Sunday, December 23, 2012

Nicholson’s: The Gold Standard for Gastropubs

Nicholson’s is like a favorite, comfortable shoe that’s been given a new polish

The Elegant and Inviting Bar
     We started going to Nicholson’s when it first opened over fifteen years ago and it immediately took off because it was a gastropub before that term passed into popular usage.  We usually took family members there because the menu was
interesting, the bar area was both cozy and spectacular, and the service was friendly and efficient.  They also were the first to introduce the Shandy (equal parts of lager and lemon/lime soda), one of our chosen libations.  About three or four years ago, some of our favorite menu items were dropped and it began to look like any other type of pub or bar.  Another issue was that the Scottish and British music was replaced by generic ‘classic’ rock, which was played much louder than necessary.

Traditional Dining Room
     Mark Bodenstein became chef a couple of years ago after his ascetic Nuvo closed in Newport.  We had thought about dropping by and Christmas seemed an appropriate time.  The menu is back to its traditional Scottish/British roots with some contemporary foodie touches (mussels, duck fat fries, and some of the sides for dinner).  Lunch has a number of combinations (yes, the Panera effect has rippled through many restaurants) as well as snacks, salads, and mains.  

Bellhaven Beer Cheese
     We ordered the Belhaven Beer Cheese snack because we had some time on our hands.  It was basically a fondue with bangers (sausages) ground and mixed smoothly into the cheese, served with doughy pretzels and pub crisps.  For something that sounded run-of-the-mill, though our server recommended it, we were impressed.  It was smoky, yeasty, and delicious.

Chicken Vegetable Pie
Neil had the Chicken Vegetable Pie, which was a chicken and root vegetable stew topped with cream cheese biscuits.  It was packed with meat and the biscuits were moist and flaky.

Turnip and Potato Soup

I ordered the Turnip and Potato Soup, which was smooth and well rounded in its flavors with the Quiche of the Day.

Quiche of the Day

It was a delicate egg custard with arugula, goat cheese, and a generous portion of bacon. The textures and flavors worked well together, but it was a little cool.  Neil pointed this out to our server, who rectified it with the kitchen immediately and more than made up for what she termed ‘this inconvenience.’  Cheers to them for a return to excellent service.   

Sticky Toffee Pudding
     There are four desserts, but all sounded worthwhile.  (I still miss the Trifle, which was the best in the region).  We chose the Sticky Toffee Pudding.  Nicholson’s keeps it simple by serving it warm in a casserole dish with the dark spice toffee cake topped with a layer of custard and caramel sauce.  I didn’t detect the cardamon mentioned in the description, but the dessert really worked and it was large enough for two.  Jean-Robert’s Table is currently serving a version of this dessert, but it’s much fussier and has the consistency of fig cake with cream cheese frosting.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it wasn’t toffee pudding.  

     We’re glad that Nicholson’s is back on top with some new touches.  It continues to anchor the block of restaurants across from the Aronoff with good food, moderate prices, a beautiful interior that’s simultaneously smart, relaxed, and traditional, and with a renewed commitment to service.

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I decided to wear my favorite kilt.

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