Thompson’s, Newport Thompson’s, Newport
5
Thompson’s, Newport

Well, what do you know – the boy has done it again. He’s only gone and opened a restaurant right in the middle of Newport.

What, Newport? Seriously, the place where there are two Wetherspoons? That’s the one. Not only that, but in a former cafe overlooking the bus station. Robert Thompson is the former Michelin-starred chef who could have taken his pick of jobs on the mainland, or gone off to cater on some superyacht. But instead he has laid his roots down on the Isle of Wight.

Thompson’s in Newport is the hottest joint on the Island right now. The eponymous chef is a celebrated face locally, and his talent has gained national attention. Followers of Robert Thompson may have eaten at the Hambrough, the Pond or The George. In any of those venues, in the past diners will have experienced great attention to detail, fiddly dishes with tufts, foams and gratings, and this complex style is still conspicuous in the food at Robert’s new restaurant.

What Robert has noticeably dispensed with is the support of a patron. Traditionally high-end venues have a silent – or not so silent – backer, bankrolling the talent and sometimes calling the shots. Robert has deliberately stepped away from this formula and is going it alone. Well, not quite. He has a loyal band in the kitchen who are as committed to delivering fabulous food as they are to the restaurant’s proprietor. And it shows. Unlike the hushed temple to food that Matt and Cat experienced at one-Michelin starred restaurant the Hambrough, Thompson’s is a far livelier place. Gone are the whispered tones of the waiting staff. The blank-windowed and corporate Isla’s at The George has been swapped for a corner plot with views over a bustling town centre.

Each course was a supremely well-judged assembly of parts to create a greater whole
Matt and Cat’s bill
8-course tasting menu 2 @ £62
Bodegaza bianco wine (bottle) £17.00
Total: £141

Entering the restaurant is like calling at someone’s house; tentatively opening the unsigned door, Matt and Cat found themselves stepping straight into a busy kitchen. Television producers understand the appeal of watching other people cook, and an open kitchen is now a familiar sight on the mainland, as diners are eager to see behind the curtain. M&C are no exception and really enjoyed the theatrical antics as they ate counter-side at Brighton’s 64 Degrees. Although their table at Thompson’s was on the first floor, they could still hear the activity downstairs, something that would never have happened in Robert’s previous venues where the magic occurred in a distant kitchen. If you’re lucky enough to get the option of a table by the engine room you should take it.

Matt and Cat had the tasting menu, a treat which gave them the opportunity to try some of the a la carte dishes that had caught their eye. And, at around seven quid a course, this turned out to be not cheap, but still excellent value compared to Robert’s last gig where Matt paid £70 for three courses in 2014. Matt and Cat eat out a lot and many people imagine that this is an expensive hobby. In some ways it is but, if you barely spend any of your hard-earned on groceries it’s surprising how economical dining out can be. Plus, of course, you don’t have to wash up. And when you’re having a meal of eight courses with new cutlery each time, that’s a LOT of washing up.

The service was respectful but not impersonal; certainly more bistro than exclusive restaurant. It was early doors – the first week in fact – when M&C visited and although some of the staff were finding their feet, others had more a handle on what they were doing. So at least two bottles of water arrived at the table instead of the single one that was ordered and, using dormant skills, Matt and Cat were able to flap their own napkins across their knees.

The food. Yes, it was elaborate, and it was very good. Each course was a supremely well-judged assembly of parts to create a greater whole. A few particular flavours and textures leapt out and caught the imagination in way that is characteristic of Thompson – a burnt apple compote that was a tiny spoonful of smoky delight; and some little beans so fresh and green they were almost sparkling. Some dishes were challenging; crunchy quinoa added an unwelcome grittiness. Other dishes were witty: local rabbit kebab with carrot ketchup? Mr McGregor would approve! Cheese and sea bass, pastrami tuna, a rabbit loin croquette. In the faultless presentation of the little dishes were unexpected combinations: peach and shaved duck’s liver, white chocolate and poppy seeds. Every plateful commanded attention, and got it.

In the creation of this new restaurant, there have been some considerable challenges. The building is old, nay historic, so much so that each alteration was scrutinised to ensure that the property’s integrity was not compromised. This corner plot of this new fancy-schmancy restaurant has, for years, been home to various cafes mostly plying short-order meals to a short-of-time lunchtime trade. Cranking its profile up to this high-end level, with a price to match, is bound to have some of the local hayseeds mumbling disapprovingly into their beards; but frankly, cheap food in Newport is hardly a difficult commodity to find if that’s what they want. Dining of this quality is far rarer, and it’s a good thing for Newport and the Island that Thompson has stuck his neck out here. No coincidence that this time there’s only one name above the door: his own. It’s probably time we stopped calling him ‘boy’ Robert Thompson, because with this confident and self-assured gesture, it looks as though Robert Thompson has truly come of age.

This is the full-length version of the shorter review that was first published in the County Press.

Visit the website: http://www.robertthompson.co.uk/

Thompson's in Newport is the hottest joint on the Island right now. The eponymous chef is a celebrated face locally, and his talent has gained national attention.
  • Superb food
  • Comfortable venue
  • Great value lunchtime deals
  • It's Robert Thompson
  • Not the cheapest food in Newport

5 of 5

5 of 5

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  • IW Regular

    26th October 2016 #1 Author

    Our second visit in a week, but this time for dinner and the 8 course tasting menu. I’ve already described the pleasant ambiance (which is even better at night) and the uncomfortable chairs (which are no better). Robert Thompson now does front of house, but this in no way detracts from the exemplary food and presentation. I’ll get the few minor gripes (chairs aside) out of the way first. A couple of the 8 courses are the usual freebie space fillers that you usually get in top quality restaurants. In many other restaurants, these are additional to the stated number of courses on tasting menus. So it was really 6 proper courses. To be fair, we couldn’t have eaten any more. I even declined the superb cheese course (£11 extra to the £65 tasting menu). Secondly, I opted for the matching wine flight at an extra £45. This was poor value as the servings were in the 50-75cl range, so a few mouthfuls each. It felt as though all of them combined would have totalled half a bottle. Next time I will buy a bottle in the knowledge that I will know what I’m getting and we would get a lot more for a lot less £. Thankfully, the positives considerably outweigh these few minor issues. You realise why you are spending so much when you see 6 chefs working in the kitchen (and they are proper chefs – skilled craftsmen in fact) and 4 front of house staff. We experienced service from all 4 front of house staff and at least one of the chefs. All were absolutely superb. All courses were good to excellent, with the scallop & pork belly and monkfish courses being real highlights. When we lived on the island over 20 years ago, there were always loads of great pubs, but no proper ‘fine dining’ restaurants. Thompsons is as good as you get anywhere in the U.K. and in fact better than several Michelin star establishments I have dined in. I hope that Robert receives a star for Thompsons as he did at The Hambrough as it would be well deserved. 9/10. Next time I will buy a bottle of wine and take my own chair, then it will be 10/10

    Reply

  • IW Regular

    22nd October 2016 #2 Author

    Our first visit to Robert Thompsons current venture, having enjoyed many meals at The Hambrough (we never made it to The George during his brief tenure).

    First impressions positive, although the small chairs were uncomfortable (even with the lumpy cushions offered) and the outlook (the pedestrian crossing by Morrisons) a far less glamorous outlook than the glistening waters of Ventnor bay.

    It was lunchtime and Mrs IW Regular was happy with choices from the dedicated lunch menu, whereas I had to delve into the a’la carte menu. First up, some squid ink dyed long crackers and taramasalata dip. Not my sort of thing but very tasty and superbly presented. Then, along with lovely homemade breads, another freebie – this time a small portion of delicious veloute.

    Mrs IW Regulars BBQ Octopus starter was a triumph. My goats cheese was light and worked well served as ‘cigarettes’. The cold tomatoes with it worked less well.

    Mains were Pollock (they didn’t have the advertised fish) and I had Roe Deer. The fish course was deemed excellent. The venison was cooked beautifully and a very tasty faggot was a fabulous accompaniment, unlike the pieces of sharp apple which wasn’t. I would have preferred vegetables, including potato.

    The treacle tart with stout ice cream was good (I would have preferred the banana ice cream that came with another option, but Mrs IW Regular instructed me to have what was on the menu as it was there for a reason being ‘paired’). The apple dessert with small pieces of sublime toffee was the best of the two deserts.

    As portions are small, I managed an additional cheese course – the a la carte version at £11. The cheeses were all excellent but the highlight was the fennel crackers which complemented the cheeses perfectly.

    Two large glasses of wine and a fortified Shiraz with the cheese brought the tally to £120. Can’t see how a place as upmarket as this can survive in Newport (which isn’t), but I really hope it does.

    Would we return? Yes. For the dinner tasting menu next week in fact. Further review to follow.

    Reply

  • David Millar

    12th February 2016 #3 Author

    Have been 3 or possibly 4 times since they opened. Generally excellent but last visit was a disappointment. A fish dish was badly overcooked (they took it off the bill) and a chervil puree tasted and had the consistency of wallpaper paste (did it incorporate machine blended potato puree rather than hand beaten?). We will try it again but cautiously at lunchtine. That said, it is an excellent addition and we wish them well (as long as the fish is never overcooked!).

    Reply

  • Ruth

    16th December 2015 #4 Author

    We ate at Thomsons last night for a friends birthday and it was wonderful. I have food allergy and they went out of their way to make sure I had an excellent experience. The food was amazing and the table service was excellent, we are so lucky to have a chef and kitchen of this quality in Newport, it was a stunning dining out experience.

    Reply

  • JamesP

    26th November 2015 #5 Author

    “fiddly dishes with tufts, foams and gratings”

    Speaking as a local hayseed (and in the tones of Marvin, from H2G2) ‘it sounds awful’.

    I’m sure Mr Thompson is a talented chef, but this is not for me. If I had 8 courses, I’d have a job remembering what I’d eaten, and half the pleasure of a good meal is recalling the experience afterwards. Burnt Apple Compôte sounds very much like my overdone apple crumble, and carrot ketchup appears to have been invented solely to amuse the diners when paired with kebabbed bunny.

    Like Joan Armatrading, I’m open to persuasion, but someone else will have to pick up the tab…

    Reply

  • Denis Chirgwin

    9th September 2015 #6 Author

    Last week we took our HSBC business bank manager for lunch, and all three of us can thoroughly recommend the excellent food and friendly service. The food was wonderful and excellent quality at a very good price.
    My wife has a table booked for Saturday evening to take me out for a Birthday Dinner and I’m very excited, it’s about time we had a great Chef in Newport and Robert is so good, I can’t wait to hopefully sit and watch his theatre in the kitchen as he prepares our food.
    Well done Mr. T and we wish you well and look forward to you receiving the accolades that will surely come.

    Reply