Graham Keal enjoys a Continental night out – without leaving Newark!
Like so many others, we’ve had to forego continental holidays for the last year or two, but visiting Newark’s new Danube restaurant makes you feel like you’re having a continental night out right here in town.
Ramona and John Holland’s news restaurant is inspired by the cuisine of the 10 countries bordering the Danube, including Ramona’s home country of Romania as well as Germany, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Slovakia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine.
But it’s not just the food and the ambience of the beautifully airy and elegant restaurant at 25 Castlegate, directly opposite Newark Castle and a stone’s throw from the Trent, that feels continental. Ramona radiates warmth, and surrounded by scenes from the Danube, you really feel as if you are on holiday for the night.
Ramona also likes to make customers and families feel like friends, and the friendship starts with a gift. We had ordered just one starter between us, because we wanted to make sure we could find room for a pudding. That proved a wise move, because within minutes of settling in we were presented with what the French call a “amuse-bouche”, a complimentary pre-starter to tickle the palate while you await your order.
This took the form of a delicious little pickled salad of beetroot, roast peppers and mushrooms, plus a Lángoš apiece – small, golden crescents of warm bread filled with cream cheese, like a savoury doughnut. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
Our starter proper was a tasty home-made Frickadellen (£5.75), a “meat-ball” (though it’s actually a flat pattie) made with minced pork and beef, garlic, parsley and breadcrumbs and served with a pickled salad of roast peppers, crunchy gherkins, beetroot and tiny mushrooms. The flavour and texture of the Frickadellen was very appealing and the salad provided the perfect sharp contrast.
Alternatives include hearty Bean Soup (£3.95), Gravadlax – cold-cured salmon fillets with dill (£5.95), Warm Goats Cheese served with beetroot, cherry tomatoes, mixed leaves and apple vinaigrette (£5.95) or Bulgarian salad (£5.95), a dressed salad with ham, chopped tomatoes, cucumber, onions, boiled egg, parsley and feta cheese – served without ham for vegetarians.
For mains we were tempted by the Beef Goulash (£12.50) and the Chicken a la Balcanica (£11.95) but I opted for Wiener Schnitzel – a golden brown veal cutlet served with lemon wedge, chips and leaf salad. It was pleasant, but I usually opt for main courses swimming in sauce or gravy, and I think other options might have suited me better.
Partner Mary, normally a keen carnivore, chose the Vegetable Bake (£9.50) – layers of sliced potato, grilled aubergine and a sauce of courgettes, onion, garlic, tomatoes and herbs, all under a creamy topping of melted smoked cheese. She raved about the moist, tasty filling and the smooth smoked cheese on top: “Fabulous. I would eat this again and again.”
The veggie bake turned out to be a dish devised by Ramona for vegetarian friends, and the enthusiastic reaction is typical.
For dessert, Ramona’s own recipe rice pudding sundae or the chocolate marquise were tempting but Mary chose warm apple and almond cake with vanilla-infused cream and sliced strawberry garnish (£4.50), and loved it. I struck even luckier with an irresistibly moist yet crumbly lemon and polenta cake served with warm lemon liqueur sauce. Wonderfully more-ish.
Our two black coffees (good value at £1.50 each) were so good we made a point of mentioning it. “It’s Lavazza,” said Ramona, “because I will only buy in coffee that I would want to drink.”
The wine list starts at £12.50 for a Romanian merlot (whites start at £14) and we opted for a bottle of the famous Bull’s Blood Hungarian red at £14. Very good it was too, quite full-bodied with notes of raspberry and plum, and with a low mark-up by restaurant standards.
The Danube offers a café menu from Tuesday to Saturday, 10am-3pm, with lunch menu available from midday Tuesday to Saturday, and the evening menu is available Thursday to Saturday, 6-9.30pm.
We had an absolutely delightful night out, gazing at scenes of Europe’s second-longest river and feeling in holiday mood. There’s nothing quite like this restaurant anywhere in the East Midlands, or this side of the Danube come to that.
Danube café and restaurant – Newark Notts
Newark NG24 1AZ
Tel. 07765 536118 or 01636 610661