Carefully sourced fresh produce unfussily prepared is earning positive comments from the critics for chef Peter Weeden's new venture in the West End of London. Neil Gerrard reports
Peter Weeden and his business partners must have been very sure of their plans for the Newman Street Tavern, which opened in London's Fitzrovia in November 2012.
Coming to the end of a long stint at D&D London, where he ran the kitchens of the Paternoster Chop House and Quaglino's among other restaurants, Weeden first started discussing the idea with Nigel Sutcliffe, Jerome Armit and James McLean in April 2012.
Just a few months later the immaculately turned out restaurant-cum-gastropub came into being, with a design that points to the building's origins as a 19th century inn rather than its most recent incarnation as a branch of Ping Pong.
It is the photographs on the walls of fish, fishing, livestock and other foodstuffs, many of them taken by Weeden himself, that give some of the first clues as to what diners can expect from the menu.
Good quality seasonal, specialist and wild produce takes centre stage, all cooked unfussily by Weeden and his team. Whole carcasses of Galloway beef, venison and Scottish Blackface lamb are matured and butchered in the Tavern's kitchen, game is properly hung, bread and pastries are baked on site, and fish is delivered daily from day boats off the Cornish coast.
Nor would Weeden be particularly keen to pigeonhole the style of cuisine at the Newman Street Tavern. If it appears to be mostly "British" dishes that are on offer, that is only to the extent that they use the best of British produce.
"I still really struggle with the whole idea of what British or European food is. It is food. We buy the ingredients from around these shores and we cook them in an unfussy way," he explains.
As is to be expected from the approach, dishes change constantly according to the produce, which is often used in several different ways to make the most of what is available. When Caterer and Hotelkeeper visited, the menu offered wild freshwater trout with sea purslane (£9).
"It has never been anywhere near the sea but it has that really good dark salmon colouration. We steam it very lightly then do what you would probably call rillons, so it is coarse and really quite chunky, with some cream, a bit of horseradish, chives and sea purslane, which is just blanched and served with a simple salad and toast," Weeden says.
But even as that particular dish is served, Weeden has already started curing the trout and thinking about how else to make use of it . "It will be on the menu in various guises for the next month probably," he says.
Even best-selling dishes like the seafood and shellfish gratin, popular with media and advertising professionals from the nearby offices of the BBC and Saatchi & Saatchi, don't follow a rigid recipe. It varies in price from £17.50 to £22, according to whether lobster and scallop or less pricey options like gurnard are used.
All of this is handled by a brigade of seven chefs, although that is unlikely to be the situation for long. "In my imagination, we are 11. We are a growing restaurant and that is where we would like to be in the next few months," Weeden says.
It's not hard to believe that the demand will be there to sustain those extra jobs. The Newman Street Tavern is already handling 700 covers a week, and the approaching completion of office, commercial and residential development Fitzroy Place across the road, as well as some positive comments from Times restaurant critic Giles Coren on Twitter last week, all look set to boost business further.
Sample dishes from the menu
- Devon crab salad £11
- Steamed native lobster, mayonnaise £19/£35
- Fish roe salad, spring onions and capers £5
- Ling, fennel and cucumber salad £18
- Yorkshire rabbit stew £15
- Peppered venison steak £20
- Set Ayrshire cream, rhubarb £6
- Marconas almond tart, almond ice-cream £6.50
48 Newman Street, â¨London W1T 1QQ
020 3667 1445