Sunday, 10 November 2013

Review: The Bridge Tavern, Quayside, Newcastle

O Hiya. It feels like a very long time since I was last here. Posts have been intermittent since July because as I explained here, I find it very difficult to get excited about average things.

I think going to New York in late September only made this worse, where absolutely everything we ate (thanks to my very thorough planning) was fantastic, and meant nothing back home could compare. Couldn't even come close. We ate at gorgeous places like Minetta Tavern by legendary restauranteur Keith McNally, and Babbo the flagship Greenwich restaurant from famed chef Mario Batali and David Chang's Momofuku which means I can never look at a bowl of noodles again in the same way. And that's just the stand out, famous names, we enjoyed bagels from Russ and Daughters, pastrami at Katz's, smoked meats and doughnuts at Smorgasburg, pizza at Motorino, cocktails at Schillers, more cocktails at Bathtub Gin, brunch at Diner, obligatory burgers at Shakeshack and cookies from Momofuku Milk bar, the list goes on. Everything we had normally included the comment, 'this is the best ------- i've ever had'.

So, as you can tell Newcastle has somewhat struggled to compare for the last month or so. But I have missed blogging. As the nights have drawn in, the temperatures have fallen and the flat's got increasingly damp I frankly need the distraction.

Given the whole 'going to New York and spending all my money thing' we have been trying to each out less. Or at least less extravagantly. I have however paid a couple of trips to the recently opened The Bridge Tavern pub on the quayside and each time have liked it a little bit more.

The Bridge Tavern is owned by the same people who run The Town Wall. I've never been a big fan of The Town Wall, in terms of location and size it's good for the occasional pint, but the food has always been resolutely OK.

The Bridge Tavern feels like a refined older brother, lots of smart wood, real bookcases and its own microbrewery located at the back of the ground floor. The upstairs bar/outside terrace will be very popular in the summer. It is all very knowingly of the moment, but that doesn't always have to be a bad thing.

On each visit there's been some teething problems at the bar with the beers and staff have picked up that nonchalant-cooler-than-though-attitude that's so irritating about The Town Wall. The beers, some brewed in house, have mostly been good, Astral Weeks which has been on lately was a very nice hoppy session pint.

But there are plenty of good places to have a pint in town, it is definitely the thing that Newcastle does best. What has really sold The Bridge Tavern to me is the quality of the food. No surprises or shocks, mainly classic gastropub favourites but it is all done very well. Clearly taking inspiration (and I believe the chef) from my own personal fave The Broad Chare, it has a range of pub snacks, all deep fried and crispy bits, then sharing platters of pressed meats and potted fishes, and main plates like burgers, fish and chips, pies. As I said nothing out of the ordinary but it is as a pub should be.

The obvious strength it has over The Broad Chare is you can eat there whenever you want, from the full menu. The Bridge Tavern is very much a pub with food, The Broad Chare a restaurant with beer. It's also a fair bit cheaper.

And it has my new favourite burger in town. Oh this was a lovely, lovely burger, shiny soft springy glazed bun, sweet pickled cucumber, although 2 tiny slices did feel a bit on the tight side, plenty of strong melted cheddar coating a juicy, thick, pink patty. Dense and delicious. Also at £8.85 with a huge portion of fries it's a good every day option.

Completed by a side of onion rings for £2.50 and you have a very decent pub lunch. On another trip I had the fish and chips, again everything you'd want from fish and chips, crispy light batter, firm pearly flakey white fish and proper marrow mushy peas. Again at £8.95 it's reasonably priced. The only thing I had which missed the mark was the Pork Rinds, which I'd thought would be like crackling but was rather a sort of airy porcine prawn cracker and really didn't do much for me.

So pubs, still something that Newcastle does best. I have a really irritating habit of bitching on about all the things I can't get up North (I won't start on that now) but there's about 6 or 7 pubs in Newcastle which would easily be heads and shoulders above the competition if they were in another city or town. The Bridge Tavern's opening is perfectly timed for those previously mentioned chilly days; there's few things better on an autumn day than a (short) walk, a stack of papers and a pint, a plate of good food and with it being 10 minutes from my flat, now the best place to hide from the increasingly damp flat.

The Bridge Tavern is at 7 Akenside Hill, NE1 3UF. Unsurprisingly given the name, it's under the bridge. Open 7 days a week till late-ish.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Review: Six Restaurant, Private Dining Room at BALTIC

When you go away on holiday or to a foreign city and you visit these sights and monuments, that perhaps you are familiar with because they've been recorded in pictures a million times, and you get a sense of really being Somewhere.

The Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, The Sydney Opera House for example, these places you know so well before you've even seen them in person and you think imagine living here and getting to see these beautiful, momentous sites every day, so they become just part of the fabric of the city that you call home and loose their iconic value.

The Newcastle Quayside and all of its many bridges is a sight similar to those world famous icons, it is instantly recognisable, and having walked along it most days for a year there's definitely, never, ever going to be a short supply of photos. But most of the time I don't even notice it, the bridges get me to work and could be any steel, functional structure. Then, every so often you look at it and realise 'fuck that is a really special view'.

It's this view that the private box and Six Restaurant at the BALTIC is dining out on.  Those lovely views, lit up at night change a meal into a spectacle, give it a sense of occasion. I was recently invited to the relaunch of the private dining box at a blogger and journo evening, which is the space at the front of the building on Level 5 just below the main restaurant. Apparently I came 'highly recommended' off of Lauren Archer from Scran on the Tyne, and there were a fair few familiar faces there.

I love the BALTIC as a place, it's one of Newcastle's main attractions but have never eaten at Six. The food over the course of a meal was good but by no means the best I've eaten in the city, and because of the weird yellow lighting and my out-right refusal to use flash on food, all my pictures have come out like this:

The pigeon and ham hock terrine had a firm meatiness and a well spiced fig chutney made a balanced accompaniment, but the savoy cabbage coating was limp and wet.

The main course was a plump duck breast, and although I suppose serving 25 plus people at the same time will always make timing difficult it was luck warm at best. There was also a non-descript green puree with it, which I supposed must be pea but just tasted of green-ness.

The pudding was a sweet but not too rich and well textured cheesecake and sorbet with plump blackberries which rounded things off on a high. The wine and champagne had been plentiful and very good all night, always good for me when I overcome my social awkwardness in situations where I don't know people very well with over wrought sarcasm.

Depending on why you'd want to higher a private room for 15 - 25 people, I'm thinking large family affair or corporate event, Six Baltic is a very well suited space. Starting the evening with champagne and canapés, over looking that view, does give your evening a certain memorable, uniquely special feeling. The food, I selected from a menu of 3 options for each course, had enough interesting-but-not-out-there choices to please a wide variety of people and the staff were polite and attentive.

I then had a thought, what would I think if I had this meal, night out and view but wasn't used to seeing it every day? I'd probably have thought, Imagine how nice it would be to see that view everyday and then felt very lucky.

You can find out more (and probably a lot more helpful) details about private dining at Six Baltic and Fresh Element on their website.  

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Review: Ernest, Ouseburn, Newcastle

As you may be able to tell, I only like to write about things I like. Or at least I feel strongly about. I don't want to write posts after every meal I have out that say "I went here, and ate this, and ordered that and it was all very pleasant", because that's boring, for me and for you.

I like to make a story out of a meal. I don't want to be a helpful source of information, rather something you read occasionally cause there's a slim chance I might be slightly amusing. So if I haven't been blogging (which I haven't as of late), it's because I'm 1) terribly lazy 2) ludicrously busy 3) don't want to bore you when I don't have anything interesting to say to keep up my 'blog impressions and view counts' because if that's why you're blogging, you're doing it wrong.

Anyway, I do have something to say, about somewhere I really liked. Which I would have blogged about a month ago, but point 1 stipulated above came into play.

I've always said Newcastle needs more casual places and bars to eat where you can grab a drink and some food and relax, preferably with some space so you can fit lots of friends round a table. Ernest, in the Ouseburn, is just such a place. Its got a cool, quirky decor without it looking like some conceptual brand designer put it together for them. Look out for the awesome Star Wars figurines. It's not a pub, but it's not a restaurant either, and sits happily somewhere in between.

I've been to Ernest a couple of times just for drinks, and it's a very nice place to spend an evening, music and vibes and an ok, although no means fantastic, selection of drinks. The food I've tried on more recent visits however made me pay much more attention. There was flatbreads i.e. pizzas with interesting combo toppings like gruyere and pancetta, and spiced lamb and pine nuts. Good dressed side salad too.

This latest visit to Ernest was pretty much the best way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. Breakfast dishes served all day, good company. I opted for a build your own breakfast deal which included bacon, herby sausages, perfectly poached eggs, rainbow rosti which was sort of like shaved vegetable crisps i.e. really good, toasted muffin and homemade beans with a good dose of smokey spice. It came to around £8, which was perfectly reasonable given the premium quality of all the ingredients.

Other breakfast dishes a little different from the usual fare you'd find include this chorizo and potato hash with poached egg and hollandaise, for around £6. It's dishes like this which is why breakfast should really be eaten 3 meals a day.

A good bar, with good food and good people. It's sort of the perfect neighbourhood venue where you can imagine people spending hours reading the papers and easing their selves into the day. Not that I give much consideration to things like this normally, but it also looks like a good place to go with kids, which can't be said of many places in town.

The only problem is, it's not in my neighbourhood.

Ernest is at 1 Boyd Street, Newcastle, NE2 1AP. Their website has limited info, but you can find them on twitter @weareernest

Monday, 15 July 2013

Coppers 8 til 8, Specialist Food and Drink Emporium, Gosforth, Newcastle

Not having a car, or being able to drive, can at times, totally suck.

In my day to day life it's totally unnecessary, my work and the city centre being a short walk away. However there are other times, the times when you want to fill up your flat with delicious beers or go to nice farm shops, that being without transport can prove somewhat irksome.

Coppers 8 til 8 is basically the best, most incongruously place corner shop-come-beer-heaven you're likely to find. Not just in the North East, but i'd say anywhere in the country. The fact it's (at least to me and my sense of the city) in the middle of frikking no where, somewhere past Gosforth, a tiny bit irritating.

That we found ourselves in a car on Saturday, purposefully driving to this strange suburban, alcoholic paradise was somewhat of a nice surprise.

Once you're past the fruit and veg, crisps and freezer counters and other every day sundries, a small back room houses a plentiful and incredibly well stocked selection of beers and ciders from around the world. Like a really, really good selection.

Beer cellar at Coppers 8 til 8
We were offered samples of cider, one nice and refreshing, the other, at least to my tastes, was similar to milky cheese. The people who run Coppers were super friendly and super informed, advising on new stock, what to buy and any other info beer nerds like to discuss.

We stocked up on a fair few beers, including a rather amazing Thornbridge Chiron American Pale and a couple from Partisan, and local favourites Anarchy Brew Co, and compared with other shops we've come across found it really reasonably priced. It seemed to have a dedicated following, while we were browsing a string of middle aged men, all who announced they'd arrived in cars, stocked up baskets of beer.

You can find Coppers 8 til 8 on twitter where they regularly post what new stock is coming in and what they have on taster. I'd definitely recommend a drive out to wherever it is they are based (which is actually 17 Princes Road, Gosforth, NE3 5TT). Now, can someone buy me a car?

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Best of Edinburgh: Miro's Cantina Mexicana, The Lucky Liquor Co, The Hanging Bat

Aside from my blow-out at Ondine, there were plenty other treats to be enjoyed in Edinburgh, some well researched and planned others very lucky finds. Many of which seemed to have been created by the owners climbing inside my head and making the sorts of venues I dream about. Think craft beer and smoked meats, margaritas and incredible mexican and allllll the amazing cocktails.

Food aside, there were plenty of lovely little shops to keep me and all of my money occupied. This is what I enjoyed across the weekend:

Miro's Cantina Mexicana

God I love mexican food. The lack of it in Newcastle is one of my major gripes with the city. A very small amount of research informed me that Edinburgh was awash with Mexican options and Miro's Cantina Mexicana seemed like one of the best. Tucked away on the otherwise rather touristy Rose Street, the dining room is tiny about 7 or 8 tables. We settled down after the train with some margaritas and homemade corn chips, and amazing guac, salsa and some spicy creamy dip that I don't remember the name of.

The mains were authentic mexican dishes, I had slow cooked lamb with honey and lots of chipotles and smashed green chilli potatoes and the OH had a smokey pork and black bean stew served with traditional rice. All very, very good and under £25 a head.

The Lucky Liquor Co

This was such a find. Earlier in the day we'd been coming back up from Stockbridge and had seen a huge sign saying LIQUOR in the window, which for obvious reasons caught my eye. Later that night after our lovely meal at Ondine, we went in search of cocktails. I'd found somewhere called Bramble but was put off by the dubious r'n'b but fortunately The Lucky Liquor Co as I found out it was called was just down the street.

 It was a smart room, with a throw back style, black and white check floor and white wash walls. I seriously loved it, exactly the sort of neighbourhood style cocktail bar you'd want to find yourself in at the end of the night. There was a hazy romantic old time vibe about it.

We stayed until it closed and let the barman choose our drinks. The menu was short and interesting, with none of the usual suspects, we had a range of whisky and gin cocktails plus a lush beer from Partizan brewing who I definitely want to find out more about. None too expensive either, most of the cocktails came in around the £7 mark which is always nice to see. I really loved it, did I mention that?

The Hanging Bat

The next day, after the effects of Lucky Liquor Co it is safe to say I was not feeling good. What would make me feel better in this situation? Seriously good beer and smoked meat clearly. The Hanging Bat is good for both of these. Some of the decor was a little too knowing and there was some seriously awful art on the walls, but on the whole a really nice room to pass the afternoon. There was plenty of cask and keg options from well known and little known breweries (Kernel, Redchurch, Toccalmatto some of my faves), they also did their own brewing and had their own smoker. It really was all of my favourite things.

The food hit the spot; burnt end beans, pulled pork mac n cheese, chilli dog, reuben were all top, I was sort of disappointed with the chicken wings which I'm pretty sure had the spicy instead of BBQ coating I'd asked for and were a bit acidic for my tastes. Lots of smokey goodness on the whole though.

In between all the eating we did find time to do a small amount of shopping. In and around the Grassmarket area there are lots of lovely design, book, art style shops. My picks from these are as follows, and they're all within about 100 metres of each other.

Golden Hare Books; Just a gorgeous little book shop, with a lovely children's section and many design and cook books. 

The Red Door Gallery; Prints, design items, card, jewellery and all sorts of other nice things. I eyed up this smart print but didn't commit. 

Analogue Books; Honestly this shop was so nice I wanted to do a small cry. Fanzines, magazines were the predominant thing but also some design and style books. They also had an amazing selection of food magazines from across the world and now I have no money left. The OH was pleased because they had lots of the Cafe Royal fanzine style books in which he'd been after for a while. 

Hannah Zakari; Just next door to Analogue Books this was mainly a jewellery shop, which isn't something I am particularly in to, at all, but what did catch my eye was a shopper bag which I literally had to buy. Twin peaks themed things will always be a winner. 

As it's only an 1.5 hours away, on what has to be one of the nicest stretches of train line in the country, if not Europe, I'm already planning my next trip up.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Review: Ondine, Edinburgh

It's funny how a restaurant can make you feel. I'd say that at the end of the day it's just food on a plate but as I am writing, and you are reading, a blog almost solely about eating out we know that that isn't really the case, don't we? 

I have turned 23 and a sense of uneasiness has set in. The general thread of this lingering worry is 23 sort of feels like A Serious Age. 
I do not feel Serious. 
Ad finem. 

How does a restaurant fit into this? We went to Edinburgh for the weekend for eating and drinking. Given that Scotland is only an hour and a half away I don't know why its taken me so long to venture up. It had been a while, almost 4 years and on the last trip I was with my ex. My appetite for good food was yet to develop back then at 19 and we were both students. 

We fought a lot, had dinner in Pizza Express and broke up 2 weeks later.  

4 years later, I was having dinner in Ondine, one of Edinburgh's best restaurants (located above the exact same Pizza Express), was with a boyfriend who didn't completely hate me, had passed my degree  relatively well and was living in a flat where people didn't accidentally fall through entire walls. That pizza felt a very long time ago. 

What I'm trying to say is that Actually, Maybe, I was OK, and all it took was a lobster and the best meal of my life to work that out. 

Ondine is a seafood restaurant in the centre of Edinburgh, with meticulous sourcing of its fish and produce, and lots of clean, simple and exquisite cooking. I've been quite the fish eater since that meal at Cafe 21 and had been eyeing up Ondine since reading this Jay Rayner piece on it. Having to book a table after 9 meant an excuse to start the night with cocktails at Hotel Missoni before we took a seat in the large curing windows in what was a sleek and modern but not flashy compact dining room. 

The menu, obviously dominated by fish, threw up many tempting options i.e. whether to have the roast shellfish platter, but instead we settled on starters of tempura squid (£12.50) and red mullet (£11.50). My squid was light, crisp and greaseless with a fishy, slightly spicy dipping sauce, but was somewhat overshadowed by the unbelievably good red mullet. 

Perfectly cooked mullet, on a bed of courgette ribbons with tomato and an olive tapenade. Truly one of the best starters I've ever seen (and the other half had eaten) that again made me wonder why I've ignored fish for so long. 

We couldn't resist the Shells section for mains, half grilled native Isle of Mull lobster (£22.50) and scallops with charentaise sausage (£21.95) and some skinny fries on the side. 

 I've developed a taste for lobster recently, I fear for my bank balance. On a recent trip to London I paid a visit to the much hyped Burger and Lobster, and it was a nice introduction to our shellfish friend and very good value (£20 for an entire lobster, salad and chips). It was nothing, however, compared to the lobster at Ondine, which had so much more flavour, was juicier and complemented by pools of luscious garlic and herb butter. 

The other half will never be displeased with a plate of shellfish and pork; super plump scallops, robust spiced sausage, lots more butter. 

Also, it's testament to the fact I was having such a good meal that my photos are so poor. Who can be bothered taking a nice snap when there's buttery fish to be eaten? 

We decided against puddings. Although tempted, getting a table after 9 meant by 11 the restaurant was almost empty and it does give you that strange feeling of being the last people left lingering at a party, the host wants you to stay and enjoy yourself but you can tell they're also thinking about cleaning up for the next day. 

The service at Ondine was without fault, friendly and approachable, happy to explain the menu and give suggestions. I can (just about) afford this sort of restaurant once in a while, but I order the less expensive wine and ask for tap water and like a restaurant that makes me feel comfortable about this. Ondine is one of those rooms.

The bill, all in with service, came to just shy of £100. Ondine is a grown up restaurant, full of grown up food and I didn't feel out of place. It's creating a feeling like that which is why a good meal is so much more than just food on a plate.

Ondine is at 2 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1AD. They're open Monday - Saturday for lunch and dinner, you can book online

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Review: Pleased to Meet You, Highbridge Street, Newcastle

You have to hand it to Pleased to Meet You, they orchestrated a promotional campaign in the run up to the opening of their new Gin and Draft house that made sure anyone who would be interested, was.

It's not often that a new bar opens in Newcastle, there are just a handful of decent cocktail bars in town (Popolo, Alvinos, Tokyo, Livello if that's you're sort of thing) so it was certainly a welcome addition - I am always looking for somewhere for after work drinks and casual food. Rumours have abounded for the last couple of months to a supposed 'gin palace' opening and with at least 50 gins from around the world, (plus a well selected, interesting range of craft beers) it seems to be pretty close to the mark. 

Rather than play up the whole prohibition, speakeasy style that would go so well with the gin and cocktail theme, the decor is kept 'city smart', polished brass, exposed bricks and leather booths (and really nice toilets but a ludicrously unnecessary bike). Housed in what used to be The Lane, a pub long closed before I ever came to Newcastle, it's great to see another thriving business opening on Highbridge, no matter what it is. 

We went down on the opening night of Pleased to Meet You, but only stayed for one after feelings of (unrelated) nausea. You could already tell, however, that this was instantly going to be a success. It was full of rich looking business men, looking for somewhere smart and slick, and 20-30 somethings who have an interest in good drinks. 

And the drinks menu is very, very good. I haven't gone for beers yet, but the gin menu is seriously amazing, the cocktails well thought out and well made. The actual glasses are lovely too. 

The problem we found, when visiting on a recent Thursday, was w-a-i-t-i-n-g. Half the bar couldn't serve cocktails, people weren't sure how much stuff costed and it's not on the menu, I got charged different prices for the same drink at different times in the night and all round wasn't the sort of experience that would make you come back, no matter how good the drinks are. 

To add to this, the table situation, was a whole lot more confusing. Could you just sit down and order food? Were some tables reserved? Could you take a table instead of putting your name down if one was free? Can you have a table if you just want to drink? No one seemed to know and there was some strange game on musical chairs happening between the tables throughout the night. Too many people, not enough tables; lots of people drinking and no where to eat food. We almost gave up and went elsewhere. 

We perched in the corner at a sort of dressing table until we got our 'proper' table. Then it took me literally about half an hour to get the waitresses attention to order a drink, although it has to be said the man who looked in charge of tables and food service was very good. 

Now, I know I said I wouldn't talk about burgers any more, and I don't really want to, but Pleased to Meet You seem to have made something of their burger; it being freshly ground chuck, brioche bun, dill sauce and pickles (£8). It ticked all my burger requirement boxes, it was almost necessary for me to try it. 

Now, this was a good burger, although under seasoned it was juicy and pink with a strong meaty flavour and a nice sauce, but that is NOT a brioche bun, that is a sesame seed bap.

I felt cheated as soon as it arrived. It reminds me of when I used to work in a cafe about 10 years ago and sometimes we'd give people toasted white bread buns pretending they were ciabatta. 

The portion of chips were very nice but on the small size, although nothing compared with the thimble of coleslaw. The accompanying salad of cucumber and watercress was fresh and well dressed.

I'm tempted to throw in a line like 'Pleased to Meet You, except I'm not sure I was', but that's just lazy writing and not even true. On the whole it is a very promising new bar, which I liked a lot.
You would imagine service issues will be rectified as time goes on, I'm just more likely to come for gin, cocktails and nice glassware than food unfortunately. 

Pleased to Meet You is on Highbridge Street, Newcastle. You can find out more on their website or their twitter @ptmynewcastle 

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Review: Cafe 21, Newcastle

I haven't been feeling quite myself recently and this little blog of mine has been suffering somewhat. I fear it will become another tiny neglected corner of the internet, only to be discovered by the odd, obscure google search.

I haven't really been wanting to eat very much, even less wanting to cook. Earlier this week my dinners had consisted of noodles with butter for consecutive nights and value range bran flakes from a tupperware. It's all very unlike me.

With mine and the other half's anniversary fast approaching I was actively willing myself to get a taste for more than just plain carbs. We've been saving up (in more than one sense of the word) a trip to Cafe 21 for a special occasion, and after spending our last anniversary in all out luxury at Jesmond Dene House, there were few places in town that could really compete.

I'll save any form of introduction, after having written about the other venues in the 21 empire, here, here, here and here. Oh and here. We last made a trip to my personal favourite Cafe Vivvo as a sort of pre-holiday treat, before you know the actual treat of going on holiday, and enjoyed the most sublime tuna steak and venison ragu.

Cafe 21 has a different vibe from the other venues in the chain, perhaps less fancy than Jesmond Dene House, but it's certainly aware of its position at the top of the Newcastle restaurant pecking order and had the crisp white table cloths to match (When I managed to knock an entire glass of water all over ours I was pleased to see it had excellent absorbency).

I was luckily feeling slightly better, and even more so after a carafe of Argosy Sauvignon Blanc (£15.90) that was far too drinkable, and starters of crab on toast (£12.50) and scallops (£14.50).

The crab came lightly dressed with a lemon vinaigrette, broad beans and fresh pea shoots on chewy, tangy sour dough and was the perfection of early summer on a plate. The OHs scallops were actual heaven; yieldingly soft, cooked exactly right and swimming in rich chilli and garlic butter. Both of these dishes were wonderfully uncomplicated and let the flavours of the crab and scallops be the main focus.

It's very uncommon for us to go out and eat an entirely sea-based meal, it's not often I would choose fish when out, let alone for both courses. Maybe it was the summery feeling to the evening that led us to avoid heavy red meat, but my main of Fishmarket Stew (£19.80) was probably one of the best things I've ever eaten.

You can tell the quality of the stock from the shimmer coming from that picture, thick and velvety combined with the freshest fish - scallops, prawns, hake, cod, salmon and mussels - and the creamiest of aioli, saffron potatoes and braised fennel.

I've been craving a dish just like this for a number of years and it felt strangely familiar. It reminded me of a section of the novel Saturday by Ian McEwan which I read for the first time in my teens. The protagonist labours in great detail over a fish stew which I've wanted to re-create ever since (the recipe has been reproduced online here so I'm obviously not the only one) and is one of my favourite scenes of food in literature (one of my topics of geekery). It's a bit of an odd experience to have a dish of food conjure up memories of a fictional incident hidden away in the pages of a book but after not eating properly for weeks it was a welcome reminder of why I love it so much.

The other half had a plate of plaice and shrimp (£16.80), which came with the butteriest of potatoes and a bowl of lettuce, which seemed a little superfluous.

The meal was finished with a round of espresso martinis, the after dinner cocktail is definitely the way to go from now on. Sweet, bitter, alcoholic loveliness.

Including service the bill came to £104.83, and to reflect being loving equals, we split the bill. I can't deny it's not expensive, it's a good way more expensive than anywhere else in town but that's part of what contributes to it being seen as the best.

And I would agree, Cafe 21 is the best restaurant in Newcastle, I've heard many people say it before and I can join in with their cries, but I'd say it's 'best' from an objective opinion. Often when people are giving recommendations they get confused between 'best' and 'favourite'; when someone says 'oh blah blah is the *best* restaurant in town', they more than likely mean it's their favourite.

Yes, Cafe 21 is the best restaurant in town, but I don't think it's my favourite. The food, drinks, service were all as close to spot on as you can get, but misses some little undefinable feeling of atmosphere. Maybe it isn't my favourite because it's a 'special occasion' sort of place and I want to be able to enjoy my favourite more than once a year.

Cafe 21 is located at Trinity Gardens, Quayside, Newcastle. You can find out more on their website, and book on 0191 222 0755.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Anarchy Brew Co & The Broad Chare Food and Beer Evening

What constitues a 'local' and living in a city centre, can you really have one? To me they often seem like something from another time, or at least another place. They are for small towns, villages and sleepy suburbs. They are for old men who know how to do friendly pub small talk, I barely get past stammering over my order, being annoyingly indecisive and occasionally scowling at being ID'ed.

I frequent a handful of places in Newcastle on a fairly regular basis, however I never have that sense of being a 'regular'. To be a regular at a pub, does that mean going, once, twice or even more than that a week? Do you always have to drink the same thing? And can you be a restaurant regular?

I thought this the other day when I realised we had dined at The Broad Chare 3 times in the same month. I don't even, contrary to what this blog would have you believe, eat out that much. I could say that it's geographical, what with being about 10 minutes from my flat, but to be a regular somewhere really comes down to one thing: all things considered, be that money, company, weather or mood, it is still the best place to eat.

It combines the two best things, meat and beer, which you will know are basically my two favourite things, ever. So when the lovely folk at Anarchy Brew Co invited me to a food and beer pairing evening at The Broad Chare I would have cancelled most things to attend. Even a date with Ryan Gosling. Even a date with Jon Snow (the tv presenter, not the guy from GOT).

Beer and food pairing is an idea that has been around a couple of years but interest has grown exponentially with the ever increasing interest in craft beers, particular British craft beers. Sometimes I like to have wine with my meal, but as with many things in life, I know literally nothing about it and  can be impenetrable and indistinguishable (at least at my end of the price range).

Beer on the other hand, (which I still don't know very much about) provides a plentiful variety of flavours, types, ingredients, hops and brews. I'd tried a couple of the Anarchy Brew beers before so knew I would be in for some treats.

The beer side of things got off to an excellent start with a taster of the new anarchy brew Crime Scene, a hybrid American amber, before moving up for huge platters of scotch eggs, pork pies, crispy monkfish cheeks, potted mackerel and cauliflower fritters which were paired with Quiet Riot, a natural IPA. The salty wonderfulness of the bar snacks was offset by the bittery, fruitness of the beer. These little golden mouthfuls, each involving deep frying, batter, pork and breadcrumbs, are some of my favourite things, ever, ever, ever. They're not good for you, but in the best possible way.

As the evening progressed, the abv increased steadily in line with the amount of pork being consumed. Main course was a whole suckling pig. I'll say that again incase you missed it. a. whole. suckling. pig. Served with roast potatoes, some sort of sauerkraut (complete with more bacon), greens and apple sauce. Such succulent, rich meat; biting into the skin gave the same delight as cracking a creme brûlée.

It was paired with the very nice, award winning Anarchy Lager, which was a wonderful combo, the beer giving smooth refreshment to the porcine overload.

The final course was simple but brilliant, a large slab of Montgomery cheddar paired with Sublime Chaos. This was definitely the most cohesive of the evening pairings, being a very dark porter that could match up to the cheeses' maturity. It is made with Ethiopian coffee beans and perfectly takes the place of an end of evening espresso.

Whilst it wouldn't fit with every meal, incredible British food like this is made to be enjoyed with good beer. Each of the pairings was well thought out, complimentary but contrasting and added a whole other element to what would already have been a fantastic meal.

The Anarchy brewery beers are available in many pubs across the North East, and I imagine able to buy in a number of shops (if anyone knows where leave a comment below). There seems to be an ever increasing range of beers, with complex, creative flavours coming from their brewery in Morpeth and I'm excited to see what they come up with next.

You can find out more about Anarchy Brew Co at their website or find them on twitter

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Review: Hotel Du Vin Sunday Brunch, Newcastle

I've been thinking a lot about semantics recently. How words act as signals and the great many permutations of meaning throughout culture these can have. Matters of semantics come up regularly in conversation without really thinking about it in that way, an example of this would be the great debate of lunch, dinner and tea. There are those who have their dinner at 12 noon, and then there are those who have it at 7pm. Tea can be taken in the afternoon, but it can also mean your dinner, and for some probably your lunch. But brunch, a portmanteau specific to its place in the day, isn't a meal to usually cause such discussion.

So when I was invited to try the new brunch at Hotel du Vin in Newcastle I was expecting plates of eggs benedict, toast, coffee and orange juice. I was not expecting a four course sunday lunch complete with a seafood and cold meats buffet bar.

I was lingering around the acceptable side of hungover, and starting with a bloody mary really could have sent me either way. Luckily for me, everyone there and the leather interior, it was all fine.

Unlike its partner hotel the Malmaison on the Quayside (PURPLE), the decor is a tastefully up market, lots of dark wood, shades of grey and green reminiscent of an old country estate. The lovely old Tyne Shipping Company building plays its part of course.

The brunch starts with a soup, it was yellow, I think vegetable but heavy on the cream, and all round rather nice, but was really just a pause before the main event the 'Market Table' a huge table laid out with cured meats and fish, seafood and terrines.

I could have happily just eaten this all afternoon, just out of shot is a huge leg of serrano ham, another highlight being the homemade terrine of pork and pickles in the bottom left corner. Aside from the odd  breakfast, I can't remember the last time I went for a buffet but this was rather great, all of my favourite foods laid out in plentiful supply. I really wish I'd worn an outfit with bigger pockets.

After a buffet of pretty much pure protein, a roast beef dinner was next up. The beef was slightly on the fatty side and could have done with being sliced thicker but was a deep pink and juicy and the Yorkshire pudding was a total beast and roast potatoes were double crispy.

Accompanied by a couple of glasses of a beaujolais this was turning into the heartiest brunch I'd ever had. Dessert was a light choux pastry case filled with creamy vanilla ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce, which sounds like it would be cloying after the previous courses but wasn't at all.

For £19.95 it seems like decent value, given the mark for a roast dinner alone is often hovering above £10. The brunch at Hotel du Vin isn't a quick dinner, it isn't for days when you have plans to do *anything at all* because afterwards the only thing I wanted to do was curl up on the sofa with the paper, read a couple of paragraphs then take a nap.

It embodies the sentiment of brunch, of a lazy, casual meal for lots of people and gossip, even if it is clearly sunday lunch.

I was invited to try the sunday brunch menu by Hotel du Vin. 

Hotel du Vin Newcastle is on City Road, NE1 2BE. You can find out more and book at their website

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Review: Electric East, Newcastle

The other week I went down to the first Boiler Shop Steamer at the Stephenson Works just behind the station with some friends on a whim. It was a Friday night and we'd had plans to do something involving both food and drink, so this with the addition of music fitted the bill quiet nicely. Amongst us we sampled burgers, fishy things, dumplings, several pints of a really, really nice beer from Wylam who were on refreshment duties, and also some food from the Electric East stand.

With a couple of notable exceptions, Newcastle's "street food" (which is a phrase I will use out of necessity but annoys me almost as much as fucking 'foodie' which when I hear it makes me want to eat nothing but dry Weetabix for the rest of my life so I don't have to be associated which such an irritating, infantile non-word) differs from the scenes in American and London that kick started the whole interest in this sort of thing.

Whereas there it was individuals wanting an easy and low cost way to sell food and have fun with it, and from that many have had the opportunity to expand and open restaurants. Up here it is mainly restaurants with the ability for outside catering, for example Electric East being a sizeable restaurant in the centre of town. I'm unsure if this is the intended result from restaurants having stands at these sorts of things but after the Boiler Shop Steamer event Electric East made some rapid movements to the top of our post work dinner destinations list.

Formerly Barn Asia, which was always a favourite, we hadn't really considered visiting after it got bought out and rebranded as Electric East. I'm not really sure why but the fact their menu was written in comic sans definitely played its part.

Now with menu in a much more appropriate typeface, I was pleased to find out the place is still much the same as it was in its Barn Asia days and the food just as good.

The menu features many of the old Barn Asia favourites (hello scallop, pork and peanut heaven) but has a clearer emphasis on smaller plates and sharing dishes. We didn't go wild, ordering 5 dishes and a side of rice and I'd say unless you were planning on stuffing yourself this was adequate.

Favourites were the salt and chilli squid and the nonya chicken which had previously been sampled at the Boiler Shop. The salt and chilli squid (£5.50) was lightly battered and resembled a pot of fries and came with a sweet, tangy dark dip and a dish of finely milled pepper.

The nonya chicken had a thin, spiced crumb and a satay peanut sauce that I just want to put all over everything from now on. While the rocket wasn't necessary the bean sprouts gave a good complimentary fresh crunch.

The other dishes we ordered were a very nice rendang beef (£6) which for a side I thought came as a very reasonable portion size. Succulent braised beef in a nicely hot rendang sauce topped with a fresh salsa. The roti bread was slightly on the greasy side but was good for mopping. Another beef dish of glass noodle and fillet steak (£7.50) was good, better were the very meaty crab cakes which came with a lots of chilli and a rough avocado sauce thing. 

With two beers the bill came to £46.20, and it felt like we'd got a good amount of food for our money but puts in into the higher price end of Newcastle restaurants. Electric East is a bit of an odd one to write about, the food is well above the average for Newcastle, and it's fun, relaxed dining in an attractive room, so why wasn't it more busy?

It was by no means quiet and it's a larger than average room, but in Waterloo Square it straddles a strange line between hidden gem and difficult location. We know it's there and we know it's good, but if it was in an easier to find spot with higher footfall I wonder how many more people would enjoy it. But then I wouldn't want everyone else eating all of my satay sauce either.

Electric East is in Waterloo Square and open for dinner Tuesday - Saturday. Find out more here