What is it about chain restaurants? We diners profess disdain for them, saying that we prefer small local businesses for our meals out. But clearly we don’t – or at least a lot of us don’t. It doesn’t look as though McDonald’s in Newport is closing down any time soon, and the huge new Prezzo, despite our own lukewarm welcome, seems to be doing brisk trade. Meanwhile some well-loved local businesses such as The Little Gloster and The Ocean Deck are taking an extended winter break.
We thought we’d try something that ought to be pretty hard to get wrong. The traditional Sunday roast is a meal that any big, family chain pub should churn out flawlessly. With limited options, low prices, standard ingredients and predictable timing, many pubs do a great job with this – we’d single out the Waverley, Carisbrooke as a particularly good example.
We gathered some friends, including their hungry teenaged lads, and set off for the rebranded Beefeater in Newport (formerly the bizarrely and tautologically-named Table Table). As we walked up to the riverside venue the enticing smell of chargrilled beef lured us in.
We were settled into a nice spacious table in the smart dining area, and a cheerful lady brought us drinks as we studied the menu. Twice we sent her away as we prevaricated over our order – and, looking back, we can only give a wry smile at this naive innocence. You’d think with the amount of eating out we do we would know when we were being given a subtle message. We’re pretty sure this friendly waitress was trying to let us know that getting our food order in quickly would be a good idea, for so it proved. One of the tech-savvy youngsters in our party was sat near to the till and on its screen he cannily discovered the outstanding orders and waiting times which were flashed up. In the style of KFC or Argos or, we could watch our order progress slowly up the ranks. Our computer whizz-kid noted that it arrived exactly 37 minutes after we placed it.
Cat took the vegetarian path, as it’s what our readers demand of us – and it sure ain’t going to be Matt who eschews meat. On the roast list was a tempting-sounding vegetable Wellington, pastry filled with spinach, mushrooms and Brie. Other than being ‘golden’ the type of pastry was not specified. If it was puff pastry then it was sadly deflated. Perhaps it was closer to its laminated pastry cousin, flaky. Anyway, the innards were pretty tasty; a rich mushroomy filling with hints of spinach and perceptible pieces of Brie, combined with a slightly peppery note. Cat deftly swapped her roast potatoes (to her nearly always a floury disappointment) for the far more reliable cauliflower cheese. It was a satisfactory swap; not too watery yet cooked nicely through, its sauce helped reheat the green beans which had cooled in transit from the kitchen on the cold plate. Remember the first rule of Roast Dinner Club, people – warm the plates.
Matt had been intrigued, when he ordered his roast beef, to be asked how he would want the beef cooked. Medium-rare, of course, was the answer, and when the meat arrived we found out what this unusual enquiry meant. A normal roast dinner offers no such choice – you get slices of meat off a fresh joint of beef and it’s all cooked the same way. At Beefeater, the beef was presented like a grilled steak cut into chunks. Indeed, Matt noted with approval, it was medium-rare, and a very nice, lean, tasty bit of meat it turned out to be. Being the title dish, you’d hope that Beefeater would get the meat right, and once the unexpected format was overcome they really did. Even the horseradish that Matt requested came swiftly and was suitably fiery – all as it should be. There was also a very satisfying option to order a ‘Sunday Special’ upgrade – for just 99p Matt could be furnished with an extra half-a-dozen roast spuds, another Yorkshire, and another jug of gravy. So obviously he did. Wouldn’t you?
Roast beef £9.99
Sunday extra portion £0.99
Vegetable Wellington £7.99
Desserts – complementary
Alas the meals around our table did not all meet with such approval. One of the lads found his steak, requested as medium-rare, was delivered well done. More spectacularly, another of the party found a winged insect in his salad. Entomologist Matt peered over his glasses at the offending creature and declared it was probably a small solitary wasp. This diagnosis was of little consolation to the poor chap trying to eat his dinner (or to the dead wasp), but when he gently brought the invertebrate to the attention of the waitress, Beefeater swung into action with an apology, an immediate offer of a replacement dish, and a full course of free desserts for everyone at the table.
The free desserts took only about quarter of an hour to come, as we noted on the computer clock. Still slow, but not the epic wait that the main course entailed. Matt enjoyed an apple crumble that was well above average. Served hot, but not face-meltingly incandescent, nor burnt to the sides of the bowl, this was an unusual version of the classic pudding. It had a salted-caramel sauce underneath the light, soft crumble and big chunks of baked apple down below. With the addition of the pouring cream the whole thing turned into a kind of apple crumble porridge that Matt was very pleased with.
Cat had a cake and coffee combo, that Pizza Express does so well. The tiny, fluffy Bakewell cake she had was almost too light to be worth the bother, and her Americano – although it was advertised as Costa – like the cake was weak and inconsequential.
Almost three hours after arriving, we quit the Beefeater with a sense of disappointment. Elements of the meal had been great – the chunky beef, the generous extra portions, the enjoyable vegetarian roast contender. But the negatives were pretty damning. A forty-minute wait for mains, over-cooked steak and an insect in the salad. The front-of-house staff did sterling work in making up for the failings of the kitchen but even a round of free puddings wasn’t enough for us to forget that entirely. If we’d had fractious toddlers or querulous grandparents in tow, things probably wouldn’t have turned out as well as they did. Family pub dining is a keenly-fought market here on the Island – Beefeater will need to do better than this.
This is the full-length version of the review that appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Plenty of room
- Reasonable vegetarian roast offer
- Good recovery from manageress after complaint
- Slow service
- Insect in the dinner (hopefully just a one-off!)