Eeny meeny miny mo, to which venue will M and C go? Having visited nearly all of Newport’s eateries, Matt and Cat found themselves at the junction of South Street and St James Street where, side by side, were the two of the most prominent untried dining rooms of the county’s main town.
Examining the menus outside the venues, it seemed that Matt and Cat had little to choose from between the two places. Chips and burgers were on both menus, also salads, fish (or the curiously spelt filet-o-fish) and chicken. Despite these superficial similarities, Matt and Cat somehow managed to turn their backs on McDonalds and entered the George Inn.
The George is a traditional town centre pub, of a species common enough on the mainland but actually fairly unusual on the Island – perhaps because of the lack of sizeable towns. With fruit-machines flashing frantically, a faded orange-hued décor and a half-timbered style, The George successfully evoked the atmosphere of an urban pub from 1989 rather than 2009… and was none the worse for it. A cheery welcome from the lady behind the bar greeted the lunchtime visitors as they settled into a little table with a view of the buses negotiating their way to and from the interchange.
Reassuringly, the menu was entirely as expected. Starters included garlic mushrooms and – yes, folks, you knew it – prawn cocktail. This was the dish described by The Taverners as ‘classic 1970s prawn cocktail with all the bits‘: with the difference that The George was serving this with a straight face – here you get the original.
There was an unusually comprehensive and very well-presented separate children’s menu – perhaps The George is mindful of the lure of adjacent McDonalds. It even featured ‘Kids Roast of the Day’ for £4.25: not bad at all. Back on the grown-up’s menu main courses were keenly priced, served with salad and choice of potatoes, and included double sausage, egg and chips; cheesy chips; and at the top of the range the challenging George’s Giant Mixed Grill for £18.25.
Matt hovered over such a delight before choosing what was billed as ‘succulent beefburger served in a sesame seed bun with fried onions, side salad and a portion of chips or baked potato’. Cat looked at the healthier page of the menu, picking over ploughmans, baked potatoes and salads before landing on a bacon and brie ciabatta and salad.
The pub ambience was particularly enjoyable, and Matt sipped at a pint of beer whilst watching the world go by in the busy street outside. Various locals entered the pub, passed the time of day with others standing at the bar, and moved on. Two old ladies laden with shopping settled at a table near to Matt and Cat and begun loudly discussing the bargains they had gleaned from stricken shops in the High Street; a couple of callow youths in sports gear and gold chains wandered in and sent text messages whilst nervously feeding the slot machines. It was all quite low-key and felt like a genuine, sociable place to be.
Burger and chips £7.25
Bacon and Brie ciabatta £5.75
1pt bitter shandy £2.90
The meals arrived soon enough. They looked pretty good and were of ample proportions. Matt’s burger was positively towering with piping hot chips, and the side-salad was nearly falling off the plate. Cat’s salad was similarly generous, and her ciabatta was adorned with no less than three rashers of bacon to complement the warm and perfectly melting Brie. Digging in, the meals proved to be fresh and hot, and of adequate quality.
Matt’s burgers were definitely not of the gourmet variety, and the chips obviously from the freezer rather than the chopping board, but at £7.25 for a 1/2-pound burger this was entirely acceptable, and indeed the decent portions and fresh ingredients made this look distinctly good value for money. Cat’s ciabatta was packed with lean meat and plenty of warmed cheese – an astonishing and unexpectedly large amount of Brie – plus a nice fresh salad with home-made coleslaw. Although she gamely made a good effort, Matt was happy to finish it off.
As usual, far too soon the lunch was eaten up and it was time to emerge into the bustle of Newport’s lunchtime crowd, making their way back to their workplaces. Matt and Cat left The George and walked past McDonalds without a sideways glance.