Sunday, 26 August 2012

Review: Pan Haggerty, Quayside, Newcastle

I'm in a quandary. I am struggling to write this review. I don't want to be harsh, or unfairly critical which can happen when you get carried away with your words and whilst we had a perfectly nice lunch,  it left a bland taste in the mouth. My appetite was resolutely apathetic.

I've always wondered about the importance of the 'cost - enjoyment' intersection. You may be eating somewhere and think 'oh well this isn't fantastic, but perfectly edible and it's a bargain so it doesn't matter' and you're content because you're spending less. There are places that are cheap and terrible but people know what to expect and they thrive, but there's also places that are cheap and utterly fantastic and haven't sacrificed their quality for a lower price point - hi Slices, i'm looking at you.

So I can't deny the 2 courses for £10 I had at Pan Haggerty were perfectly fine but nothing more or less exciting than that. I visited the restaurant on a similar deal a year previous and had found the set lunch to be excellent and was hoping for a repeat experience. For £10 it was incredibly good value, but for somewhere trying to model itself as one of the high end eateries in town, I was expecting a lot more.  Which begs the question, how much of the taste did they sacrifice to meet their margins when offering such cheap food?

It was mainly a few minor details, the potatoes with my fish were undercooked, the bread was oddly greasy, slow service and the starter was just plain bizarre. Billed as some sort of fish burger, it came on a huge wedge of the same house focaccia, was tragically under seasoned and had an off-putting spongey texture which meant you lost the taste and texture of the beautiful mackerel. It did however have an incredible beetroot ketchup, but the minimalist plate design meant you hardly got any.

Both mains were lovely if unadventurous, the best of which was a simple pan fried sea bream with lemony butter and pancetta and spinach. The other a large, well cooked and nicely charred pork chop with chorizo mash. The pudding was also of good quality, a moist and rich chocolate brownie and ice cream.

As I said, for £10 we had two well presented courses. So why am I left with no desire to return? The reasoning behind such a good value offer has to be the hope of convincing your guests to become returning customers, and sadly that wasn't the case. I'm sure for many it may be, or they just enjoy a good value lunch, and admittedly my 'cost-enjoyment' point is perhaps a lot higher than others, but for £10 i'd prefer to have one beautifully cooked main and still feel I was getting a good deal.

Pan Haggerty is at 21 Queen Street, NE1 3UG and are open Monday - Saturday for lunch and dinner. 

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

In Search of Cocktails: Popolo & Alvinos

As much as I might go on about liking pints, and ale and craft beer, the way to my heart is a cocktail. God I just love em, especially gin cocktails. The other half being 'a proper punk' doesn't like cocktails - he is what I like to call, a fool.

So when term finished recently and my friend who has just finished training as a teacher was about to start her 6 week holiday (bitch) we thought cocktails were in order. Now if someone wants to educate me to where is good for cocktails in town then I'd be delighted (please don't say The Living Room/Bar Luga/Browns) but I rather like Popolo and I very much like Alvinos, just next door but more on them later.

Popolo has this sort of 1960s type Italian decor, menu on a pinboard, lots of red and black and some really uncomfortable, plastic bar stools. It's not particularly 'cool', it's more middle aged affluent drinkers looking to avoid anywhere serving cheap trebles and boring suits having afterwork drinks.

The cocktail menu is adequate but the bartenders are more than capable of serving you something 'fun' if you ask nicely. We had some sort of gin fizz and something with sloe gin, both nice enough although one was a little sickly and more than a bit sticky. They were around £6 so you know, fine.

Don't take this as fact, but i'm pretty sure the food menu must have changed recently. Either way it came as a pleasant surprise, they seemed to have adopted the idea of small plates, pizzette, and a couple of Italian classics. I shunned all there attempts at authenticity and opted for the burger (£7.95). The lovely Nicola went for Fritto Misto (£9.50) served with very good chunky chips.

The Fritto Misto was very good, a light crisp batter and a selection of different sea food. It was *supposed* to be served with a lemon mayonnaise but we had to make do with a slice of lemon.

The burger was you know, alright - thick, a good amount of cheese and bacon, the bun was a bit stale but nothing horrific. It was neither praise worthy or chronically awful. I'd love to say it was succulent and juicy, made with freshly ground steak and a lovely pink middle but it was just dry mince.

A lovely Tom Collins on the balcony at Alvinos helped to wash it down afterwards though. I love this place, even though they sometimes play god awful music. It's lively, does nice drinks and has one of the few good outside areas in the city. Whilst Popolo tries to appeal to the city's suits, Alvinos seems content being a little rougher around the edges and has a much better atmosphere for it. Set over 3 floors, it's even got a table football. And the drinks are cheaper.

Now, if you know better, let me know where I should be necking my fortnightly cocktails.

You'll find both Alvinos and Popolo on Pilgrim Street, NE1 6SG.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Beef, Peaches and Knives: What I've Been Reading Lately

I don't just like to eat food, I like to read about it to. I'm starting to get a bit worried actually, I'm becoming one of those people who read cook books like they're book books. I've not got to the point of reading them on the train or in public yet, thankfully.

Although I don't know why I am ashamed. Good cook books are beautiful, and do so much more than just supply recipe ideas, they're full of tales and stories and indulge my geekiness for good publishing and design.

Ditto that for some of the food magazines i've picked up recently. And don't think glossy magazines full of recipes and interviews, these are small fanzines or dedicated publications to food writing, whether thats an ode to the doughnut or a tale of eating your way through the night like it's the day.

Here's what I've been reading recently;

All of these magazines offer something a little bit different. 

Fire & Knives isn't really a magazine at all, it's a journal full of in-depth food writing which could concern just about anything - it's as much for someone who likes words as it is for someone who likes food. It's edited by Tim Hayward, long time Guardian writer and a little bit of a hero of mine. 

Fricote is a French magazine (thankfully with English translation, if slightly dodgy) and says it's for 'l'Epicurien Urbain'. This would be the easiest read of all the magazines, and perhaps is the one I enjoy most as although its main focus is on food and restaurants it includes interviews and music reviews - this issue has a chat with the lovely Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear about the restaurant he's opening. 

Put an Egg On It is a little fanzine from Brooklyn, has a very DIY feel to it and you can imagine a group of creative friends putting it together in their spare time. Some cupboard recipes and humorous little stories. 

Lucky Peach is produced by David Chang, him of Momofuku fame in New York, and as you read it you almost become complicit in this cycle of 'ye, this magazine is really fucking hip - we know that, we made it that way, look at us we're swearing AND talking about food, and by reading it, subscribing to it and waiting by the door for it to arrive, you want to be part of that'. But really, that doesn't matter, because it's a great read. Hilarious, witty, totally insane with recipes i'll probably never attempt because they require 20 odd crazy ingredients i've never heard of.

I haven't actually got started on issue 4 yet - the American Food Issue, but 2 and 3 were devoured with gusto, particularly the chefs/cooks issue.

Mates of Chang's are the boys from Joe Beef, who I actually first read about in Lucky Peach, and they have a cookbook (of sorts) - their words not mine - which again is full of some fantastically extravagant recipes which all play with ideas of traditional French cuisine from their restaurant in Montreal. There's even a section on how to make your own smoker which I definitely want to to try when I a) have spare time b) have more outside space than a small wooden balcony. I've managed one recipe from it so far, and it was supremely good - chocolate eclairs if you're interested i'll tell you about them another day. AND it's an American (Canadian?) book that uses grams, thank fuck for that.

The other two books i've been loving recently also come from restaurants - both restaurants i'm desperate to visit when time/money/location situations are resolved.

For anyone interested in cooking good steaks and meat, the Hawksmoor at Home book is a must, and the Polpo book is a selection of simple Venetian dishes, which thankfully unlike most of the other books i've mentioned use ingredients I can actually get my hands on in the north. Also it's beautiful, with a very interesting exposed spine.

And lastly, Ive been going to bed reading A Kitchen Primer which I imagine was written in the 1960s with the intention of educating American housewives to proper French cooking. It's both unintentionally amusing in it's ridiculous anecdotes like 'toast for a special occasion' but also really useful for how to do basic things like chop vegetables and make an omelette. I imagine it's teaching me more about 'actual cooking' than any of the pretty books are. But that's not what I want them for.