Matt and Cat like to think of themselves as ‘of the people’ and, unlike other less popular Island on-line eating out guides (you didn’t even know there were any others, did you?), they are happy to try any size of venue from the humble to the salubrious.
Often they tread somewhere in the middle but, for this evening, after their week at the coalface they wiped off the sooty residue and headed somewhere posh.
This historic building in one of Newport’s pretty red brick side streets exudes Georgian charm. Matt and Cat peered through the windows and liked what they saw: a comfy sofa for pre- or post-dinner relaxing, an impressive sweeping staircase and a beautifully laid out dining room, in which they soon found themselves.
Allowed to choose their own table (unlike La Scala where they were led to a place by the toilets), Matt and Cat positioned themselves at a table for two by the lofty bow window, which offered views through a grape vine across a delightful garden to a swaying eucalyptus tree. In the day, this lawned oasis is probably a delightful place to have lunch, but on the evening that M and C visited, black clouds percolated overhead – suggesting a Cowes firework night downpour.
Outside may have been windy and overcast but, inside, the recessed lighting and pastoral music provided a peaceful backdrop to the arduous task of choosing something to eat from the small but most enticing menu. When forking out for a top of the range feed, Matt and Cat like to push the boat out and will usually have a starter. Whilst they were pondering this the waitress politely came across to read the specials to her guests, and also advised them that the fine green beans, baby tomatoes and dolcelatte cream cheese dressing starter was off as there were no tomatoes in the kitchen. This didn’t matter as your reviewers had by then set their hearts on Thai salmon cakes, cool rouilles and cucumber spaghetti. The accommodating waitress was also able to find out which of sea bass and Dover sole was likely to be the least bony, as Cat was girding herself up to have a rare stab at fish for her main course (having heard a whisper that some readers of this website were tired of her default choices of fillet steak and chicken). Matt, ever the red meat man, took very little time to choose honey and soy glazed lamb rump slices, sweet potatoes with mango and chilli salsa.
Whilst waiting for their starter, some welcome warmed ciabatta arrived. Chipping away at the rock-hard butter, Matt tried to impress Cat with his knowledge of cheesy classical music, spotting Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, Bach’s Air on a G String and a twiddle of Vivaldi before the CD was ejected to be replaced by Dido‘s slightly less welcome soporific trilling. Much like Sade in the 1980’s, Dido is the perfect music to talk over.
The arrival of the starter turned your reviewers’ attention away from the aural wallpaper and towards the gustatory pleasure of the Thai salmon fish cakes, which were superb. A brace of pinkish balls sat in a puddle of orangey sauces, like twin suns in a russet sky. This magnificent display was topped with strings of cucumber and folds of pickled ginger. It tasted fantastically tangy and fresh. The salmon was piping hot and oozing juices, and the cool rouille sauces were the perfect accompaniment. This ideal appetiser was soon devoured by the hungry and appreciative Matt and Cat and boded well for the rest of the meal.
The next course was equally well-presented. Cat’s Dover sole flopped across a bed of new potatoes, while three sharpened chunky asparagus spears provided a splash of green. Matthew’s modest portion of glazed lamb rump slices was accompanied by a Jenga-like scaffold of sweet potato chips, and a few chunks of mango and raw chilli which presumably passed for salsa. Matt’s jaw fell open, not just at the presentation – which was a work of art – but at the titchiness of the portion and the dish’s lack of vegetables.
The waitress could tell that something was amiss – probably when Matt rather bluntly said “Is that it?”. She offered to bring a bowl of veg (at extra cost) to the table. Her offer was accepted but, once again, Matt and Cat were disappointed by this archaic practice of charging extra for vegetables. Having studied the menu carefully, they thought they had chosen meals that came with veg; other items certainly did. And, after the waitress’s helpful comments about the starter and the boniness of the fish, Matt and Cat thought she really should have realised what was going to happen, and said something when she took their order. However, before long, a piping bowl of courgette slices, French beans, and assorted other legumes was delivered.
Cat had rudely started on her entirely bone-free Dover sole before all of Matt’s meal had been delivered. The flat fish’s white flakes fell pleasingly away from its skin and the buttery lemon sauce added a contrasting tang. It was an extremely tasty dish and certainly filling enough for Cat.
After the brief pause awaiting the arrival of the extra veg, Matt tucked into the four slices of very lean and tasty glazed roast lamb. The meat was delicious and the sweet potato chips were a good accompaniment, although at just under a pound a chip a few more would not have gone amiss. However the surprise of the dish was still in store for Matt – the mango and chilli salsa. This was a new one on Matt, salsa for him normally coming in pots marked ‘Doritos’. But, keen not to show his ignorance, he gamely took a mouthful of what he had by now forgotten was nothing but mango accompanied by raw chilli. Yes, friends, a mouthful of raw chilli. The culinary equivalent of an unexpected blow to the back of the head with a shovel. Possibly more educated palettes would find a way to reconcile this unusual taste sensation with the delightfully mellow roast lamb and gentle sweet potato: Matt, on the other hand, turned purple and reached for the carafe. Once he’d recovered his composure, the remainder of the chilli was discarded.
Starter: Thai salmon cakes £6.50
Main: lamb rump £17.95
Main: Dover sole £17.95
Pint of John Smith’s £3.00
Subsequent research suggests that the raw chilli in salsa is sometimes tempered by a dressing, cut smaller, or sometimes cooked. Whilst salsa normally implies a sauce of some sort, one can’t help but admire the bold starkness of this rendition. But it’s a courageous step indeed to make your salsa with sizeable chunks of unmitigated red chilli – and it’s a step Matt thought Lugley’s could have foregone.
All too soon this delightful meal was at an end. The plates were metaphorically licked clean (apart from the chilli and the fish skin) and the waitress cleared up promptly. Although the ambience was relaxing and ideal for an extended evening, Matt and Cat didn’t chose to see the offered sweet menu or have coffee on the comfy sofa. However, they were given tiny squares of chocolate tiffin cake and the bill. Fifty pounds covered the cost of the food and drinks and, judging by the quality and flavour of the meal, it was money well spent. For a delightful meal in peaceful surroundings, Matt and Cat are pleased to recommend Lugley’s.