We took the window seat in the Brasserie’s splendid first floor dining room. It was easy to feel the weight of years in this place as the evening light streamed across the spacious table. A cornerstone of St Thomas’ Square; the ancient Wheatsheaf Inn must have seen so many of the Island’s worthies pass through its doors. How many well-known characters of the past had gazed down from this exclusive upper room? They would have seen a scene not dissimilar to the one we enjoyed – St Thomas’ Church towering over the square, the burghers of Newport bustling by, and a long view down Pyle Street to the late sun glinting off the gentle hill of Barton beyond. As Cat put it, this was a great spot to be nosy.
And what a transformation to this room above a pub. Years ago we’d been here for some tedious corporate seminar. But brown carpets, flipcharts and hard chairs have now made way for light and airy decor, chandeliers, linen tablecloths and beautifully dressed tables. The Brasserie is very clearly aiming for a high-end dining experience, and in making the most of this splendid venue, it impressed us from the start.An amuse-bouche of creamy parsnip veloute with tarragon oil was a strong start to our meal. Served simply in a hot glass, we had to wrap our napkins around it to get at the delicious smooth concoction.
Steak tartare is a rare thing to see on any menu these days. Matt wasn’t going to turn that starter down and was glad he didn’t. This was not the classic continental dish but a enthusiastic variation with chunks of the tenderest steak, well-soaked in a light marinade, topped with purees and finely-chopped raw root vegetables. The puree was described as wasabi, which was almost undetectable, but came alongside an unannounced paprika puree that give a distinctive and enjoyable edge to the dish.
Steak tartare £9.50
Duo of beef £22.50
Vanilla cheesecake £7.50
Hazelnut parfait £7.50
Cat eschewed a starter and went in with the curiously-named “Aged beef duo of beef”. This was a modest hunk of fillet, alongside a substantial croquette of featherblade steak. It came with another of those purees – this time caramelised cauliflower – and fondant potato. Generally Cat will only eat fillet steak as she likes its lack of fat and gristle. She found the sous-vide fillet had more of a meaty texture than she was expecting and offered it to Matt. The croquette was better; positively stuffed with lean shredded beef and flavoured with herbs. The vegetables were well considered; the fondant potato was knockout and the salty samphire, creamed cauliflower and onion rings added unexpected flavours and texture.
The menu was satisfyingly short, with a 3×3 format of attractive options. So with the meat spoken for, Matt could chose fish, or meat-free options. Both looked good, but in the end his curiosity led him to Gigha halibut with braised octopus. Wild-caught halibut is normally an unsustainable fish to eat so it had been years since Matt had eaten any, whereas Gigha halibut is, unusually, farmed inland and endorsed by the MCS as a sustainable choice. The Brasserie delivered a big slab of this conscience-salving delicacy: a firm, dry, sweetish fish crusted with herby breadcrumbs, and served on a bed of vegetables. Round it were scattered the delicately-flavoured and surprisingly pink tentacles of an octopus, all sitting in a pool of splendid yellow saffron veloute. If the promised asparagus and artichoke was hard to detect, the unexpected discovery of some mussels more than made up for it. This was a cleverly-assembled, hearty dish that really showed off an unusual fish centrepiece.
Dessert for Cat was vanilla cheesecake. It was a distinctly deconstructed format and, like with her main course, she detected a theme of graded textures; from the crunchy baked granola, via the roasted peach and smooth cheesecake. The cheesecake seemed more fruit-flavoured than vanilla, but Cat was pleased with her choice – the peach was a particular highlight.
Hazelnut parfait for Matt looked like nothing less than a couple of slabs of chocolate black pudding – a concept he profoundly approves of. A generous handful of freshly-roasted hazelnuts covered it, and it came with Gainduju creameux – no idea what that was, but with a name like that, it will be good, right? Indeed it was. Alongside were some drops of an intense cherry reduction that not only added a strong visual interest to the dish, but gave some well-judged acidity to the sweet chocolate assemblage.
We winkled down the cute spiral staircase, back through the busy pub and out into the square. We’d dined well, and been given some friendly service in a very amenable environment. The menu was interesting and appealing – we could have happily ordered everything on it. It wasn’t cheap, but we didn’t feel we’d paid over the odds. What came on the plate was not always exactly what was described, and it might have been nice to have heard a bit of the story of the food – we were not told anything about the dishes, nor reminded of what we’d ordered when the food arrived. But we could live with that.
Newport is certainly upping its dinnertime game, and for this unmistakably upscale dining room to open in such confident style above the venerable Wheatsheaf is a sign, we hope, of even more good things to come.
This is the full-length version of the review that first appeared in the Isle of Wight County Press.
- Stylish venue, clearly aiming for a high-end dining experience
- Imaginative dishes
- Surprisingly hearty portions
- We'd have liked a bit more explanation about our food