When we started writing our eating out guide, the main thrust (apart from making our dining experiences more diverse) was to help people make informed choices about where to spend their hard-earned. Nobody wants to waste money on a poor or indifferent meal. Nothing worse than forking out for a babysitter and a taxi to find that you grumble all the way home about how you could have done better yourself, particularly post-pandemic when you might’ve spent lockdown blowing the dust off your recipe books.
So, since 2005 we’ve taken it upon ourselves to sample the Island’s cafes and restaurants so you don’t have to. For us, whatever the experience, it’s a win-win situation. A good meal is rewarding in itself and a bad one is, perversely, a pleasure to write about. And a five star dinner demands the full force of our hyperbolic canon.
Talking of which, regular readers might recall the Island’s most wonderful parsnips, served to us at Yarmouth’s La Cucina. Of these root vegetables we enthused, “Sweet and evenly textured, without that woody heart which can so often rapidly turn parsnip anticipation into ligneous disappointment.” The parsnips have now entered the realm of myth and legend, as we are sorry to report that La Cucina is no more.
However, the team has relocated to Newport, in the old Wren’s Nest pub, which has been transformed into a sophisticated restaurant – if glitter grout in the ladies in your idea of glamour, and it is certainly ours.
You could probably pop in for a pre-cinema nibble, but frankly you’d be doing the place an injustice. Far better to have dinner after the show when you can take time to fully appreciate your meal.
The restaurant had only been open three weeks when we visited. We’d usually like to give a place longer to find its feet but we’d heard good things and frankly could not wait.
The venue is a long train carriage-like room; extending so far backwards we almost expected it to emerge in Quay Street. It looks like it’s had a significant refurbishment. Fixtures and fittings all bright and new, including some (rather intrusive) speakers peppered throughout the salon. A word to the waitress to tweak down the volume enabled us to hear ourselves over the powerful vocals of Tina Turner.
Attention turned to the menu, we were briefly taken aback by the prices, plus it was clear that some of the dishes needed sides, so prepare for that potential added expense. However, when the accompanying vegetables include the pleasingly-fractal romanesco broccoli, asparagus and squash, you know that corners are not being cut.
Salmone Da Vinci £16.95
Garlic bread with cheese £4.95
Cat went straight in for the salmone da vinci, a gurt slab of the most succulent pink fish; the photos barely do it justice. It was bathed in a matching rose-coloured cream sauce flavoured with tomatoes, white wine, garlic and a hint of chilli. Along for the ride were three handsome king prawns, adding their distinctive texture to the soft fillet. Cat forked flake after juicy flake of the tender salmon, sweeping each one through the gentle sauce before savouring it in her mouth. She was slightly more cautious with the side of chips; these triple-cooked bad boys were piping hot from the fryer – nonetheless a perfect example of the genre. It was a long time ago when we first enjoyed chunky chips like these and the pleasure has not worn off, even if the novelty has.
Top billing among the main courses was lamb kleftiko. If its place front and centre on the menu wasn’t enough signposting, it was also tagged as the chef’s special. They really wanted us to have this, and so we did not let them down. Neither did the lamb let us down. Kleftiko is possibly the Greek equivalent of tagine; meat slowly cooked in a sealed container. Da Vinci’s shoulder joint, like the fish, was a joyful plate to pile into. The combination of tasty seasonal veg with a quite enormous helping of the soft and meaty lamb in a rich deeply-flavoured red wine and rosemary sauce was a delight – mouthful after mouthful.
We mopped our plates with cheesy garlic bread, not wasting a drop of either red or white wine sauce. Once the mopping was complete, we left the remains of the chips and bread, wisely deciding to save room for pudding.
Tiramisu is Cat’s benchmark dessert in a venue with an Italian vibe (on the assumption that crepes Suzette is not on offer). This trifle was plenty for us to share and, unlike other parsimonious restaurants, the chef at Da Vinci had sloshed on the marsala wine, making it a boozy as well as creamy treat.
Like our starters the dessert was nicely-presented; the tiramisu encircled by summer fruits and edible flowers. Plus, if it wasn’t alcoholic enough, there was a bonus tot of limoncello alongside, which we shared after divvying up the delicate chocolate and biscuit straws.
Da Vinci is the sort of place you would dine at for a celebration; an event meal. A birthday, anniversary, first date. This new stylish venue is a great addition to Newport’s restaurant scene. Da Vinci hit the sweet spot of fine-dining presentation and premium food, serving hearty plates of decent nosh.
This is the full-length version of the review first published in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Excellent portions
- Great flavours
- Stylish environment
- Sides extra