In the 1st century A.D., a 226-mile trail dubbed Dere Street stretched across the landscape of what we know today as Scotland, linking the Roman camps that dotted the northern terrain. In the spirit of that ancient intersection of British and Roman cultures, Newtown’s Dere Street Restaurant offers customers the best of both cuisines.
Opened earlier this year, Dere Street serves Italian and British fare from its location at the corner of Main and West streets, just across from the historic Newtown flagpole. The 19th-century building that plays host to the new restaurant is itself a notable landmark, one of the oldest structures in town that recently underwent a restoration to its former glory. With decorative brackets below the building’s canopy and outdoor street lamps reminiscent of those seen lining roadways years ago, the facade is New England nostalgic.
But while the exterior may be evocative of days gone by, the interior is completely contemporary, decorated with a modern European mindset. Bright blue accents sprinkle the serene dining area and bar, while a dividing partition is adorned with sleek photos of smiling faces and action shots.
We head to the eatery on a beautiful Saturday evening, hoping to arrive early enough to grab a seat outdoors and enjoy the wonderful weather. No such luck — the patio was already full — but we grab a seat by the window inside the brightly lit, casual-chic dining room, which is already bustling.
I choose the Thistly Cross Elderflower Cider, a house favorite, while my guest chooses an Old Golden Hen, a lighter ale. For those inclined toward a cocktail, the eatery also hosts an impressive gin menu. The restaurant does retain a single brand of vodka that will “gladly, but sadly” be substituted if you so desire, though owner David Cooper would much rather educate his customers on the “superiority” of gin.
As we sip our drinks and mull over the menu, we’re presented with a basket filled with an assortment of breads that were baked at Dere Street Bakery, Cooper’s bakeshop just behind the restaurant. Alongside the warm, flaky dough, we’re served a small plate with dollops of butter and a bowl of olive oil for dipping.
We begin with an appetizer of grilled asparagus, topped with a crisp poached egg and drizzled in a lemon butter sauce. The egg is certainly the star of the dish, with its crunchy exterior a pleasant contrast to a creamy yolk, which makes for a satisfying gooey glaze over the crispy asparagus. Our second appetizer is a plate of tomato and cheese fritters garnished with greens and thin slivers of cheese, with smoked bacon incorporated into the flaky coating.
Moving on to my main dish, I select one of the daily specials, a thick piece of striped bass lying on a bed of moist polenta, smothered with a vegetarian ratatouille. My guest went with the hearty, bone-in pork cutlet, which sat atop a creamy polenta and was covered in salsa picante and green beans. The pork cutlet was a standout for both of us, cooked to perfection with just the right amount of spice.
Prepared by British chef Iain Sampson, winner of the Best Chef in Wales award in 2010, the plates are artfully presented, aimed to appeal not just to the taste buds but also the eyes.
For dessert, I go with the popular Sticky Toffee Pudding. Though somewhat rich for my guest, a sentiment I consider blasphemous, I find the chilled and creamy vanilla ice cream covering the warm, fluffy pudding a delightful and delicious contrast.
As our night comes to a close and we look back at the striking exterior lit in the darkness of evening, I’m certain that Dere Street is a path I’ll come across again in the future.
For more, visit derestreetrestaurant.com.