“ 14 Castlegate / Newark / Nottinghamshire / NG24 1BG / Tel: 01636 610141 „
I live in Newark , having moved here from London. Cafe Bleu was heralded to me as The Ivy of the East Midlands, and so I was quite excited about trying it out. I 've now eaten there several times and have found it varying from not great to quite good. The decor and ambiance is lovely - in summer its great to sit on the terrace. The service can and does vary greatly - on somedays there appears to be no visible Maitre'd, and often as a result the service suffers, as most of the waiting staff are young and inexperienced - On my last trip to CB I asked for a Bellini and was met with a blank stare - to make life easier, I asked for gin and slimline tonic, but what I got was non slimline tonic from a bar tap - which tasted like flat soda. Having rectifed this I asked for some Olives ( on the menu ) only to be told , "they'd run out". As I was amongst the first people in the restuarant that day, and Waitrose round the corner sell Olives I found that surprising. The rest of the meal was "alright"- nice celeriac soup, slightly tough steak, and a nice Pannacotta with an untidy pile of very tart passion fruit on the side. My husband is a vegetarian - if there is only ever one veggie option, how can it be optional for the Vegetarian ? ( i've never seen more than one Veggie"option" on offer at CB ) No brown bread as an alternative to white (why not? ) . Perhaps it sounds like im overly critical, but Cafe Bleu not the cheapest of places and often its hard to get a table ( although I think this is because they strictly control the number of covers they want to deal with on a day to day basis - as often the restuarant appears empty , and you still can't get a table) - so Im often surpried at the fuss and aclaim it gets. I'll be honest, I think Cafe Bleu has little local competion , so as a consequence is rated perhaps more highly than it might be in a less provincial area. In summary , Cafe Bleu can be very good, and the food excellent , but this can't be taken for granted in my experience - If I wanted to be sure of a great well priced meal , For my money i'd head down the road to either Langar Hall, World Service in Nottingham, or the excellent Martin's Arms at Colston Bassett.
Newark is a bustling little market town, and has quite a selection of individual restaurants along its Castlegate. We decided to book Café Bleu as a treat for our 20th (!) anniversary since we met. (I know, I know, I don't look that old)
Café Bleu had first come to my attention earlier this year, when I was looking for a restaurant for a birthday celebration. Café Bleu won the Best Out of Town restaurant in the 2006 Nottingham Restaurant awards, even beating the formidable Langar Hall, and also Tom Brown's (whose chef now runs our local, serving superb food). Café Bleu's own website sold me with its emphasis on Contemporary European cooking and a quick call on the day soon secured a table for Friday night at 830pm.
On arrival we were offered a choice of indoor or an outdoor table. I chose indoor as I felt that more preferable for less casual dining. In fact we eventually did retire outside and were sorry we had not gone for that in the first place. The hotel has a wonderful walled courtyard and there were an abundance of tables and chairs, all covered with umbrellas, and the plants and lighting made it an extremely inviting atmosphere, particularly after dinner. In fact although I was only offered a table at 830pm when I rang to book, neither the inside restaurant or outside were completely full, suggesting that they manage the amount of bookings they take to ensure they can house everyone adequately should there be a sudden change in the weather!
But on to the food. The menu does have a heavy emphasis on fish and meat, although there were some decent sounding vegetarian options. The focus is on local produce and therefore can change daily, depending on availability. There is a choice of around 6-7 starters and main courses, with a bigger dessert selection. I opted for a stilton soufflé, which was presented beautifully with a marmalade style sauce and served on salad leaves. It was extremely light, and tasty, and the portion size was excellent.
Unusually for me, as I do not often go for a meat option, there were a couple of red meat options which sounded extremely appealing. I elected for the Aberdeenshire Blade of beef, which was served with mash potato and on a bed of cabbage and bacon. The bacon added slightly too much salt to the plate but it did not spoil my enjoyment in any way. The beef itself was excellent, and just fell apart on contact with my fork, and the portion size was very generous - too much in fact, for me to finish, despite the fact I was looking forward to three courses that night! Hubby had a lamb main, and finished his without any problem at all, and indeed his lamb was also cooked to perfection.
Service was just a little bit quick for me initially - we seemed to have our starters within a few minutes of the order going in - and our mains were also fairly quick in arriving, which is fine if you want a pre-theatre but we were in a more leisurely mode. We were able to slow the service down after that, giving us time to finish our wine. The wine collection itself was fairly extensive with at least 15 reds and 15 whites plus wine available by the glass, and champagne/rose selections and prices were very affordable, ranging from £9.95 to £19 for the majority of the selection, with a few special French wines available for a little bit more. We opted for a Saddle Creek Australian Semillon for £13.50 a bottle.
The décor is an eclectic selection. Colourful canvasses emphasising the larger female form, by the local artist Nikki Mackay, adorn many walls within the restaurant, and indeed she has a permanent Gallery upstairs, which you can even browse on your way to and from the bathroom. There is no lack of stimulation with the colours, from the distressed blue/terracotta walls, the wonderful solid oak floors and a mismatch of tables and chairs, some covered, our terracotta tiled one was not.
Lighting was provided by a number of individual halogen bulbs suspended on wiring across the restaurant. While effective, in fact I think these gave off too much heat, as I found myself too hot by the time I finished my main course. Indeed we abandoned the idea of pudding and asked if we could be re-seated in the courtyard outside, which was done with the minimum of fuss, and indeed five minutes later we were joined by another couple with the same idea, the heat getting to them too. The courtyard was a wonderful retreat to enjoy our second bottle of wine in a comfortable setting, yet hearing the sound of the night life from other restaurants and bars along the Trent.
Music is typically in the jazz style and provides a background while not destroying conversation. All in all café Bleu offers a great mix of good food and wine, good music and art, great but unpretentious service, and all in excellent surroundings. With starters averaging around £5-6 and main courses ranging from £10-£15, our evening came to a reasonable £75 altogether, including two bottles of wine.
Newark is situated North East of Nottingham and close to the A1.
Tel 01636 610141