Depending on your outlook, Newport is either an example of the worst of developers’ unsympathetic treatment of the Island’s county town, or a primarily intact mediaeval settlement with attractive historic buildings radiating from a glorious minster.
In the past, Matt has tended to look upon the hideousness of the metal box housing Cineworld, with its stupidly wasteful interior space and its shipping container-like exterior, as a blot on the landscape. Which, to be honest, it is. But away from the periphery, Cat has persuaded him of the merits of the centre of Newport with examples of leaded windows, wood-beam interiors and Nash’s Regency architecture.
In Lugley Street, a few steps away from the popular and reliable Burr’s Restaurant is Hewitt’s. Historically the building has been a restaurant and hotel and, with a bit of sprucing up, it has risen again to become a popular eatery.
Either we’re getting old, or the team at Hewitt’s is remarkably young; the front of house staff and the kitchen folk that we saw all seemed incredibly fresh-faced. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have the credentials or talent to operate this destination restaurant and hotel. In fact, as we read in the County Press, the restaurant’s owners have an impressive pedigree.
We were greeted at the bar, where we met our chums, sipped prosecco and caught up on the day’s gossip. The ante-chamber has on-trend bevelled tiles; the dining room itself has been given a neutral makeover since we were last there back in the days of Lugley’s. And thankfully the pretty garden is still in commission, as we could see through the vast windows onto the terrace and beyond.
Cat sneaked a forkful of a companion’s quail eggs and avocado starter. Top marks for serving this fickle fruit at its optimum ripeness. Matt’s slate of smoked duck breast salad was nicely-presented, although perhaps a bit more diversity in the leaves might have elevated it from rocket to the promised salad, and the grated cheese didn’t add much to the proceedings. Having enjoyed the majority of the generous portion of sliced pink meat platter, his meal was rudely interrupted by the contents of a glass of red wine which a careless companion had accidentally spilled over the dish. The team swung into action and within moments, Matt was presented with a replacement starter. An impressive recovery.
Smoked duck salad £8
Sea bass fillet £17
Beef brisket £16
Ice cream £4.50
Banoffee Pavlova £6.50
Cat’s main was one of the day’s specials: grilled sea bass fillet and garlic prawns with spinach and sweet potato wedges. Not one but two pieces of fish lolled languidly over the vegetables. The wedges were the right shape but didn’t have the roasted skins that she was expecting, yet they were perfectly tender and a good alternative to potato. The fish’s flavour was delicate enough to have her reaching for the salt; perhaps it might have benefited from a herby sauce or some more flavoursome veg.
Like Jay Rayner, Matt’s a big fan of belly pork. But whereas the Observer’s food critic will sometimes deliberately eschew pig fat when reviewing, Matt will seek it out – and repetition be damned. But today even he confounded expectations and had the beef brisket dish. Was it the promise of some decently cooked tender beef or the anticipation of blue cheese mash that made him choose? We’ll probably never know (or care) but what we can be certain about was it was a safe, comfortable choice. With its mash and veg with a pool of good rich beef gravy it reminded Matt of his mum’s traditional Sunday lunch, with an added spark of blue cheese.
Much like Matt and the pig, Cat’s head is turned by salted caramel and, forgetting that she was supposed to be exploring the menu, her dessert was a bowl of salted caramel ice cream. Can’t go wrong really. Matt had banoffee Pavlova, which he was extremely enthusiastic about. This generous portion of fluffy, meringuey dessert had a whole banana sliced and diced in various configurations and anointed with an oozy, alluring toffee sauce.
It’s certainly worth exploring Newport’s historic side streets to find Hewitt’s. Our meal was safe and satisfying, with friendly, keen service. The menu had something to please everyone, with its reliable standard items. The restaurant is a decent addition to Newport’s growing dinner oeuvre which includes the exotic and challenging, as well as this more comfortable offering.
This is the full-length version of the review that appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.