The Dolphin, Newbury
Shoreditch House meets Miami Beach, this fashion-led Newbury pub is cool, casual and your flexible foodie friend. Big pants on, let's dive in.
If there is one thing I love about my job, it’s seeking out a pimped up, perfect pub – and The Dolphin in Newbury doesn’t disappoint. Owned by husband and wife team Ed and Buffy Turner (aka Buffy & Bear), The Dolphin went from rundown, old man’s boozer to a hip hangout, snagging a Muddy Award this year for Best Bar. Well deserved it is too. The decor is fashion-led and fun, the vibe’s friendly and the food’s informal.
You’ll find this wow watering hole on Bartholomew Street at the southern end of Newbury town centre, near the Kennet Centre and train station. Although the Kennet Centre is a bit meh, this is an area on the up and more and more cool independents are popping up, so if you’ve not ventured downtown, now it’s a must visit..
Relaxing, fun with Insta-worthy decor to die for. Think Shoreditch House meets Miami Beach. I love it and there is a very subtle fishy theme if you can join the arty dots on the walls. The pub is sprawling with five different rooms – six if you include the garden. The front bar area is is dominated by a blinking gorge orange velvet sofa, the Bartholomew Bar (a snug) for a quiet drinkie and read of the papers has a ‘get away from it all’ feels.
There is a ‘Games Room’ with vintage pub and board games with more kitsch antique fair finds. Head out towards the rear of the property and you come across The Fish Tank – a room used for business meetings, breakfast for guests staying in one of five rooms and private events.
The restaurant has a hint of Miami beach with palm print soft furnishings, brass palm floor lamps and vintage maps. It opens out to the garden where you can book a quirky beach hut – each one named after the owners’ children – for group get togethers, and there’s a handy outdoor bar. A dull but useful fact is that there is a car park for guests – rarer than rocking horse poop in Newbury.
Scoff & quaff
New chef, new menu and a new approach. The traditional three courses have been given the boot in favour of a tapas-style menu alongside mains that are light and get more substantial as you go down the list – your meal, your way. It allows you to choose the small plates as a starter and go onto a main, graze on the tapas menu or mix it all up.
Likewise the wines and beers have been edited since they opened a year ago and there’s still a good selection of craft lagers, locally brewed beers and wine – but it feels more curated with a greater focus on pairing flavours to the food and mood. The cocktail list is also pretty foxy and, if Bloody Marys are our bag, Ed’s very own tomato juice Turner Hardy & Co (made on the Isle of Wight) is the magic ingredient.
In the interest of trying as much as we could without busting the waistband, we ordered small dishes, followed by one of the lighter, larger plates. To start I chose the Teriyaki chicken, sesame and spring onions; Buffalo chicken wings with a Ranch dressing and the pork spring roll with Hoisin. Served on cute wooden boards, the presentation was creative and the food delicious. The Teriyaki chicken was phenomenal and I loved the spring roll. Not greasy, or nuclear hot to eat, both hitting the spot. I am sucker for picky food. The buffalo wings were a bit spicy for me, but Mr M happily hoovered up the lot.
Moving on to the larger plates, say hello to culinary colour. The gnocci with Isle of Wight tomatoes, grown on Ed’s farm, was recommended to me and, to be honest, I wouldn’t have chosen it off the menu. Boy, I am glad I did. The humble tomato was doing a samba – bright, bold, full of flavour and a dish that screams of summer, washed down with a zingy Picpoul de Pinet (a French white having a moment) Mr M played it safe with a chicken caesar salad, which he enjoyed but had food remorse that he didn’t choose the burger, which is served in a brioche bun.
What’s for pud? Ah, now I must confess it was a big fat Muddy fail. We were so full, we just couldn’t squeeze in any more, despite the roomy dress option. Special mention to the staff who are warm, welcoming and very patient as I fired endless questions at them. All answered with a smile and humour. They were brilliant, especially with my mini Mudlet, who can talk until we’re all reaching for a double. He tried the new kids’ menu, offering home-cooked snacky dishes like hummus and carrot sticks and corn dog with ketchup as well as home-cooked faves like chicken and fish goujons, pasta and pizza. Nothing too gastro to freak them out, but definitely getting the thumbs up.
Out & about
If you want to have a mooch around Newbury, the canal is nice spot to watch the narrow boats drift by. Word of warning, watch out for the overly enthusiastic swans. Fancy making a day of it? Newbury Racecourse is nearby and there some great inde shops in the town from, Fifi & Moose in Weaver’s Walk, plus Muddy award winners B The Lifestyle Shop, Inn at Home and florist Willow & Blooms are all nearby.
The Muddy verdict
Good for: Fashion lovers, Girls’ Night Outers, family gatherings, general relaxation, design-buffs. This fashion-led pub will give you a style fix, whether you’re eating or drinking and the garden beach huts are brilliant for a quirky birthday get together. Can’t be figged to stagger home, five boutique bedrooms should entice you for a classy sleepover.
Not for: Those looking for a traditional country vibe – you’d be better off slinging your hook somewhere less glam, tbh.
££: Really good value. If you’re used gastropub prices, you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you get the bill: starters/small plates start at £4.50 or 3 for £12.50; larger plates start at £6.50 for soup up to £20 for a rib eye steak. But the majority of dishes are under £15.
The Dolphin, 113 Bartholomew Street, Newbury Berkshire RG14 5DT. Tel: 01635 930334