The Wheatsheaf in Newport’s Sts Thomas Square is in an enviable position. In the heart of the historic county town, the ancient inn is reputedly the place where Royalists met to discuss the future of the imprisoned King Charles I. Now with another King Charles on the throne, the pub has had its ups and downs, and when a sign in the window announced a change of ownership, we knew it was time to revisit.
We first reviewed the Wheatsheaf – one of three Wheatsheaves on the Island – in 2006. At that time we decided it was ‘a proper pub’ serving ‘reasonably priced, enjoyable food’. With a new coat of paint on the outside, and some fresh faces behind the bar, we visited one summer evening to see if things had changed in seventeen years. We started outside on the breezy seats in the square, as it was a hot night. However the lively revelry of our neighbours, and a slightly wobbly table, led us to venture indoors which proved to be a great idea. A snug position in the window gave us a view of passing locals and a cool breeze, as well as the comfort of the interior of this characterful inn.
The menu could be described as extreme pub traditionalism. There was a vegan and vegetarian section but otherwise these were mostly items that King Charles I might have recognised. Soup, pie and mash, liver and bacon, steak, burgers, lasagne, squid – well, admittedly the old king might not have recognised the last few. We were particularly pleased by this traditional array of pub classics – the sight of a ploughman’s on a pub menu made us wonder if Black Forest gateau and prawn cocktail might be next? The prices too were impressively retro.
Brie and chorizo chicken: £14.95
Caesar salad £13.95
Brie and chorizo chicken came with classic chips and salad, as every pub meal should. On top of a huge piece of tender and moist chicken were thick slices of tangy chorizo, and a generous topping of melted Brie. The chips were big, hot and perfectly done, no pitiful skinny fries here. This was a hearty meal that delivered more than it promised.
We also had two starters as a main: salt and pepper chicken plus baked camembert. Both were excellent, and so well-sized that they were suitable for sharing. Another good result from the Wheatsheaf.
The hot chicken and bacon caesar salad was similarly impressive. Piles of soft chicken and chunks of seared bacon were generously distributed throughout the usual salad components. If there were croutons there, they were well hidden, but frankly with this much meat and cheese nobody was counting. Next time we are not going to resist the special on the board – ‘Dirty Hash’: hash browns covered in chilli or pulled BBQ chicken all topped with cheese. The characteristic skill of this kitchen seems to be to take the most basic, generic pub grub components and treat them well enough to ensure the resulting meal is both palatable and interesting. An ability sometimes lacking in other comparable establishments.
With cheerful and prompt service, plus a confidently solid menu of tasty classics at rock-bottom prices, we can certainly recommend the Wheatsheaf as it currently stands. Of course, we all know that launching a new venue successfully in summer is one thing – keeping it going through the desperate days of November and February is another. In a few months things might change but we really hope they don’t.
Like all pubs, if we value them, we need to use them. So if it’s been a while since you dropped in for a pint at this particular Wheatsheaf, you might want to try your luck, and thereby encourage this promising start to go on to become a staple of Newport’s hospitality trade once more.