Good value: The Newport Room Gastro Pub is offering set menus options at $29, $39 and $49. *File photo
Good value: The Newport Room Gastro Pub is offering set menus options at $29, $39 and $49. *File photo

The new-look Newport Room at the Fairmont Southampton has gone from strength to strength.

And its special menu to mark Restaurant Week underlines the former five diamond restaurant’s commitment to let its hair down a bit — but not lower its standards.

The formal dining room has been turned into a gastropub — and judging by the numbers dining on a chilly Sunday night, the good word is spreading fast.

Now even my closest friends would baulk at describing me as a gourmet — hardly surprising when I remain convinced the two most important food groups are caffeine and nicotine.

But I took the precaution of inviting along a much-travelled lady of considerable sophistication and elegance, who has lived in London and Continental Europe, to steer me in the right direction.

Now the English — unlike the French and Italians — don’t really have a national cuisine. But London particularly has always been able to afford to import the best, so she was very much in charge.

She said: “They are definitely hitting the nail on the head here. A lot of people don’t understand what gastronomy means — it’s a certain kind of cooking and eating.

“It’s sophisticated, but you still feel like you’re eating at home.”

My dining companion chose roasted organic chicken, served with creamed potato, wild mushrooms and chicken gravy as a main course from the special $39 Restaurant Week menu, accompanied by an Argentinian pinot noir — and pronounced herself well-pleased.

Other main courses on offer include steak frites and salmon succotash, with starters like devilled spinach salad and Newport seafood chowder.

Puddings were well-covered and included apple strudel and Flavours of the Black Forest gateau.

I should add we dined on my 11-hour leave from Bermuda Regiment recruit camp — and after a week spent in a barracks with nearly 30 blokes and army food, dinner with an attractive woman in the Newport Room meant I nearly succumbed to culture shock.

I’d almost forgotten that plates and cutlery aren’t always made out of white plastic.

My dining companion said: “The gastropub has come from England — it came from people feeling chilly outside and wanting to have that warm feeling of being at home and having a drink.

“You can come here and have bangers and mash, steak and potatoes or something more. You can also feel the presence of other people — it gives the place atmosphere, but it’s not intrusive. Some places, you can hear a pin drop.”

We both chose apple strudel, which came with delightfully light cinnamon ice cream, for pudding.

The lady said: “Cinnamon ice cream with apple strudel — it works. And the apple strudel is comfortably sweet. It’s wonderful and not too sweet.

Attention to detail

Even the coffee came on an interesting wave-shaped saucer, which speaks volumes about the attention to detail by friendly and helpful restaurant manager Shaun Lekki and our attentive waiter Thomas Serrao.

The staff make or break a dining experience — but Fairmont management don’t need to lose any sleep over the Newport Room. Their troops are outstanding.

Restaurant Week ends on February 16 and restaurants around the island are taking part, offering set menus at $29, $39 and $49 – incredible value for money and especially welcome when belts are being tightened a bit. More information at www.table.bm.