Over the course of the past few years, Larry and I have ventured intrepidly across London in search of flavours and ingredients rich and rare. Sometimes, our exploits have been rewarded with sumptuous banqueting; we still remember a night at the Cinnamon Club with sighs of joy and delight. At others, our treats have been more esoteric in nature. I occasionally shudder at the recollection of the ‘ox courage’ sampled at Macellaio in Battersea, an otherwise excellent meal that will now forever be defined by eating bull’s testicles as a starter. Yet never before have we had that great English classic duo, the pie-and-a-pint. This, we decided, had to change.
Larry and I arrived at the Newman Arms fresh from a pit stop at the Dorchester, where we knocked back champagne and pontificated with the best of them. But our trip to Fitzrovia’s finest was one that we had been eagerly awaiting, far more than any frippery and dilly-dallying on Park Lane. The Newman Arms is a justly famous establishment. Founded in 1730, to accommodate the no doubt gargantuan appetites of Georgian men-about-town, it has undergone many changes in fortune since then. Michael Powell’s disturbing classic Peeping Tom was filmed partly in the nearby alley (the so-called ‘Murderer’s Alley’) and in a flat above the pub, and it is widely believed that the Newman was the model for the ‘Proles’ Arms’ in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Yet a few years ago, all seemed lost when the Newman closed down. Thankfully, East End brewers Truman took it over, reopening it earlier this year. They’ve updated the interior – the last time I remember visiting it all seemed rather grubby, but it now has a dark wood finish that makes it seem both clubby and spacious. Beer lovers will be delighted at options keg and cask; I was especially taken with the citrus one, the excellently named Bow Bells, and I was pleased to see that Larry was tucking into the Truman’s Runner, a cask bitter and excellent to boot.
Thence it was upstairs for pie-and-a-pint, but first we felt that we had to give the menu a comprehensive going-over. With the élan of gentlemen who have dined well and long, we gaily ordered a couple of platters of smoked salmon and cured meats, along with a bottle of English wine, the Three Choirs Winchcombe Downs. All of this is excellent, and would have sufficed more than fittingly if we had been in the mood for a light dinner on a warm Thursday. But, as I have mentioned before, trenchermen like us were not to be sated with cold offerings. No, it was to be pie-and-a-pint for us, weather be damned. I ordered steak and ale; Larry, after a pause, plumped for chicken and leek. Then we sat back, expectantly, and talked of the modern world (‘I say, old boy, what do you think of this fellow Trump?’ ‘Dashed rum cove if you ask me, old chap. Dashed rum.’) And then a familiar drumming sound began, the clash of cutlery against table. The pies had arrived.
Are the pies at the Newman Arms the finest that we had ever tasted? In truth, perhaps not. But they were damned good all the same. The pastry was the perfect thickness, and the meat inside, complimented but not drenched in a suitably London fog-like gravy, was tender and delicious. The usual side orders of fine mashed potato and vegetables made us feel that we were eating something healthy; as we munched our pies and supped on our pints, the usual tenor of our conversation fell quiet, to be replaced by satisfied munching and the odd exclamation of ‘this is fine tucker, old bean’. And that it certainly was.
Alas, sated appetites and the lateness of the hour put a kibosh on having any pudding, but a final treat was in store. We left with a couple of enormous, near-litre sized cans of beer to take away, courtesy of the in-bar growler dispensers, which sounds vaguely outrageous but in fact means that beer can be sold for off-premises consumption. As we leave, I see a beneficent expression come over Larry’s face. ‘Now that’, the great man quoth, ‘was a proper pie-and-a-pint.’ And who am I to disagree?
For handcrafted pints and pies, The Newman Arms, 23 Rathbone Street, Fitzrovia, London W1T 1NG. For more information, including menus and a potted history, visit www.thenewmanarms.co.uk.