Friday, 28 December 2012

The Meals That Made 2012: Blog Round Up

It's that period between Christmas and New Year where you aren't really sure what day it is, often if it's afternoon or morning and all your meals have blurred into one long over indulgent haze of meat, cheese and Celebrations.

Putting that uncomfortably full feeling aside for one second, and in a bid to ignore the annual period of repentance otherwise known as January that is fast approaching, I've had a look back over my posts from the year and here's my collection of my favourite meals, the best new openings in Newcastle and things that have made me feel good about food.

9 Bar Coffee

9 Bar Coffee, Grey Street, Newcastle
Possibly my favourite new opening of the year, and definitely the place I've gone back to the most times (aside from maybe Slice), 9 Bar Coffee is now my regular weekend lunch stop for all things grilled cheese, large sausage and coffee related. The only issue we find now is managing to get a bloody table, but I still love its miniature interior and well designed Italian charms.

Brewdog Newcastle

Not a company known for being shy or retiring, Brewdogs opening early in the summer certainly made an impact, and not just on my liver and bank balance. The craft beer and real ale scene is ever popular in Newcastle, with more than a handful of places offering a well researched list of bottles and ales on tap. Whilst Brewdog might loose a few points for its lack of local choice, for a couple of months you would seldom find me anywhere else.

Jesmond Dene House

A change of pace and style for me, i.e. no burgers and pints, Jesmond Dene House was a night of luxury 'fine dining' in a league of its own in the north east. Melting chocolate spheres, tender beef fillets and our own stylish secret hideaway in the eaves, i'd recommend it to anyone looking for something a little special. Next year I will definitely try their afternoon tea.

Caffe Vivo

Caffe Vivo is now my favourite restaurant in Newcastle. Well it's maybe tied with The Broad Chare, but either way it has become a steadfast choice after taking a little trip for my birthday and trying their 1kg sharing steak. We couldn't resist going back a few weeks later and found the lamb chops, and venison ragu just as pleasing, not to forget the huge ice cream coppas and cicchetti. It is the perfect mix of wonderful, refreshing flavours and food in a laid back atmosphere. When I see the rich quayside bankers dining in their at lunch whilst i'm off to Tesco to buy a can of tomato soup it almost makes me think I should sell my soul and work in insurance.

The Grazer's Pop-up Supper Club

And finally for something completely different, I absolutely loved Anna (The Grazer's) pop up supper club in the newly opened Ouse Street Art's Club. Like this years Urban Night Feast, it showed that the north east really is an interesting and exciting place for food and drink. Using the Joe Beef cookbook we are both huge fans of as inspiration, Anna cooked up pulled pork, special beans, apple chips and a smorgasbord of starters all in the cosy confines of some shipping containers.

Let me know what you're favourite openings and places to visit were in 2012, and where I should be trying in 2013. 

Monday, 24 December 2012

Review: Red Mezze, Leazes Place, Newcastle

After receiving the new Ottolenghi book a couple of months back, and his latest TV show of Mediterranean feasts, i've been lusting after middle eastern and arabic cooking all the time. Everything we've made from the book has been incredible, the latest being a delicious, if not exactly authentic, shakshuka.

The one thing however we can't capture in our little kitchen is the authentic flavour of cooking over charcoal which is essential to so many of the meat and fish dishes. I don't think i'd be the only one to agree with the statement that all meat cooked over charcoal tastes better, has more flavour from a good charred coating and is incredibly succulent. It's the reason *that steak* at Caffe Vivo was so unbelievable.

Of all the restaurants that have been around in Newcastle since I vist moved here just over four years ago, Red Mezze a Turkish restaurant, is one of the few i've been wanting to try for most of that time. As a confused and emotionally distressed first year I would regular walk past, and see a slice, as thin as the Georgian terrace it is housed in, of the culturally interesting life that the city could one day offer me, before descending the grimmy stairs into the under belly of cheap trebles.

Turkish food is people food, not person food. French and English food is like sitting on the tube and avoiding eye contact with anyone and sticking to your designated space, turkish food is like a house part at 2am, when you realise you're not actually sure you know anyone but they're giving you some strange spirit to drink and you think 'whats the worst that could happen....'. It's sociable, open, busy and friendly.

The dishes come out, you share, you chat, you have a drink, then you repeat, trying a bit of everything along the way. We had both the cold and hot mezze. The hot had falafel, a spicy Turkish sausage, hellim (pan fried goats cheese), muska boregi (filo pasty filled with feta and dill), avec boregi (meat pasty parcels with parsley). The cold, which was my preference, had hummus, broad beans, cacik (yoghurt with cucumber and dill) and this incredible kisir that tasted like a middle eastern salsa and was made up of bulgar wheat, peppers, onions tomatoes, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil.

I didn't really survey the menu, the restaurant staff are all very friendly but also very efficient so I picked the mixed grill without really thinking. The waiter did make suggestions which is always good if you're unsure how/what/how many to order. Next time, I'm going to ask for a selection of everything they think makes a good Turkish meal, rather than just a huge plate of lovely meat.

Although this was a beautiful plate of meat; all cooked over a wood charcoal fire in the traditional manner and plated up very simply with a salad and some rice. There was wonderfully tender shish lamb and chicken, adana (mince lamb blended with herbs) that had interesting layers of flavour and spice, then a perfectly cooked lamb cutlet.

If you're ever in the centre of town, looking for an informal, fun and very good value lunch (mixed grill is £12.95) Red Mezze is definitely worth a look in. Take a group and try a bit of everything.

Red Mezze is at 36 Leazes Park Road, NE1 4PG. You can reach them on 0191 261 9646.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Barbour Guest Blog Post: Pork Cheek Chilli Ragu

I recently got asked by Barbour to write a guest blog post for them. With all the very wintery weather we've been having recently I thought this 4 hour slow cooked pig cheek ragu was just the thing. 

In life, there are two kinds of people: summer people and winter people. In Britain, summer people are always left tragically disappointed, no matter how hopelessly optimistic they may be. Winter people however have no such worries: Britain was made for the cold, the frost and the occasional snow.

Every year, when the first of September comes around, I get filled with what I like to term ‘Autumn Joy’ and look forward to months of being able to cocoon myself in knits, scarves and knee high socks. The days might be brisk but everything looks prettier; when the piles of crisp brown leaves have long blown away there is the silver tipped icy coating to look forward to.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Review: The Red House, Quayside, Newcastle

Menus that offer only one or two dishes are the current trend in new restaurant openings. London has the likes of Burger and Lobster, The Tramshed or recently opened Wishbone Chicken that specialise in one or two dishes, but even with the strongest will of the world (and mine's pretty bloody strong) lobsters or gourmet hot dogs with champagne won't exactly fit into the Newcastle restaurant scene over night. 

The Red House offers the kind of slim lined menu the North can get behind - ales and pie. 

The Red House, Newcastle
Opened in a historic old pub on the quayside the interior has been restored faithfully but with plenty of on-trend touches that take very liberal idea of 'inspiration'. Think low filament light bulbs, battered old chairs and those bloody blue rimmed falcon enamel dishes. It's a warren of rooms, tucked away down corridors and passageways, with large log fires and wood burners which are perfect if you wanted to hide from the world on a winter day. The option to hire and book tables or rooms makes it a good option for large groups and parties.

Backroom at The Red House, Newcastle

Back to their 'inspiration' for a second, I couldn't help but note the similarities between the menu at Honest Burger in Brixton (which by the way is INCREDIBLE) and that of The Red House.

Not that that is particularly important, and it's only weirdo restaurant nerds like me who would notice things like this anyway. So the premise is pretty simple, pie, mash peas and liquor and a bar stocked with ales on tap and a good variety of bottles. What's not to like?

Would it affect how you see The Red House if you realised it wasn't in fact a newly independent pub but part of one of the largest chains of bars and restaurants in the north east? To many this wouldn't even be a consideration, but definitely made me look at the place a little differently, although you also have to think that without big investment buildings like this couldn't be restored and enjoyed again.

I went for a pint of Allendale and a steak and ale pie with creamy mash, minted peas and meat gravy (£6.95) saving the very traditional parsley liquor for another day. The mash, whilst creamy, hadn't been blended into some indistinguishable baby food paste and maintained the texture of real potatoes, and made with plenty of butter. The pies, from Amble Butchers, were top quality and full of a rich and tender beef sourced from local Northumberland farms. The 'meaty gravy' was a little on the watery side, but the jus from the pie was thick and flavoursome.

Pie, mash and peas at The Red House, Newcastle
 The good pub scene in Newcastle is becoming increasingly busy (my favourites here); with more than a handful of places offering craft beers and specialist ales, so it's good to see The Red House offering something the others don't. But, dare I say it, is a pie-exclusive menu too northern for most?

The Red House is 32 Sandhill, Quayside, Newcastle, NE1 3JF. You can get them on @theredhousencl.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Wishbone Chicken, Brixton Village & DIY Fried Chicken Recipe

I tried to explain the idea of posh fried chicken to someone at my work the other day, but further than saying they used nice, well reared free range chicken and flavoursome sauces I did get a bit stuck. Yes, it is still deep fried, yes it is still messy and yes it will still make you fat. But, god it has to be one of the best guilty pleasures. And this is coming from someone who’s never even sampled KFC.

I was in London last weekend with buffalo wings and korean fried chicken firmly in my sights at the recently opened Wishbone Chicken on Market Row in Brixton Village. Given I was in London for all of two nights and had specifically requested a Brixton night out with the idea of getting chicken as well as many other things in my belly, I was more than a little disappointed to find Wishbone had had a power cut and weren't serving any food. So instead I decided to drink all the cocktails and all the wine. And then some of the beer too, just so I definitely felt like death the next day. 

Wishbone specialise in sours which were all dangerously drinkable, even a port and egg sours. I mean if there's ever been a old man perverts cocktail it has to be that. I stuck to the more classic combo of gin and pisco, no egg, on the rocks. We did manage to sample a rather tasty jerk chicken scotch egg, and in retrospect probably should have smashed a few more of them in before starting on the white wine at Seven, a lovely tapas and cocktail bar opposite. If you find yourself in London and want a relaxed night out, heavy on both good food (well not for me) and good drinks, Brixton Village is definitely worth a look. 

Anyway, so after my chickenless night out I had to go about making my own. And when I say make my own, get the other half to make it to cheer me up on a dreary tuesday night once I was back north. You have to give yourself a little bit of prep time and get over any paranoid fears of burning hot oil, but aside from that its not too tricky. 

DIY Fried Chicken 

Serves 2 
6 free range chicken thighs
200ml buttermilk
1 tsp salt
150g flour
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp oregano

1. You need to start at least 5 hours in advance by marinating your chicken in buttermilk and 1 tsp of salt to make it tender and juicy. Make sure the chicken is well coated and leave in the fridge for up to 8 hours.

2. Mix together the spices, herbs and flour until evenly combined. When the chicken has marinated and you are ready to cook, wipe off any excess buttermilk then coat thoroughly in the flour mixture.

3. You will need to heat up oil. I am a nervous deep fryer but so far nothing has gone wrong *touches all the wood*, take a large, deep sided pan and heat until it reaches 170 degrees. This can be difficult to judge so it really is best to get a cooking thermometer (we didn’t and used bread to judge which isn’t ideal).

4. Put the chicken in one layer in the pan, you don’t want to over crowd it so doing this in two batches might be best, depending how meaty your thighs are. Cover, turn the heat down to low and cook for 6 minutes, turn and cook for a further 6 minutes.

5. When the chicken has evenly browned on either side, remove from the pan and place on a rack in an oven on a low heat for 5 minutes. This will let it dry and get super crisp.

We served ours with coleslaw and paprika wedges and lots and lots of kitchen towel. 

Popolo Review for Social and Cocktail

I've written some words over for the nice folks at Social and Cocktail, a site all about good drinks and even better bars. 

With a slick 1960s vibe, all red and white leather, a pinboard for the drinks menus and old movie posters,Popolo stands out amongst the deluge of cheap trebles bars and ‘Geordie Shore’ hangouts as one of the best place to drink in a town that’s renowned for its thirst.

Part of a small chain around the North, Popolo is firmly established as a destination for good cocktails in Newcastle, having an extensive list and bartenders more than capable of knocking you up something a little more adventurous. On my last visit, I asked for something ‘fun’ and ended up with a Corpse Reviver #2 and certainly left feeling enlivened if nothing else.