Sunday, 24 June 2012

Review: Pasqualino's, Theatre Royal, Grey Street

A couple of months ago I pronounced my love of 9 Bar Coffee in the Theatre Royal and since then i've only grown fonder of my favourite little coffee and grilled cheese sandwich joint, stopping in there every other weekend or whenever there's a table free, which proves trickier than i'd like, apparently i'm not the only one with a soft spot for a good flat white. 

When my lovely friend Ben, author of the fab Quiff Pro Fro blog and soon to be editor of the Newcastle University student paper The Courier (which I spent a very fun year editing the music section of, back when I could fool myself in to thinking I was in touch with current music and didn't spend all my time pondering where I could pick up some beef shin on the bone), asked if I'd like to go join him on a reviewing stint of Pasqualino's, also in the Theatre Royal and run by the same people as 9 Bar, it was unlikely i'd turn down the opportunity. 

He was there to review their Graduation dinner menu - everyone wants their Graduation dinner to be a 'special occasion' (I tried and failed to get a table at Six even after enquiring a month in advance) and restaurants know this is an opportunity to rake in some big bucks during the quiet summer months. 

Pasqualino's Graduation Menu

Rather than being a blatant rip off as these things often can be, the Graduation menu at Pasqualino's was very decently priced, and before you stop reading thinking you've got no interest in Graduation food, most of the dishes are available on their regular fixed price menu and I noticed if you go in after 7.30 you can get two courses for £9.95 which is insanely good value. 

The room follows a similar design to 9 Bar with a relaxed decor, a distinctly Italian vibe with big well laid out bars and stands with authentic meat cutters and cheese boards. When we arrived the room was packed, so it was a little odd half way through dinner when the tannoy blared and the room emptied and we were literally the only people in there as all the old dears had left to watch some musical or other. It must be difficult to get the balance right between theatre restaurant and restaurant that's located in a theatre, but as the room started to slowly fill up with non-show attending cliental you could tell they'd got it right. 

Canapes at Pasqualino's

We started with these lovely little mouthfuls; pea, mint, saffron and mozzarella arancini (which they also serve in 9 bar) were stuffed full of melted cheese and had a naughty deep fried crisp to them. The things on sticks were chicken and sage in a balsamic dressing and were equally moreish, sweet and sticky. 

Pea, mint and mozzarella Arancini 

Starters were equally pleasing, playing with italian flavours without a pizza or pasta in site. I've been on a no carbs diet recently (which I won't tell you about because I will BORE YOU TO DEATH) so a light salad of fresh buffalo mozzarella, grilled courgettes, pine nuts and pesto was very welcome and not at all oily. 

The potted pork came with a pickled pear (although it looked more poached than pickled) which was a slightly strange combination, but bloody hell there was a lot of pork crammed into that mini Kilner jar with a thick layer of meaty fat across the top. You can see that Ben approved. 

Potted pork and pickled pear
Mains were a cross between classic rural Italian cooking and showy restaurant pieces. Of course there was a chicken breast wrapped in something, on a menu like this there's ALWAYS chicken wrapped in something - it gives the impression of being fancy but is easy to prepare in advance. It was the first thing I started to make when I wanted to cook for people 'properly' and didn't know any better. This grain fed chicken wrapped in parma ham was perfectly adequate but it was the dark and sweet sage sauce that really brought the flavours out and the salty crispiness of the parma ham coating. A few well sautéed mushrooms and spinach completed the dish nicely.

The Braised Irish Shorthorn shin of beef was gorgeously tender in a rich tomato ragu, fresh greens and soft and creamy polenta. A beautiful dish of proper Italian flavours and textures and in typical Italian fashion, the portions were huge. 

Puddings were a mixed bunch, a creamy creme brulee with a cherry compote and almond crisp biscuit hit all the right spots, light and sweet after the powerful flavours of the main courses. The chocolate and pear tartlet was nice but didn't match well with the very tart orange ice cream. The tart had a bitterness from the dark chocolate, so could have done with a sweet accompaniment but was a pretty little pudding. My grainy iphone photo doesn't really do it justice. 

Chocolate and Pear Tart

Creme Brulee with Cherry Compote 
If you got all four courses it would set you back £30 a head - whilst the canapes were really lovely i'd probably plumb for three courses for £25. There are lots of pizza and pasta places in Newcastle but not many authentic Italian's and if you're looking for a laid back graduation night in a very well designed restaurant you can't go far wrong with Pasqualino's. Just avoid the odd cross over time so you're not left sat in an empty restaurant. 

Pasqualino's is at 100 Grey Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 6BR, you can get them on 0191 2442513 to book. 

Monday, 11 June 2012

Review: Jesmond Dene House Hotel, Newcastle

My love of pints, burgers and casual dining is no secret. If I am going to eat out this will invariably be the standard - on a recent trip to London there were no fancy restaurants but tiny cellar BBQ joints, sleazy burger take aways, so hip-it-hurts bars with fried chicken and Jewish delis with gin cocktails (I haven't blogged about any of this because it would just go I LOVE IT I LOVE IT I'M SAD I CAN'T EAT IT EVERY DAY). But occasionally I want to indulge my love of all things luxury and luckily the other half is well aware of this.

If you can believe it, my other half has been putting up with my demands for tea and general whining for 2 years now, I honestly don't know how he's survived but this did mean it was time for a special celebration. The darling that he is booked us a room at Jesmond Dene House Hotel (not even the cheapest room!) and whisked me off in a taxi after work for a very indulgent Friday night. 

This place is beautiful, elegant, understated luxury. The building is a piece of classic architecture, designed by John Dobson in the 19th century and has been tastefully extended since then. I've been fantasising about staying here for a long time. We had a room in the eaves, so it felt like a secret hide away and the finishing touches were just divine. I don't want it to seem that my priorities are in the wrong places, but when I found out we were staying here, one of my first thoughts was 'O that means I can have a bath, how lovely'.

Beautiful bedroom at Jesmond Dene House Hotel, we already made it a bit messy

Classic design in the bathroom
We had a table booked in the restaurant for 8 so after a few glasses of bubbly in the room, we made our way down to the very grand bar, where I of course insisted on cocktails. They were all around £9, I opted for an Elderflower and Cucumber Collins, the OH got an Italian lemonade, both of which were lovely if a little unexciting. The OH was pleased about the amount of complimentary pickled nibbles, he loves a good gherkin. 
Elderflower & Cucumber Collins 
You know when someone buys a really expensive car and then opts for the cheap interior rather than the flash leather seats, and then you look at them and think, 'why would you do that? You've already gone as far as buying the car that's as expensive as a small house, you may as well get all the extras too'. Well that was our theory on dinner, we went for the tasting menu - which at 6 courses for £55 was actually rather reasonable. These 6 courses actually turned into 9, what with the amuse bouche, pre-dessert and petit fours I got with my coffee. 

Jesmond Dene House Tasting Menu

The dining room is ludicrously posh, I'm in no way scum of the earth (although I am from Yorkshire) but I've definitely never dined anywhere as posh as here. I found it almost amusingly, ridiculously posh - like not knowing what fork to use and having to wait for someone to pour your wine posh. When I managed to get a bright green stain on the table cloth after the first course I did start to wonder whether I should be allowed into such establishments. 

The food was of course sublime, but not all faultless. I'd say 2 were 'out of this world, the best food I've ever eaten', 2 got the response 'this is really fucking good, you don't get food like this often', 1 'well this is pleasant' and 1 'this is a little strange'. 

The two best were the fillet of beef and the pudding, a salted caramel, banana and milk chocolate sphere which melted away before your eyes as the waitress poured over hot caramel sauce. This was not only heavenly; it was a wonderful piece of showmanship to finish the meal with, a piece of flair you would go away remembering and lusting over. See, it left such an impression on me it's the first thing i've written about. 

The beef was unbelievably tender and served with a mushroom and truffle puree plus a smear of the creamiest potato ever. It was a work of art, a beautiful symphony with everything playing completely in tune. 

Beef Fillet at JDH

The various stages of the milk chocolate sphere pudding
The two other incredibly good dishes were the beef hash with home made ketchup and truffled egg and the langoustine, pork belly and apple little mouthful of joy. Both so well executed and so beautiful to look at. 
Langoustine, Roast Pork Belly, Apple Fondant 

Northumberland Corn Beef Hash (hiding behind the dried, sweet tomato flower)
The first dish was the Spring Vegetable Salad and was very pretty, it looked like summer on a plate and had a generous shaving of black summer truffles. There were lots of contrasting textures; crunchy radishes and soft miniature carrots, pickled onions and tiny garden flowers, lots of lovely flavours but didn't have the 'wow factor' of the other dishes. 

Spring Vegetable Salad

The only dish that left me wanting was the fish course - Monkfish cooked in black olive oil. The flavours in this were so strong, the fish was beautifully cooked but drowned in a thick, incredibly rich sauce with a quenelle of something even stronger which I think had a black olive base and left a bitter taste in the mouth. It was probably the most intricately presented dish I've ever eaten so was disappointed it didn't taste as good as it looked.

Monkfish cooked in Black Olive Oil
It was an magnificent meal, and although all the portions look small and dainty I was fuller after this meal than when I last stuffed my face with a burger. I could barely manage the lovely little petit fours that came with my coffee - a passionfruit jelly, some sort of chocolate truffle stick and a marshmallow I only had the tiniest nibble of. Also at £3 this was exceedingly good value.

Petit fours at Jesmond Dene House Hotel

The lounge/bar

With cocktails, a carafe of wine plus an extra glass of red to have with the beef, coffee and whisky the bill came to £176 which does make me choke a little on the dry crackers i'll have to survive on for the rest of the month but in all honesty, it was completely worth it. It's not just the food but the whole experience and all out extravagance of it - I may not be the sort of person who desires to dine in carpeted dining halls with polished silverware but nothing else would have made my night as memorable.

And if I thought dinner was good, the breakfast was bloody brilliant and served in the lovely garden conservatory - a buffet of smoked meats, cheeses and salmon, fresh fruit and yoghurt, baked pastries and honey comb all on offer plus a choice of hot breakfast. I went for the full English (because of course I hadn't eaten enough the night before) which was a lesson in the refined fry up and apparently the posh lot don't go in for beans. At least that meant I couldn't spill them on the table cloth.

Breakfast at Jesmond Dene House

If you have a special occasion, feel like spoiling someone or just want to pretent you live the high life for the night a trip to Jesmond Dene House Hotel is definitely recommended. I commented when we were sitting in the lounge after dinner that I felt I could have been in a country retreat a miles away from the city, so peaceful and quiet when really it was just a quick taxi ride away from the centre of Newcastle.

I wonder how many more years I'll have to put up with the other half for before he takes me again?

We stayed in a Superior Room and was £160 including breakfast and a £25 voucher to spend on dinner. You can visit there website here - Jesmond Dene House Hotel, Jesmond Dene Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 2EY. 0191 212 3000.