Gone is the Newport Arms and in its place is The Newport. Adjacent to the beer garden is the restaurant Bert's, Merivale's major twist on a pub restaurant, decorated in hues of pastels with a retro tropical vibe to it. The menu is replete with seafood and steak options, many meant for sharing.
"The only times we have available at 5:30 and 9pm," the voice on the other line says. I had hoped to dine at 7pm but given the choice of dining like a grandma (no shade) or dining at 9pm, I knew that we would prefer the earlier booking especially given the 1.5 hour drive to get to Newport.
Ivy confirms the 5:30pm choice with a grandma emoji and at 4pm on a gloriously sunny Saturday we find ourselves zipping across the Harbour Bridge in Ivy's brand new convertible. Honestly there is no better way to arrive. At 5:30pm we get to Newport and circle The Newport trying to find a park (leave time for this, it took us a while).
Outside it looks like a pub and the security greet us and click their patron counter. But once inside it's quite a sight, all tropical prints, cane chairs, plenty of salmon pink and plenty of booths to misbehave in. Bird chirp away in a birdcage at the front. The tasseled keys near the reception are not for rooms, they are for the cloakroom.
There's an open kitchen with a frequently spritzed display of iced seafood. And the sun drenched bar is full of patrons this Saturday afternoon. Bert is named after Hemmes sibling Bettina whose nickname in high school was Bert. The chefs are Jordan Toft and Sam Kane.
Service is on point from our North American waitress - we never wait for anything and she anticipates and glides us through the menu. We need to give the table back by 8pm so we order quickly based on her recommendations and start with cocktails.
When I heard "micro cocktail" my ears perked up. There are two: a Martini and a Bloody Mary and they're the perfect size for me. And now whenever I order one on a plane I'm going to wonder why I can't have an oyster with a Bloody Mary at the same time with all of its briney brilliance (I mean a Clamato is really just a cousin of it). Mr NQN's drink is a Royale Vodka with spicy ginger cordial, sparkling wine and finger lime caviar balls. He's very pleased with this choice. Ivy is also very happy with the Australian themed Bellini with Aperol and quandong (native Australian peach) syrup.
There are two types of brioche finger toasts - one with salmon and fennel pollen and one with trout roe and chicken butter. We went for the latter because who wouldn't want to try chicken butter? (Well vegans and vegetarians probably). We love the sweet, buttery brioche fingers topped with the butter that doesn't taste that different from regular butter but the trout roe had a strong flavour.
We all love raw fish and you can get an 80g single serve of crudo fish for $21 or a selection of four at 190g for $43. We went for the larger size and the selection includes swordfish belly, kingfish, trevally and tuna. They're given added lusciousness from the virgin grapeseed oil and they come with a pot of muscatel vinegar dressing and chives that really give it much needed acidity.
The avocado Bert is a halved avocado with chopped egg, dressing and a trio of fresh herbs like tarragon, chive and chervil that give it a delightful aniseed kick. There is also a sprinkling of togarashi or Japanese chilli powder. I particularly like this with the crudo selection.
I was surprised at the size of the John Dory. Usually they're smaller at the market but they bring out a 1.5 kilo specimen which ends up being quite pricey as it is . , u on weight. We take a photo and then they offer to debone it for us which we take them up on. It comes with plenty of salad burnet on top and a boat of hollandaise. The fish is wonderfully cooked and it is one of my favourite fish to eat. The only disappointment is the hollandaise which is very bland.
We were tossing up between the 400 and 800g rib eye and given how large the John Dory was we're glad we went with the smaller one. It's a Brooklyn Valley grass fed steak from Victoria and it is perfectly cooked medium rare. The steak is lusciously juicy and just full of flavour. You get one side of your choice with every steak and it's hard to go past some herbed shoestring fries on the side.
We all had different favourites tonight. For me it was all the starters, for Ivy the fish and for Mr NQN it was the humble grilled zucchini salad with soft stracciatella (a soft, miky buffalo's milk cheese that tastes like the creamy centre of burrata), lemon and fresh basil. He can't get enough of it in fact.
It's 7:20pm and we need to order dessert, not that anyone seems particularly bothered by us leaving by 8pm but we want to hit the road on time as we have a long drive home. Our reliable waitress gives us some recommendations and we are sold. The chocolate tart is a tallish, smooth ganache tart with a ginger cookie crust (that could stand to be more gingery in all honesty). It comes with a scoop of creme fraiche and a sprinkling of sea salt. Ivy really likes this although she does comment that it could do with more ginger.
While Mr NQN and I are all about the pavlova with the soft centre, cream, slices of fresh mango, toasted coconut shavings and finger lime syrup. Not a dot of this goes back to the kitchen. And then we are off, ready for a drive back home. In bed by 10pm? It's a win!
So tell me Dear Reader, would you take the booking for 5:30pm or 9pm? What time do you like to be in bed? And steak or fish for you (or both)?
This meal was independently paid for.
2 Kalinya St, Level 1, Newport NSW 2106 Monday to Thursday 12–3pm, 5:30–9:30pm Friday and Saturday 12–3pm, 5:30–10:30pm Phone: (02) 9114 7350 www.merivale.com.au/venues/berts