Paul Naylor enjoys a family night out, visiting one of his parents’ favourite spots.
Anyone with an interest in history should be able to link significant events with dates. For example, if you asked someone what is 1966 best remembered for, there is a pretty good chance that England winning the World Cup on home soil will be the answer.
Likewise, 1066 will always be linked with The Battle of Hastings. Another big year ending in 66 was 1666. Hands up class, what started in a baker’s on Pudding Lane in our capital that year? Yes, that’s right – the Great Fire of London.
But which Shropshire town, just a year prior to this, endured its own inferno? The Great Fire of Newport took place in 1665, destroying many of its fine Medieval structures.
One building that did manage to survive is located at 128 High Street.
Naturally, over the centuries, its use has changed many times, but for many modern-day folk in the area it will be lovingly remembered as Mischa’s.
Mischa Savchenko opened his restaurant on the ground floor in 1992, serving wonderful food for the best part of two decades. It was greatly missed when the doors closed in 2010.
It was a pleasant surprise in 2011 when the Savchenko family returned, this time with Verona’s. As the name suggests, this is an Italian themed establishment – and is definitely worth a visit.
I first became aware of Verona’s on my parents’ recommendation. Along with their ‘gang’, my folks visit regularly in the daytime for a coffee, snack and chat. After all, as it says on the sign adorning the wall outside, Verona’s is ‘a place to meet and eat’ – and believe me, my mum, dad and pals don’t need an invite. You can normally find them in the conservatory section on a Friday morning.
Since opening under its new name, Verona’s has primarily operated as a fully licensed coffee house, serving a lunchtime menu of Italian treats. One course is available for £6.99, two for £8.99 and three at £10.99, representing good value. It is also well known for its paninis and sandwiches.
It is indeed an historic location. Though it may have only been part of the Savchenko family since 1992, it is perhaps only right that the family’s 21-year association coincides with Verona’s reopening as a restaurant in the evenings. Yes, with little fanfare, dining in style has returned to 128 High Street.
It seemed only fitting to take mama and papa along on a recent visit to discover for myself what they already knew so well.
As I mentioned, the atmosphere is relaxed. On entering the building it felt more like dropping in on old friends. We passed through a reception area flanked with large mirrors and quirky pictures, gazing into an opening that reveals the kitchen staff at work.
Manageress Lisa popped her head through the archway leading to the main dining area.
It was certainly a warm, friendly and casual welcome on such a bitter cold March night.
Behind the bar, Nick – as my mother and father informed me – greeted us too.
The dining area is very unfussy, simple yet functional. Beyond, the conservatory was reserved for a family celebrating someone’s special birthday.
I chose a bottle of Pinot Grigio from the good wine list. At around £18, it was packed with flavour.
Presented with a simple paper menu, we were left to make our selections. Verona’s has a great range of dishes on offer for evening diners. A wide choice of appetisers is available before choosing a starter and main. I made a mental note to give the bowl of marinated olives or bruschetta pomodoro a try on another occasion, but on my recent visit we moved on to the starters.
From the decent list, I opted for the salt and pepper squid (£5.95). Served with a garlic aioli, the squid was soft and easy to cut through – delicious. Mother’s asparagus, new potatoes, prawns and capers (£6.75) were a hit. This came with a gherkin mayonnaise. My father enjoyed his buffalo mozzarella, cured ham, asparagus and tapenade (£6.75).
Throughout the evening, staff confidently juggled the attention needed for the party in the conservatory and smaller groups of diners. When a drinking glass crashed to the floor, this was dealt with swiftly and with little fuss. Even accidents feel more relaxed here.
My main course of tagliatelle, slow-cooked duck ragu with red wine, tomato and oregano (£9.50) was subtle and tasty.
My father’s American pizza (£9.95) was certainly packed with flavour. Topped with spicy chorizo, salami, mozzarella, red onions, tomato, red chilli, spicy pork and beef it packed a punch.
Mother’s traditional homemade lasagne was, as you would expect, spot on. Served with a house salad, it was a good choice at £8.95.
For dessert, my panacotta with rich fruit coulis was a treat and my parents enjoyed a lemon meringue cheesecake and lemon drizzle sponge (£4.95 each).
Finishing with a coffee (£2) each, we made our way into the night, back onto the cold streets of Newport, vowing to return to the town’s own little Italy.
Verona’s, 128, High Street, Newport TF10 7BH
Tel: 01952 820636
Star rating: 4/5
Bowl of marinated olives (£2.75)
Fresh houmous with warm flatbread (£3.75)
Slashed garlic bread with sour cream and spring onion (£3.50)
Platter of cured meats, mozzarella, olives and freshly baked bread (£4.50) or £8 to share
Wild mushroom risotto, peas, spring onion and extra virgin olive oil (£5.75)
Soft polenta, peas, mushrooms, free range fried egg and chilli oil (£5.75)
12oz prime sirloin steak with baked mushroom and a tomato, onion, courgette and aubergine ragu (£17.95)
Chicken fillet, asparagus with sweet and spicy peppers (£15)
Potato gnocchi, white wine and cream sauce, baby tomato, wild mushrooms and grilled Parmesan (£9.50)
Selection varies (£4.95 each)
Professional, yet informal with a warm smile