Thursday, 20 September 2012

Review: Blackfriars Restaurant, Friars Street, Newcastle

One of the wonderful things about living in a city is the quiet corners you can stumble upon, that seem completely disconnected from the life around them and make you feel like you're in another world or another time. Blackfriars restaurant and its surrounding buildings is one of those places.

Surrounded on one side by the gargantuan consumerist monstrosity that is The Gate and the gaudy lights of China Town on the other, you wouldn't believe that hidden just behind in a quiet courtyard is one of the oldest buildings in Newcastle, a 1239 Dominican Friary that now houses Blackfriars Restaurant and Banquet Hall. If you've never discovered this lovely little corner before have a peek next time you're in town, it really is rather nice, although after struggling past Sinners and Tiger Tiger most things would seem so.

Blackfriars courtyard, Newcastle
If you were lucky enough to be able to house your restaurant in an ancient medieval friary doing anything but traditional British would be somewhat missing the point. I'm the first person to hate a themed restaurant but none of the decor touches or playing up of the British produce seems out of place or at all forced. And that included the wooden platter my starter was served on.

I was invited to review the restaurant on a Saturday lunch time. As a small aside to this point, if you've been read my blog before you'll know me to be shouty, sweary and opinionated therefore I would not say I liked somewhere just because I'd been offered a free meal.

The lunch we had was one of the best in a long while. I wrote a post recently about the lunch deal at Pan Haggerty and my disappointment with the whole experience. After writing I realised one of the main things lacking was any sense of atmosphere or warmth (plus the faux chic cuisine wasn't helping). Having a beautiful old building will help, but there was a relaxed feeling and a nice hum about the place. 2 courses will set you back £15 and for 3 £18, given the portion size, quality of ingredients and skill of cooking it goes down in my book as very good value.

We started with the ham hock and piccalilli and the mussels which came in a cream and sorrel sauce, all mopped up with the freshly baked house bread. They run artisan and beginners bread classes so as expected this was very good.

Homemade ham hock, Blackfriars

Mussels (obviously)

The ham hock was a huge slice of beautifully seasoned pork and the tangy piccalilli was a great accompaniment (and i never usually eat condiments like this). The other half was very impressed with the sweet, juicy mussels.

Lots of places bang on these days about the sourcing of their ingredients and it's become difficult to tell where the genuine intention is vs the marketing spin. Like the oaky decor, the mentions of locality and seasonal produce didn't appear to be a hollow facade, and place mats described the producers they buy from. Without these though, you would still be able to tell they buy good ingredients from top quality, local sources because it tastes like they do.

This was very much the case in the main courses. The other half opted for the steak, perfectly cooked rare, tender and with an incredible flavour of, well, meat. Deciding to stick to a porcine theme, I went for the rare breed pork belly with black pudding and carrot puree. Now i've never thought I liked black pudding before, and when the plate was presented with a huge doorstep of the stuff I was a little worried, but this was goddam tasty. So rich, well seasoned and earthy, and complimented the succulent pork belly very well along with the sweetness of the carrot puree.

Proper autumnal food (although it was about 25 degrees outside and glaring sunshine when we were having lunch).

Rare breed pork belly, black pudding and carrot puree at Blackfriars

Rump steak and chips

I got ice cream for pudding.

I don't think i've ever been possessed to get ice cream in a restaurant before, it seems like such a non-pudding. A cop out for pudding wimps, for those who can't handle the grown up puddings.

Well shake me sideways, what have i been missing out on all these years gorging on chocolate cakes and the like. A bowl of ice cream after a meal, so simple, so refreshing, so wonderfully delicious. Included were a sticky toffee ice cream, lemon curd ice cream and pink grapefruit sorbet.

And before you start getting worried about me, I also ate half a sticky toffee pudding, possibly THE best sticky toffee pudding ever, moist and light, sweet but not horribly sickly and some cool clotted cream melting into the salted caramel sauce. As soon as we left I wanted to eat it again, i've been dreaming about it for days. Pudding heaven.

Trio of ice cream, Blackfriars

Sticky toffee pudding, Blackfriars

I rolled home and had a nap after, so full of food there was little chance of anything practical taking place. I'm not sure there's a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon; when the days start getting darker and colder this little corner of history is the perfect lunch time hide away from the city.

Blackfriars is on Friars Street, Newcastle, NE1 4XN. It's open all week for lunch and dinner (lunch only on Sundays) - you can find more details at their website here or call to book on 0191 261 5945

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