Sunday, 29 April 2012

Spring Graze, 7th May

Now I'm not one for public service announcements and saying what's on when and being all organised, but Spring Graze is a one-off chance for guaranteed deliciousness and I don't want anyone missing out on that.

You might have heard me bang on about the scotch eggs at The Broad Chare or some pub called The Feather's Inn out in the countryside you'll probably never get out to because you're a broke student or you haven't got a car.

But get yourself down to NorthumberlandTennis Club in Jesmond for Spring Graze and you can sample these delights and a whole lot more. You all like food don't you?

Organised by The Grazer who writes this fantastic blog under the same name, it's on May 7th which as any working person will know is one of our wonderful bank holidays - and don't worry, it's inside just incase this frankly terrible weather carries on.

If you go down, look out for me - i'll be the one in the corner with pockets full of pork pies.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Review: BrewDog Newcastle, Dean Street

I recently bought my dear Dad a case of mixed beers for his birthday. He's always been a fan of proper brewing and has encouraged me over the years that downing a crate of stella on a friday night isn't the best way to drink. When he received my thoughtful gift, his reply was (and I perhaps paraphrase a little bit here) 'When did beer get so fucking cool again?'

Look back 5 years, and enter BrewDog, a game changer for the UK beer scene.

Set up in 2007, they have since been brewing an ever expanding range of craft beers with high quality ingredients, knowledge and perhaps most importantly real passion. Whilst on their website they say their beers are 'in no way commercial or mainstream' their brand is becoming increasingly recognisable.

Of course the scene is bigger than one up-start brewery. On all my recent trips to London i've visited a little pub called The Euston Tap which is a dedicated to offering London the best in craft beer. The range they have is ridiculous - they post an update on their blog each day of what new beers they have in and unlike BrewDog it isn't associated to one brewery meaning they can get in whatever they like. The downside (aside from it being a good 300 miles away from my flat) is that it's housed in one of the original stone lodges for the train station meaning it's tiny, hardly any seats, not somewhere you can easily spend a leisurely afternoon unless its sunny.

The newly opened BrewDog bar in Newcastle is exactly this. plus boardgames and hide away sofas.

The other half is a huge fanboy so when I won us some VIP passes to their opening night he felt like a kid in a very alcoholic sweet shop. I can't explain it in better terms that BrewDog is a very cool 'thing' and when something like that comes to your city there is a noticeable buzz.

BrewDog Newcastle

I could try and maintain a vague tone of professionalism, but you know this is 'beer for punks' and with free draft all night I got drunk, in a good way. My days of downing stella are well behind me thankfully.

The bar has a stripped back industrialist look, lots of exposed steel beams, bare concrete walls and floor but it also has lots of lovely touches. The walls have a wooden panelling which has the odd mis-matched coloured stripe across it. As I looked at this more closely I realised it was the flooring of an old gym hall, the coloured stripes the old court markings. Things like this make it look very fucking cool. There were also lots of glowing light bulbs which off set the harshness of the steel and brick.

But onto the important stuff, the beer. There is a vast selection, I had a quick glance at the guest bottle list and you could have drowned in the choice. They had about 12 beers on tap and I did my best to sample all of them. This isn't a bar about downing 12 pints of tasteless shite and being mortal, but when you're drinking 1/3s of 9.2% Hardcore IPA it may be a route to the same end. Everything is served by the 1/3, 1/3 and 2/3 and whole pint meaning it's easy to try a little of this and a little of that. I didn't even touch on the bottles, but I heard they have over 100 different types in stock (that's tonights job).

O and although they don't do proper food (I had been hoping for the Tim Anderson created burgers they offer in their Camden bar) but the cheese and meat platters are well worth a try. I have a vague memory of cramming a huge piece of creamy goats cheese in my mouth whilst almost falling down the stairs.

We were invited to a tasting with James the co-founder (who later in the night I couldn't stop myself going 'man this is sooo fucking cool, I love it blah blah blah' hmm, sorry about that) who educated us to how to taste our beer properly, and the different processes that go into making it. The tasting finished with their 18.2% Tokyo which is one of the strongest beers made in the UK, it tasted like no other beer i've ever tried, sweet with a smell sort of like sherry but tasted like a strong stout.

What I couldn't understand was the two women during this tasting sipping on glasses of white wine. Really the mind boggles.

And this educated view on the beers doesn't just come when the big boss is speaking, the staff here are fantastic. Knowledgable, friendly and always willing to offer advice on what to try, nearer the end of the night I was just asking to try 'something fun'. You can make as many fantastic beers as you want but that doesn't mean you'll necessarily open a successful bar if you don't make the right atmosphere. There is a pub in town which I regularly go to as it is just behind my work, and even though I go in at least once or twice a week, the staff are always rude, up their own arses and make absolutely no effort to be friendly let alone polite. I left BrewDog after 1 night and already knew the names of half the staff.

BrewDog is a company that is totally on it in terms of attitude and atmosphere. They may say it's beer for punks, but don't worry there isn't any GG Allin blaring out and leather isn't mandatory. Go, now, spend an afternoon there and discover beer better than tasteless lagery pisswater.

BrewDog Newcastle is located at 16 Dean Street, you can get them on twitter @brewdognewc 

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Review: Dabbawal, Highbridge Street, Newcastle

I don't know much about Indian food. Up until the age of around 16 I stuck to the idea that I didn't like it with a childish stubbornness, much to annoyance of my brother who loved nothing better than a fiery curry. He left home and a few weeks later I decided it wasn't all that bad, how irritating siblings can be. My developing taste for curry came with the realisation that just because something is flavoured with spices, doesn't necessarily mean it has to be spicy.

It is still one of the types of food that I know least about and I cook it infrequently. It seems daunting. I know it shouldn't, but unless I was buying a paste from a jar and a can of coconut milk, I have no idea where to start.

This is why going out for Indian is the best. I get to eat things I would never make at home. And at Dabbawal it just got even better.

Located on Highbridge Street, just down from Monument and the Theatre Royal, Dabbawal is an absolute gem of a restaurant. Although it still offers traditional Indian food, the restaurant is contemporary and labels itself a street food kitchen. Given that the name is taken from the 'Dabbawalas', the lunch box delivery men of Mumbai, it seems very fitting.

As it was date night (and pay day) the meal was started with cocktails. There was an interesting range on the menu - many adapted with Indian ingredients. I love a Tom Collins, so when I saw a Lemon Grass Collins I couldn't resist. It was cool and refreshing but had a kick thanks to the ginger beer. I can't find their drinks menu online but think the cocktails were around £6.50.

The other half got a very stylish Margarita. He response was 'good' but he says that about most things which are made of strong liquour.

Dabbawal Menu, Highbridge Street, Newcastle

The menu has small tapas style street food dishes and grills plus a selection curries you'd expect to find. This didn't feel the sort of place to come and have a starter + main combo, I wanted to pick, try new flavours and get a little bit of everything. We went for the street food dishes, according to our waiter around 5 plus a compliment is a good amount between 2. We only got 4 and probably should have followed this advice.

Of course we went for some poppadoms to start, which came with 3 delicious homemade chutneys (£1.25). I once said I thought poppadoms were the best part of an Indian meal, this is laughably stupid but they were very good and obviously freshly made. No one likes a stale poppadom. The orangey coloured dip at the back was sweet and tangy with a developing hotness, I couldn't stop eating it. When the waiter took it away without asking, I had to ask for more.

The tapas dishes are split into 4 sections, Soups & Salads, Chaats, Street Classics and Tandoori. Choosing one from each of these was a great way of sampling a whole range of interesting food.

Dabbawal Signature Salad, £4.50
If you name a dish after your restaurant you're basically saying it's one of the best things you do, so the Dabbawal Signature Salad (£4.50) was a must. A sticky blend of mango, peanuts, spring onions and honey. We've had some serious peanut butter urges going on recently and this salad was a bowl of nutty sweetness. 

Crispy Lamb Samosa Parcels, £3.95, Dabbawal
From the street classics we got Lamb Samosas (£3.95), very artfully presented and much tastier (and I imagine healthier) than the ones sold in buckets at the corner shop. The coating was crisp and lightly fried without any greasiness. 

Bhel Puri, £4.25, Dabbawal

This is a Chaat, the menu told me that 'street food doesn't get more authentic than this' (said in my head in a Masterchef voice) and we opted for the Bhel Puri (£4.25) which was puffed rice and pomegranate in a tamarind sauce. This was like posh bombay mix and rice crispies, it was very nice and not at all what I was expecting. Although honestly I had no idea what to expect and that's half of what made this meal so fantastic. 

Dabbawal Mixed Grill, £8.50

And the Dabbawal Grill, a little bit of everything from their Tandoori menu. There was salmon & chicken tikka, a sublime but tiny lamb chop, a flavoursome seekh kebab and one lonely citrus prawn. This was surprisingly my least favourite dish as it didn't offer me any surprises. All very well done, beautiful smokey charing, I could have eaten about 10 of those lamb chops but I did think more than one prawn would have been nice. 

The Keema Naan, filled with spicy minced lamb, was obviously made by someone who knows how to make proper Indian bread.

That sums up the whole meal really, it felt like it was made with knowledge of what proper authentic Indian food should be like and was full of amazing, light, fresh and lovely spicy flavours.

With two cocktails, a large bottle of beer, 4 mains, Naan and Poppadoms the bill came to £46 which seems very reasonable. My only quibble was with the staffing, all polite but slightly frustrating to be asked by 4 different waiters if we'd like to order drinks when we were waiting for our cocktails to arrive.

This is definitely somewhere to try out, and if you need more convincing or a bit tight on cash the lunch menu offers up the same dishes we had here but all a couple of pounds cheaper.

I'm going as soon as I can and getting a plate of those gorgeous tandoori lamb chops all to myself.

Dabbawal is located on Highbridge Street, Newcastle, 0191 232 5133, and is open 12-2.30pm lunch and 5-10.30pm for dinner. You can visit their website here