Sunday, 20 January 2013

Review: The Stand Bistro, High Bridge Street, Newcastle

The Guardian recently published a new city guide for Newcastle and it includes places actual people really go to, who aren't total wankers. I know, it's a shocker right?

The Stand Comedy Club and Bistro, featured in The Guardian city guide, is somewhere I've been meaning to write about. Not on the comedy front, I'm not sure i'm a stand up type of person but I've visited a couple of times before, once on a pleasant work lunch, the other an all together more difficult experience. I was hungover, I didn't particularly want to be out of the house but for some reason, I forget why, had decided we wanted to get lunch. Deciding on The Stand, we sat down, I ordered coffee and food. Bad move, the coffee instantly brought back the worst of my hangover, I realised I definitely couldn't eat anything, the other half had to eat two burgers and I sat with my head on the table for the entire time.

A visit this Saturday was all together more pleasing. It was more than that, it was excellent. Aside from some slightly erratic service it was all completely spot on, and incredible value. I feel like I'm gushing and being enthusiastic for once and i'm so pleased somewhere has excited me, because i've felt a bit jaded about eating out in Newcastle recently.

As we are all aware, the weather has been cold of late. So cold i've got bored with trying to heat the entire flat and moved the mattress onto the floor of the living room and holed ourselves up in a makeshift bedsit. Town on Saturday meant wet feet and cold ears, we wanted food to make us feel cosy and caressed from the insides of our freezing corpses.

After midday The Stand have a choice of two menus, lunch options including hot meals and sandwiches plus brunch, then main dinners (£12) that run until the evening, all of which is very decently priced. On a cold day, there's few things more pleasing than a complimentary side of soup with all sandwiches. Lamb meatballs with bravas sauce were expertly flavoured with north African spices and tangy, chunky tomato sauce, housed in a fluffy poppy seed bun soaked with the succulent juices and some crunchy salad. It came served with a leek and celery soup with blue cheese giving a salty, matured flavour and crunchy little parsnip curls. All for £5.50.

My braised pork with red cabbage and roast potatoes, at that moment in time, couldn't have been more perfect. The huge hunk of braised pork with wobbles of unctuous, succulent fat and tender ribbons of meat, plated up with a rich, gratifying gravy with hints of recurrent I wanted to lick off the plate, little firm roast potatoes and piles of braised, sweet red cabbage to complement the strong, meaty flavours. £6 for the pleasure.

The range of dishes on the menu crosses continents, takes inspiration from all kinds of cultures and has plenty of unexpected pairings and ingredients but none of it feels out of place. Everything about the menu, from the thai fish cakes sitting next to the ham and eggs feels entirely natural; not try-hard, but well researched, well cooked and well considered.

All in with coffees our dinner came to £15.50. This quality of menu, available all day, is a rare find in Newcastle, where most places stick to one type of cuisine (whether they're doing it well or not). I will most definitely be back and if the quality of the food is anything to go by, I might even be convinced to see some stand up next time.

The Stand Comedy Club and Bistro is at 31 High Bridge Street, NE1 1EW and are open from 11am daily. 

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Review: Garden Kitchen, Eldon Square, Newcastle

When you spend the morning doing something you've been putting off for a very long time, it's always good to give yourself treat afterwards. 

Now I really didn't want to spend my saturday morning cleaning my bathroom, or doing the vacuuming. At the age of 22 I somewhat caught in a state of immature adulthood - I have no mother nagging at me to turn on the extractor after i've had a shower, or not leave knives covered in peanut butter all over the flat combined with my complete inability to motivate myself to do any of those 'boring adult jobs'. The result of this is a somewhat haphazard and damp flat. Therefore all jobs must come with a reward, so after cleaning last Saturday I enjoyed a very civilised lunch at Garden Kitchen in Eldon Square

Not being a fan of shopping centres or weird inside pretending to be outside spaces, I found the sunken dining area of Garden Kitchen surprisingly discreet and relaxed, avoiding any cliched American-mall touches. Competing for the ladies-that-lunch who frequent Fenwicks Cafe 21 and Cafe Royal it has a range of sandwiches and main meals plus sharing platters, tea, coffee, cocktails and cake. 

I seriously loved the fresh cloudy lemonade (around £2 a glass, or £3.95 for a jug to share), crisp and refreshing and perfect if you were feeling a little worse for wears. A cocktail combining Hendricks Gin, cucumber, mint and lemon caught my eye but I sadly thought it too early for any of that business. The other half obviously didn't agree with that and enjoyed a light Allendale ale. 

We hadn't been eating meat for the start of January. I know, shocking for those who know me as a die hard meat eater but a period of detox seemed necessary after Christmas excesses and I also think if you can get a strong basis of cooking vegetarian it will make your whole repertoire a great deal more varied *steps down from soapbox*.  Some hunks of good meat between bread called to us from the menu and we shared pastrami, american mustard, gherkins and rocket on brown (£5.75), and a steak sandwich with fried onions (£7.75). 

The steak sandwich was perhaps not quite what we were expecting, very thin cut steak more like roast beef, but was complimented by the sweet caramelised onions and very soft ciabatta. The pastrami on the other hand, was a total winner, crunchy gherkins and the tangy American mustard, plus thick slices of pastrami with a good ring of marbled fat and pepper coating. Accompanied by some crisp skinny fries (£2.95), and light side salads it was the sort of sophisticated lunch real life grown up adults enjoy. 

We finished with coffee and cake, a huge slice of carrot and hazelnut cake with creamy yet light frosting. The two women on the table next to us had been nattering away since we arrived so it's clearly somewhere people are happy to while away the afternoon hours without feeling rushed even though it was really busy. Quality food and attentive and polite staff with a good price point make this a great option for lunch in the centre of town. And make sure you get the lemonade. 

Garden Kitchen is in Eldon Gardens, NE1 7RA and is open 7 days a week. 

I was invited to review Garden Kitchen.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Traditional Teas & Scandinavian Treats; Christmas in Harrogate

The Christmas break means something different to everyone, for some it is the chance to see family and friends, others the excuse to over indulge and for many it is the overall atmosphere of festivity. For me the christmas break meant one thing, time.

Time to laze about in bed until 11am, time to sit on the sofa by a large fire and while away the afternoon reading, and most importantly time to eat, drink and be very merry, which I definitely took full advantage off. 11 shiny, shiny, beautiful days off from work. 

Being back in Yorkshire for the duration, there was, of course, also time for tea. Harrogate is famed for its water, its baths but is probably most well known for its tea, being the home of Taylors and Betty's cafes. 

You know when you're visiting a place, there are things people tell you you must go to/eat at/see/visit. Well Betty's tearooms is definitely one of those things, the original no reservation restaurant, with a permanent cue snaking out of its door, famed for its cakes and impecable service. But it is, at least to my mind, one of those things you don't actually go to yourself if you live in a place. 

It seems much more of an 'occasion' to visit and made me feel like I was really treating myself when I arranged to meet friends there. It was all very proper loveliness, a friend getting a traditional cream tea with scones and thick whipped cream and homemade preserves. I have had a craving for proper hot chocolate for about the last 3 months (more on this later), and enjoyed the swiss inspired cream hot chocolate with a selection of mini florentines. 

Betty's is a grand old institution, which will never loose its charm. 

But what I really wanted to tell you about was one of the newest cafe openings and definitely one of the best i've been to in a long time. Baltzersens is an independent Scandinavian inspired coffee shop serving up open sandwiches, huge cinnamon buns which seem to be the staple of any Scandi diet and a better hot chocolate than Betty's (!). 

My good old mum had actually recommended that I check this place out, and then I found out all my friends mum's had done the same with them. If you've got the mum's of Harrogate on board then you've got to be doing something right, as they have about 135,749 cafes to choose from. 

The decor is exactly what I like, white tiles and tidy dark wooden tables in the front section, before opening out at the back with leather arm chairs and an exposed brick fireplace, all decorated with traditional christmas decorations and simple design touches. 

The food was superb; homemade potato salad and this little beetroot, apple and mint thing accompanied open sandwiches served on light or dark rye. Gravlax was home cured, with a light, subtle flavour and a paired wonderfully with a thick dill sauce, the meatballs were topped with melted jarlsberg and a lingonberry jam with a sweetness to contrast with the well seasoned meat. The hot chocolate was thick and rich and not too sweet, the perfect comfort drink on one of many miserably, wet winter days. 

It's not that I don't like Harrogate, but it can often (read: all the time) play up its pretentious, well to do image and the cafes and bars, and people who frequent them, can seem like an endless repetition of each other. Baltzersens felt like something a bit different, doing something that wasn't run of the mill and doing it very well. There was no 'occasion' about it, it's just very good. 

O and they do hot waffles if you weren't already convinced. 

Baltzersens is on Oxford Street, HG1 1PU and is open all week.