Back in the day a handy man named Phil refurbished a greasy spoon called Top of the Town. He was so pleased with his work that he took over the venue and named it after himself, and thus Original Phil’s was born.
There was the possibility that Phil donned his pinny and was flipping burgers at an early stage in the career of his eponymous restaurant, but if so, he didn’t hang around for long. After several iterations, in summer 2013 the café was once more reborn with new management and high aspirations. This can only be a good thing: Original Phil’s for some years featured as one of Matt and Cat’s top recommendations, but had got bit less original of late.
New people full of energy and excitement could be just the thing to put some fizz back into Original Phil’s soda, some sizzle into his sausage and insert some meat between his buns. Or something. Anyway, the new brooms’ bold claim, “We are upping the game with uniformed table service, fresh hand-made burgers with real steak every day” strongly suggested that, while Cat was picking through some lunchtime lettuce somewhere, Matt should go and put the diner to the test.
Original Phil’s has always been bright and welcoming. After the original greasy-spoon interior was remodelled, the US-style diner theme was firmly embraced by subsequent management teams, and with good reason – it works well and makes the place look like a fun, attractive venue.
A great many cafés give a nod to Americana, with a couple of pictures of the New York skyline, some chrome menu-stands or possibly a modest neon sign in the shape of a palm tree. Or, in the case of the now defunct House of Legends, an entire concept epitomised by a Golden Gate mural complete with inset twinkles and no-expense-spent Goonies memorabilia. Although not quite with the same seemingly inexhaustible budget as HoL, Original Phil’s spared little in its homage to the traditional stateside burger-joint. The décor was bright and brash, the menu was unapologetically burger-led, and there was even imported American candy and soda on sale. As promised, the staff were all smartly uniformed, and a real jukebox made intermittent efforts to provide a soundtrack of contemporary fifties music.
Matt, predictably enough, had a burger in his sights. Cheeseburger, with optional salad and a side-order of chips. It’s necessary to order chips separately as nothing comes with the burger, and there’s no meal-deal option of any sort. The chips were, of course, not called chips. Diners choose between skinny fries, curly fries, or freedom fries. Matt had no idea what freedom fries were, but they sounded like the sort of thing that might make a man rend his garments, grow a five-o’clock shadow and start shooting at wildlife. He ordered freedom fries.
The waiter service was a pretty good innovation. The very first time M&C went into Original Phil’s, many years ago, they sat and waited for table service for twenty minutes until they realised that they needed to go up to the counter. Such confusion is now a thing of the past and today’s Original Phil’s comes to you. It’s unusual for a café of this size to have such a facility, and it will be interesting to see if they can keep it up.
6oz cheeseburger £4.49
Freedom fries £1.35
Mug of tea £1.10
Matt’s waiter had to make an extra visit to his table to ruefully admit that the advertised genuine US Mountain Dew was not actually available. He’d even gone ‘upstairs’ to look for some. More was on order from across the Atlantic, Matt was assured – and he was also warned not to bother with the UK-market Mountain Dew. It has ‘different stuff ‘ in it, and it isn’t as good. This was an in-depth bit of interpretation for a simple order of a can of drink – Matt was quite impressed. Original Phil’s seemed to actually care about the quality and authenticity of their American fare, and were happy to talk about it unprompted to customers. Keeping a stiff upper lip, Matt ordered a mug of tea instead.
Service, though good when it came, wasn’t fast. Matt saw more than one party sit down and clear their own table. This wasn’t ideal, but the place was pretty packed and the uniformed lads were rushing about a bit. When Matt’s turn arrived, his meal was a welcome sight. The steak burger was good. Compared with the previous Original Phil’s burgers – at least in their latter years – the new ones were substantially bigger and really steaky. The bun, by comparison, was flimsy in the extreme. Any less and it would have been sliced bread. Still, this was not much of a problem as, for carbs, Matt devoured his massive heap of freedom fries, which came alongside in a red plastic receptacle which might last have been seen containing fried chicken in 1978. The fries didn’t engender any yen for freedom, they were simply chips of the sort that most fast food is served alongside, and none the worse for it. Matt enjoyed having the freedom to eat them out of their basket.
Matt was satisfied with his burger. It was a pleasing return to form for Original Phil’s – a lot more like the café that Matt and Cat had known and loved when it first opened, and in some ways even better. The food wasn’t bad, the prices were reasonable, and the menu was interesting and fun. Matt and Cat sincerely hope this standard is maintained – good intentions in the heat of the summer so often fade to broken promises on a wet winter weekend. But for now, all is good. For a lunchtime stopover, you could do a lot worse in Newport. Welcome back, Phil.