At the Dere Street Restaurant and Bakery in Newtown a neutral palette highlights bright splashes of color. Poster-sized photo portraits from Italy and England overlook the light-filled space. Chef Iain Sampson’s delicious food, drawn from both of those countries, is just as artful and enticing as the decor.
The snow had melted, temperatures were forecast to be near sixty, and the sun was trying to break through the overcast. Winter wasn’t over, but its tentative break encouraged a drive and a nice lunch. About 45 minutes away, Newtown was far enough to feel as though we’d been somewhere, but close enough to leave time in the day to knock a few things off the to-do list.
Newtown is a bedroom community with a famous flagpole and streets lined with old growth trees and restored antique homes. It is also home to several notable restaurants including our destination, Dere Street Restaurant and Bakery, a recent addition to the center of town.
The morning began with the third racking of my fermenting hard cider. I was pretty pleased with the results, but wanted an opinion from Tess at Maltose, the home brew store in Monroe. More or less on the way to Newtown, the trip seemed like two birds with one stone. Tess, by the way, pronounced the cider excellent and gave me some tips on bottling.
Dere Street fulfills a long-held ambition of owner David Cooper, a British expat and former pro soccer player turned sales executive, turned commercial bakery empresario. His yen for a restaurant was fulfilled when a primo location in an historic building right by Newtown’s flagpole opened up, and award winning Welsh chef Iain Sampson came across the pond. A veteran of London Hotels and Country House Inns throughout Great Britain, Sampson was crowned Best Chef in Wales for 2010.
“We offer both British and Italian cooking,” David told us, “not fusion, but some of each. We don’t blend the cuisines but offer some of our favorites from each culture.”
A mushroom with cream and cheese appetizer can be finished with either Parmesan or Stilton. The staff was universal in recommending the Stilton, and they were right. Quartered cremini in a silky sauce with chunks of cheese, were ladeled over a slice of toasted sourdough – the combination was perfect.
Marsha opted for winter vegetable and mature cheddar salad with spiced maple dressing. The six or so cooked root
vegetables were tossed with mixed greens. Each had their own shape, color, and flavor, contrasting with the aged but not-too-sharp cheddar. The maple dressing was a nice New England touch.
Of course, fish and chips was on the menu, but these were billed as posh, and posh they were. Crisp, light, perfectly-fried batter cocooned two moist flaky fillets. Hand cut chips were hot and hearty. Tartar sauce studded with capers accompanied the fish, chutney and malt vinegar were for the chips – no ketchup in England. The big surprise was the crushed peas, a staple of English cooking. Each bite of the fresh-tasting peas was like a taste of spring to come. I don’t know how they do it.
I’ve been put off more than once by welsh rarebit that was little more than melted yellow cheese ladled over saltines. But at Dere Street the puffy (almost souffléd) layer of excellent cheese was on toasted artisanal bread and topped with a poached egg and rocket salad. A real feast!
Since the boss is in the bakery business, you can bet the desserts are good. Sticky toffee pudding, that most English of desserts, was light and cakey in all its toffee-caramel glory. The chocolate ganache tart was smoothly rich and notable for its splash of orange syrup with streaks of orange peel.
When you go, see if you can get Tammi for your server, she was delightful and unabashedly enthusiastic in her menu recommendations.
Favoring all things British, the bar at Dere Street has 39 gins and only one vodka. David is on a mission to convert Americans from neutral vodka to the excitement of gin. “We’ve had a lot of success,” he said.
Dere Street is the ancient first century Roman road that runs across northern England. Saying that the road connects England and Italian culture is a bit of a stretch, but it certainly seems work on the Dere Street menu.