue, eg 'Raoul Moat You Legend'.
Matt and Cat have had widely varying experiences at Legends. A weak start was followed by a pretty decent meal - but then a painfully over-protracted visit to HoL in early 2011, where the pitiful service, food and ambiance all left much to be desired. This led Matt and Cat to rue the day they'd sent their 'recommended by...' stickers to this over-ambitious venue.
But, a year later and like Pizza Hut before it, Matt and Cat decided to give Legends yet another chance. Taking a young family with them to give the place a bit of a stress-test, they stepped trepidatiously over the threshold.
Interestingly, back in the day when the House of Legends' predecessor venue was known affectionately as Joe's, it seemed cosy, but light and airy. Despite Legends being chock full of detail - a mural of the Golden Gate bridge here, a dissected Volkswagen beetle there, and understated lighting - it somehow feels barn-like. And Matt and Cat have realised where HoL reminds them of. Not a rock cafe but the fondly-remembered Brading Waxworks. OK, so there's no sign of Queen Victoria, but there's the Blues Brothers statue - with their rictus grins - and half a Herbie emerging from the wall in a museum-style tableau.
Now the cosy banquette booths have been swept away, replaced by acres of bar. The branded mats and wet-wipes are all but gone, along with the identity parade wallpaper in the toilets. After more refurbishments than Elizabeth Taylor's wedding dress, the bar has led a merry dance around the building and has, for the moment, settled into its original place. The space seems echoic, somehow bleak, despite the overabundance of ersatz movie trivia attached to the walls. The doors are optimistically propped open, presumably to lure in prospective customers. All that seemed to be drawn in was a fearsome draft and wafts of cigarette smoke. So for atmosphere both literally and figuratively, Legends has still not got it right.
It seems that whoever is behind the legend that is House of Legends clearly has some cash to hand, if not always experience when it comes to running a restaurant. However, that lack could be in the past with the injection of a dose of trouble-shooting medicine administered by hospitality guru Ian Whitehead. Matt and Cat had heard that house manager Ian, who has an impressive pedigree of managing a variety of large eateries both on the Island and north of the Solent, was parachuted in to save the ailing HoL. Matt and Cat thought they'd pop in and see if they could detect a difference.
By the time M&C took their places at the table, their friends' children had already managed to tip one drink over. Fortunately it was only water. In fact, this might have been a good thing as it may have gone some way towards ameliorating the curious stickiness of the floor. The menus, of which there were several, offered a variety of standard dishes plus some daily deals - presumably to try and capitalise on the lure of the adjacent cheap-as-scampi-and-chips-for-£1.99 Hog's Head next door. The menus were confusing, and occasionally contradictory. Cat scratched her head over the 'afternoon deals' which included traditional breakfast - served until midday. Having pointed out this anomaly to Matt, he now wanted nothing but breakfast. Conveniently, there was also a 'Legends Breakfast' on a different menu which was - as the text proclaimed - served all day (although a different price than the other brekkie).
Cat duly ordered the breakfast, and a cheeseburger for herself and they then set the stopwatch ticking. Isn't a stopwatch a bit much? Well, usually it would be, but this time there was a reason. One of the lures for Matt and Cat's return to HoL was a declaration in the local paper that it would be twelve minutes from ordering to delivery of food. Last time Matt and Cat visited it had been more like 45 minutes - and then only half of Matt's meal had arrived - so they were more than interested to see if this particular claim was true. It was. Twelve minutes to the second after ordering, the food arrived, to Matt and Cat's open-mouthed astonishment.
Cheese burger £4.90
So, with such swift service, surely the food couldn't be up to scratch? Actually, it could, and it was. Matt's breakfast was a good example of the genre. Two eggs, perfectly cooked, some nicely seared bacon, some beans slopped rather randomly on the plate, sausages, mushrooms, a hash brown and a cup of tea (with all the china trimmings) - plus a fried tomato that wasn't on the menu, an excellent bonus. A few slices of toast would have made it perfect, but even without for only £4.90 this was competitively-priced to say the least.
The shape of Cat's cheeseburger was almost contrived in its randomness; irregularly-edged, almost palmate, and topped with a contrastingly square slice of of cheese. The accompanying salad garnish was quite an overstatement - a couple of large lollo rosso leaves and a slice of beefsteak tomato converted the garnish into a salad. Chips and salsa were alongside, with a large flat bun providing a substrate for the burger and salad. The burger was remarkably good; it had a lovely chargrilled flavour, and with just a couple of chewy bits to add authenticity. The chips were standard but there were plenty of them and also at £4.90, it was pretty good value. Matt and Cat's friends had soft drinks and reported that drinks prices were not nearly so cheap - but there's always water, which Cat drank for free.
It's unusual to revisit a place quickly, but Matt and Cat take their self-appointed roles as food reviewers seriously, and didn't want to be suckered again after falling for a single decent meal at Legends in the past. Wondering if their HoL experience had been an aberration, they visited for a second time the same week. Matt stuck with what he knew and had breakfast; Cat opted for Thai fishcakes at a bargain-licious £2.59. Again the atmosphere was distinctly under par but the service and food was as promised.
Theme-café-lite House of Legends continues its rollercoaster trajectory. At the moment, with what appears to be a firm hand on the tiller, it's riding on the crest of a wave. They said they'd deliver the food on time, and they did. And it wasn't too bad once it arrived. The formerly cringeworthy service has been replaced by relatively professional and unobtrusive staff. The prices are so low that it is hard to see how the business can sustain this. So if you want bargain food now is the time to go and try Legends, because although it would be great to know it was going to continue in this vein, chances are that soon enough it will all be reorganised yet again.
Categories: We like, Restaurants, Family friendly, Newport