The Newman Arms – Traditional Tap House in Fitzrovia:
While ale may originally have been consumed simply because unadulterated water in England was unsafe to drink, there’s no doubt these days that it’s often far more of a craft product. Yet despite, or perhaps because of the growth of the gastropub, the traditional British pub has all but died out. On one hand, we have wonderful venues, still called pubs, but with Michelin listings and tasting menus. On the other, massive chains owned by major brewers, perfect for meeting up with friends for an easy night of socialising. In central London at least, the focus is seldom on the beer. Take Truman’s brewery – a name I knew so well in my youth which sadly closed in 1989, revive it so that it is the leading independent cask brewer in London and then find a historic outlet right in the heart of historic Fitzrovia that was earmarked to be converted into flats. Mix well and you have The Newman Arms.
As Truman’s MD says
‘The greatest satisfaction comes from serving amazing beers and seeing drinkers enjoy them – that’s exactly what we’ll be doing all day every day at the Newman Arms. It’s a dream come true to bring back to life such a well-loved pub.”
We went along to try for ourselves and found a glorious space spread over three floors. The Newman Arms dates back to 1730, and there was once a brothel there. Today, just to remind us all, there is an old-fashioned prostitute painted onto a bricked-over upstairs window. And, this classic British pub appears in two of George Orwell’s novels – 1984 and Keep the Aspidistras Flying
On the ground floor is a well-stocked bar with 12 keg and 4 cask lines. The Truman’s cask selection comprises Runner Best Bitter, Swift Golden Ale, Zephyr Pacific Pale and Lazarus Very Pale Ale, which in keg there’s RAW lager, Roller IPA, Truman’s Pale Ale and Bow Bells Citrus Pale Ale. Had I not been going on to a gin tasting event, I’d have been tempted by the Bow Bells. But, as it was I indulged myself with the rhubarb version of one of my favourite gins (Slingsby) while leaving my companion to sup on the perfect pint of beer.
First, he tried Runner Best Bitter – a traditional amber ale, smooth and easy to drink with good flavour taken from the hops.
He followed with a pint of Bow Bells…described as a Citrus Pale Ale, it was lighter in colour yet had the same smooth texture of the first pint. Obviously citrus, with orange and melon coming through, its smoothness and soft finish made this another easy to drink beer. Apparently, it is equally popular with both men and women.
The first floor has plenty of tables and a small snug which can be hired for private use, And, the lower ground floor has another couple of cosy private rooms.
The food offering is kept deliberately succinct. The Newman’s former and longest-serving publican was Tracey Bird who was known for her homemade pies. So, in keeping with that, the new Newman Arms serves homemade pies along with a small selection of platters. Perfect for this quintessential British pub.
We started with Smoked Salmon Carpaccio and Sliced Salt Beef on a Board with mustard and tomato relish. I have to confess that for me, this would have been enough for lunch.
In fact, the smoked salmon wouldn’t have looked out of place in one of those gastropubs, beautifully presented and garnished with beet and dill.
But, the salt beef was both delicious and unusual – the kind of traditional food I used to enjoy at home in Norfolk and which somehow seemed more appropriate in this earthy revival of the traditional British pub.
Pies, of course, were historically the mainstay of the pub food offering. My chicken pie with bacon and mushroom came with a gravy boat and a generous helping of mash, cabbage and carrots.
Good crisp, flaky pastry opened to reveal a substantial filling and the flavour combination was nicely balanced
My companion ordered what should have been a classic beef and ale pie made with Truman’s runner ale.
Whilst he loved the flavour combination, neither of us felt it was a classic recipe – rich with tomato, we wondered if some of the vegetarian ratatouille pie had made its way into the filling.
That apart, we both thoroughly enjoyed our pies and will definitely be going back for more. I’d like to see a few more options for fillings though – or perhaps a pie of the day?
The Newman Arms is an easy place to spend an afternoon or evening. There’s a good range of wines (with plenty of offerings from English vineyards) and an excellent cocktail list that manages to be innovative without being overly fancy. The beers should keep any craft ale fan happy and there are bar snacks to complement the main menu.
And of course, you’ll be watched over by one of the building’s older inhabitants…she’s still waiting for you from her top floor bedroom!
The Newman Arms
23 Rathbone Street