Sunday, 23 October 2011

Cafe 21 Fenwicks Review

It seems quite a feat to be a lover of fine dining in the North East and not to have been to one of Terry Laybourne's numerous and very successful ventures. His 21 Hospitality group has long been behind some of the best restaurants in the area, and more notably for me, all of the ones on my 'too hit list'.

I remedied this recently by going to his latest hotspot The Broad Chare, and wrote about their charming take on rustic British pub ambiance and delicious scotch eggs here, but it was hardly the full dining experience. Yesterday, I made it to Cafe 21 in Fenwicks - the most stylish lunch destination in the city it would appear.

I was with the other halves family who are all big fans of Cafe 21 and I had been told to expect very good things. Arriving on a heaving Saturday afternoon, we were greeted by a long queue and the polite suggestion that  hopefully we wouldn't mind waiting a long time - the issue being there was 6 of us, and in the small space it is difficult to put that many tables together. We debated going elsewhere, I had an inner panic but we hung on and were seated within 10 minutes. So much for the long wait. The decor is sleek and modern, so sleek and modern in fact you forget you are in a department store, even if it is a posh one, and definitely forget that you are on Northumberland Street.

I had been chatting away and by the time the waitress came to take our order, I had another inner panic as I hadn't really considered the menu and opted for the haddock fish fingers with tartar sauce. A slightly unexciting option especially as the other half also opted for this which meant no sharing, but I wasn't in the mood for a salad or soufflé. I also had that well known dilemma of being out with someone else's family and taking liberties with the menu (there was a steak on there which I ignored on these grounds).

Haddock 'Fish Fingers' with Tartare Sauce
3 gorgeously moist and thick pieces of haddock greeted me, with a very light coating of crumbs which let the flavour of the fish fully come through. I have a soft spot for chips and an especially soft spot for skinny fries and these ones were perfect, crisp on the outside, not to thin so you still got a good amount of potato inside and the tartare was freshly blended and chunky - always a good sign. It was £11.45 which perhaps seemed a little steep on the menu as it was one of the most expensive options, but for the amount and quality of the fish it didn't seem like that once I began eating. A nice glass of Pinot Grigio accompanied this - v.swanky saturday lunch for me.

Other lunches on the table includes a Thai Salmon, Asian Salad, and Minute Steak. Each was presented beautifully, we also had the side salad (£3) and was lightly dressed but perhaps a little too much onion.

This was easily a filling lunch, and I could have left it at that but on the way in they tempt you by having you walk past a platter of incredibly looking cakes and patisseries and in the sweet department they are my number one weakness. 

I chose the Sachertorte (i'll admit I had a hankering for this after seeing them being made on Great British Bake off), and thought I would be greeted with a thin slither, given its rich denseness and the fact this was a fine dining experience. I should have learnt from the generous lunch portion - I got a wedge of a slice and sneaked my left overs out in my handbag. It was incredibly rich, with a sumptuous dark chocolate flavour and an orangey stickiness in the centre. This was off the specials, if it's on when you visit I highly recommend it. 

Sachertorte, Cafe 21 Fenwicks
Others on the table opted for the Ice Cream Coupes from the menu. I did get a slight pang of jealousy when these came out, as they looked decadent and wholly unhealthy in the most glorious sort of way. The Liegeoise was a heady mix of coffee ice cream, granita, almond macaroons and mascarpone. 

Choco-Banana Ice Cream Coupe, £5.95

Liegeoise Ice Cream Coupe, £5.95
This isn't your every Saturday sort of affair, and we went as a pre match birthday lunch - a very strange cultural juxtaposition - and it fitted the occasion perfectly. Whilst making delicious food, it keeps an air of breezy informality with superb and efficient service which is just what you want when dining at lunch. I'll certainly be going back, maybe to sample the afternoon tea next time.


  1. this looks great! I've never been in before but now I'm desperate to give it a try! xx

  2. oo Fen it was delicious, you must get the cakes/patisseries if you do go, they were some of the best I've seen in newcastle! xxx

  3. I've been to Cafe 21 down on the Quayside several times and always really enjoyed it. Must give this one a go next, I always seem to forget that it's there! Those ice cream coupes look gorgeous x


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