There’s something about sports club buildings. It’s not the age of them – they’ve been building the things for decades and they all look the same anyway. It’s not even the location – although just beyond the edge of town is pretty standard.
No, a sports club has an indefinable air about it that cannot be mistaken: it just can’t help looking like an architect’s Friday afternoon job, or at least a building where function has been allowed to entirely eclipse aesthetics.
Take, for example, the large, brand new and achingly well-connected cricket club built with no expense spared just outside Newport. Newclose from the playing field looks splendid, and sits in a scenic part of the Medina valley. But to the approaching visitor or passing motorist, it looks like the back of a motorway service station. The lavish gold-tipped gates and immature plants do little to soften its blank brick walls and functional structure. And who would have imagined that a restaurant could be found in such unpromising a location? Certainly not Matt and Cat, who must admit to having discounted the venue – until they were persuaded otherwise by County Press columnist and Newclose’s unofficial raconteur-in-residence, Keith Newbery. Read on to see whether they were knocked for six, or thought it just wasn’t cricket.
The Newclose restaurant is known, topically enough, as The Boundary. It’s only open at weekends so Matt and Cat persuaded junior reviewers Bill and Jack to join their elders for a Sunday lunch. Before setting off, they debated what to wear. Having really no idea of what to expect, they erred towards the informal, thinking maybe that the cricket club’s catering might amount to a solitary tea-urn on a trestle table.
Motoring down the sweeping drive Matt and Cat were surprised to see that there wasn’t a similarly grand entrance to the restaurant. In fact, if they hadn’t been persuaded to go by Mr N, the foursome may have left; the unprepossessing door to The Boundary was neither conspicuous nor particularly enticing. However, once they’d made their way past the changing rooms they were surprised and delighted by the prospect before them. A big, light and airy room with dramatic views of the playing area and surrounding countryside was laid out as a very well-appointed restaurant. Not a tea-urn in sight.
The maître d’ bustled up with a warm welcome and seated her charges at the finest windowside seat, despite no reservation having been made. Linen tablecloths and napkins, a soft carpet on the floor – this place had the trappings of quality, without a doubt.
The Sunday lunch menu was succinct and impressive. A choice of three starters and four mains, all of which looked enticing. As young Jack had already eaten, he was only along for the ride and in the hope that he might get some pudding. So that left Matt, Cat and Bill to choose, and soon the two chaps were presented with their starters – Cat was wisely saving herself for dessert.
Bill’s starter was a simple cream of broccoli and Stilton soup, served with slices of baguette. He was delighted with the Stiltony taste, which gave the soup a real depth of flavour without overwhelming the broccoli. Matt’s starter was creamy wild mushroom served in a puff pastry case. This dish looked splendid with its delicate arrangement of watercress and pepper fragments. It tasted good too, although the flavoursome wild mushrooms had certainly been dried mushrooms not that long ago, as though tasty, they were still a bit woody.
The service was exceptionally well timed. The waiting staff were prompt without being pushy and soon the main courses arrived. Matt had roast topside of English beef served with watercress and home-made Yorkshire pudding. The other roast option – with local provenance clearly badged – was Bill’s choice: loin of Newclose Farm pork. Cat went for the third non-veggie dish: salmon and dill fishcakes with a warm tartare sauce. Three bowls of veg came for the diners to share, broccoli, courgette in tomato sauce, and a remarkable mashed carrot dish that was flavoured, as the informative waitress proudly explained, with Pernod.
Cat’s fish cakes, being a Sunday lunch, came with a portion of roast potatoes. This wasn’t a bad thing in itself, but she was disappointed to find that the fishcakes themselves were very largely potato – including some big chunks. The modest amount of fish that was in there was pleasant enough, and the warm tartare sauce was excellent, but overall the dish was a bit potato-heavy.
The pork was quite generously cut, and like the beef, came with a very nice big homemade Yorkshire pudding. Bill enjoyed the fresh veg, and even tried the chef’s special carrots with Pernod, before deciding to leave this aniseedy blend to the adults. However he reported the pork, though wholesome, to be disappointingly bland, and the advertised crackling he forewent entirely as it consisted only of a small rectangle of seared skin which proved to be more chewy than crunchy.
So, to the mighty roast beef of olde Englande. How would The Boundary render this Sunday classic? Matt liked the plateful that arrived before him – traditional grub fan Keith Newbery surely would have approved of the big, well-roasted potatoes and the massive Yorkshire. But the artfully arranged watercress in the centre hid an apologetic pair of slices of meat that were barely millimetres thick, and smooth enough to suggest meat cooked and prepared elsewhere. The taste gave no reason to think otherwise. When giving his order the waitress had asked him how he wanted his roast beef cooked. Although it seemed odd to be asked, he’d requested it to be ‘as rare as you dare’. Clearly this brace of meat slices had not been cooked to his requirements and, if it was pre-prepared as he supposed, why bother asking at all?
This meal perhaps typified all three main courses: splendid presentation, good accompaniments and generous portions, but somehow the sideshows overshadowed the quality of what should have been the centrepiece.
Three two-course Sunday Lunch: £38.85
One dessert: £4.95
It was time for dessert, and finally patient Jack got to put The Boundary to the test. He chose, from three enticing choices, dark chocolate and toffee tart with Baileys anglaise. It was a charming little dessert with a brandysnap strip on it, presented perfectly like so much of the rest of these meals. Cat, who had been agonising over which dessert to chose, rejected honey-poached pear and chose iced citrus parfait with a raspberry compote. This was another really great dish – the iced parfait at just exactly the right temperature, holding its shape but soft enough to melt in the mouth. In fact, the desserts were really very good indeed, not unlike the starters. This was another example of the curious mixture of the genuinely impressive and the average that The Boundary offers.
When the bill arrived with some little chocolates it was impressively small. This undoubtedly was extremely good value for money. Now this may be a deliberate policy, as a sports club rightly doesn’t want to be exclusive and expensive and in a more down-market venue the modest shortcomings of these otherwise excellent meals would have passed unnoted. Maybe The Boundary is underestimating itself: this splendid setting with outstanding service is offering meals that, per course, are not far off carvery cost. It’s an unusual thing for Matt and Cat to suggest a restaurant hikes its prices, but here it just seems as though a little extra spent on the ingredients would get so much more out of the obvious investment of time and talent.
Satisfied, the diners set off home, wondering about the unusual place they’d been dining at. They’d enjoyed their meals, and if this review seems to pick holes in the experience it’s only because The Boundary has, unexpectedly, so much as-yet-untapped potential, and Matt and Cat would love to see it fulfilled. This new restaurant already is a good place to eat; so perhaps when it’s got a bit better established it will become a great one.