People are far more ambitious than they let on. You might think your friends are happy to relax on a weekend, enjoy a drink and occasionally meet up for a bit of socialising. But this is an illusion.
Most people have a burning desire to make it big. If you don’t think like this, you’re on your own.
Until very recently, admitting to being ambitious was not cool. It’s like picking your nose or scratching your armpits — you kept this kind of thing to yourself.
Yet reality TV programmes and the success of the Lottery prove that we are all, in fact, pathologically competitive and ambitious. We have desires to be a famous cook, an international model, a globally acknowledged musical genius or a celebrity gardener. I know a guy who wants to enter the international space race but he’s a civil servant at Stormont and mildly delusional.
So when the talented chef Jonny Stevenson made it through to the finals of MasterChef three years ago, his publicly stated intention to become a pro and to live the dream came within his grasp. He didn’t win the finals, but that didn’t stop his starward trajectory. The dream would become reality when he opened a restaurant in, whisper it, Newtownards.
His restaurant, Bistro Twenty5, is on the High Street overlooking the elegant Conway Square in the heart of the town. It’s upstairs above a charity shop but the staircase doesn’t seem to deter diners. It’s open for dinner Fridays and Saturdays and this is Tuesday lunchtime — the place is busy.
Before ordering lunch from the array of pannini, sandwiches and dishes of the day I have a look at the dinner menu, which is fabulous and I vow to return to try it. There’s smoked mackerel fish fingers with beetroot, horseradish cream and pickled cucumber salad; confit of duck leg with new potato salad and mustard emulsion; or crayfish cocktail with brandy-infused Marie Rose — and that’s just some of the starters.
Among the mains that make the mouth water are spaghetti a la puttanesca; fish pie with Ewing’s salmon, cod, crayfish and smoked haddock; sea bass with fondant potato, parsnip cream, spinach and fennel sauce, and much more, all distinctly and classically French.
That’s for another day. Today’s review is a look at the lunch, for which the day’s specials include broccoli and cauliflower soup and bacon and cheddar quiche with salad and chips. Price £6.95. Sounds good — but we’ll come back to this. The soup is fabulous. A careful and delicate balance of the two vegetables with some cheese and plenty of flavours coming through. The texture is just right with not too much water. The bowlful is generous and a meal in itself. It comes with a thin slice of excellent, crumbly, fresh wheaten and butter.
The quiche and chunky chips, coleslaw and frisee salad are all good. The quiche is fresh and light, the bacon bits full of piggy saltiness. The chips are crispy and the coleslaw among the creamiest you will ever taste.
Opposite me I watch a Caesar salad disappear. The listing on the menu had made a point about how the anchovies are used in the dressing “the way a proper Caesar dressing should be”. Yet there is no sign of any cos lettuce, which I thought was the proper lettuce for a Caesar. Rather, Jonny uses a nice mix of shredded frisee and raddichio leaves. There is grated parmesan rather than the promised flakes and the optional chicken makes the dish a filling lunchtime winner.
A starter of mussels is disappointing. The mussels are big, served with too little jus and are overcooked.
The kid’s meal of chicken goujons and chips is warmly greeted after the mussels and once again the generous portions are remarkable.
Jonny Stevens is building a reputation for his evening dinners on Fridays and Saturdays and I will be going back to give these a whirl. People whose opinion I respect speak very highly of these.
But the lunch, while good, is not without its flaws. The menu for a £6.95 lunch turns out to be a small but significant design mistake: the fact is the soup costs £3 and the quiche £6.95.
The staff are quick to make any amends, apologetic if there was any misunderstanding and altogether very good at handling my query. This kind of customer service is very reassuring indeed and means diners will have no problem coming back.
The restaurant is an attractive room, Jonny Stevens is a talented chef and the staff are excellent. There are some minor problems in the design details — the two toilet doors which greet you before you enter the restaurant, the defunct self-service counter, the badly drawn specials menu which leaves you wondering if two courses for £9.95 is still good value — which it is. It’s all a tiny bit careless and some simple management will sort this out.
In the meantime, I can’t wait to discover how an openly ambitious Master Chef finalist cooks proper dinners.
Soup x 2 £6
Caesar with chicken £6.75
Kid’s meal £4
Sparkling water £1.10
25 High St, Newtownards.
Tel: 028 9122 8044