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

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Eating in Copenhagen: Coffee Collective, Meyer's Bageri, Sweet Treats, Granola

Whilst dashing around the city trying to cram in as much as I could over 3 days there was many stops for quick lunches, very good coffees and buns. This is the sort of eating I really enjoy when I'm away, trying bits here and there and making the whole day one long meal, with some art and culture thrown in  in between for good measure. And of course the big meals and beers at the end of the day I wrote about in Part 1.

These are my favourite breakfasts and bakeries, cheap eats and buns from across Copenhagen. 

Bakeries, Coffee and Croissants: Coffee Collective, Meyer's Bageri and Sweet Treats 

There were plenty of cool coffee shops and bakeries with piles of cinnamon buns to choose from but these were my favourites.

Coffee Collective seem to have something of a stronghold on the craft coffee scene in Copenhagen, with their own micro roastery and coffee shops. We visited both their coffee bar in the food heaven of Torvehallerne, which was like Borough Market but housed in two large glass buildings, where I got a refreshing and crisp slow drip coffee and the other half accidentally stole a small boy's latte. We also visited their main shop on Jaegersborggade where the main floor space is taken up by their roaster. I was regretful at having only taken hand luggage so I couldn't bring any beans back with me.

Plus, the Coffee Collection takeaway cups have really fantastic packaging.

The coffee was exquisite, although I'm sure enjoying it in the sun in a foreign city amplified the taste and enjoyment slightly. I can't believe I went to Copenhagen and felt like I'd been on a hot holiday compared with England which seems to have fallen under the rule of the White Witch.

 Just across the street on Jaegersborggade is Meyer's Bageri, home to the most amazing buns and bread. As well as whole range of breads, the Danish bakeries seemed to stick to a smaller range of sweet options, often buns or pastry products. Meyer's Bageri was set up by Claus Meyer, co-founder of Noma and self titled 'Gastronomic Entrepreneur' - he looks to be a man with his hand in many tasty pies. Meyer's Bageri is home to their legendary kanelsnurrer, a sweet, folded cinnamon bun, when walking into the tiny shop that's all you can smell. We came away with one and some macaroons, caramel & peanut and cherry & liquorice.

Sweet Treats, over in Christianshavn, is mentioned in the Where Chef's Eat Book which is the perfect textbook for a  restaurant nerd like me. The book lists places around the world that the best chefs like to eat at. Sweet Treats was nothing fancy, a rather unassuming tiny cafe, offering good coffee and good pastry at very reasonable prices. I was in a fragile state after having a total nervo at the top of a nearby church tower, so was really glad to be sat down anywhere that was near to the ground, the coffee and crispy croissant was added bonus. 

On our second afternoon we headed up the coast to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Modern Art which is one of the most amazing cultural venues I've ever been to. A piece of minimal 50's architecture nestled on the stunning Danish cliff tops looking over to Sweden. The cafe was crazy pricey but I've still got serious dreamy lust for this pink cloud of a bun. 

Oh and that view.

Breakfast: Granola

Although our hotel was rather dreamy, the breakfast wasn't included was around 165 dkk each which is nearly £20 so even for the nicest all organic breakfast buffet it's still totally ludicrous. Just up the street however was one of my favourite stops from the trip, Granola on Vaernedamsvej which is a street renowned for it's food venues. 

Granola is a charming 1930's French inspired ice cream parlour and cafe, full of traditional touches, decor and prints. I felt childish glee knowing I could order a huge strawberry milkshake because I'm an adult dammit and I'm on holiday. That combined with some fluffy, buttery pancakes, maple syrup and berries created one all mighty sugar headache but was well worth it.  

Cheap Eats: Den økologiske Pølsemand

I'd never really connected Denmark with hot dogs, but after doing some research it seems to be one of the defining dishes of the country. Safe to say we found the best at Den økologiske Pølsemand, translating as The Organic Sausage Man.

Located at the bottom of the Round Tour in the middle of tourist town, it was a good option for a cheap lunch, we got everything on our standard dogs housed in sourdough and linseed buns, and whilst I'm not really sure what any of it was bar some very good pickles and crispy onions, it was top class dog. Could have eaten about three of them mind.

For eating, and for everything else in between, Copenhagen is definitely recommended. From the hip meat packing district and Vesterbro restaurants, to craft coffee and beer bars I did fall a little bit in love with the city, its attitude and atmosphere.

Now I'm going to spend the next 6 months learning how to ride a bike properly and make the other half grow a beard so we can move there.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Eating in Copenhagen: Mikkeller, Kødbyen, Mother and Dyrehaven

Copenhagen, home of Noma and numerous other restaurants leading the charge in Nordic, seasonal and foraged cuisine, has become synonymous with high class dining in the last few years, being on a par with Paris, Venice and San Sebastian for a food inspired get away.

I ate at none of these places, because I'm 22 and have no money. But that's not to say that there isn't plenty to discover at the other end of the restaurant spectrum, there are so many brilliant places to eat that are still exciting and innovative and I did my best to try as many as possible in a short three day break.

We were staying in Vesterbro which seems to be one of the 'hip neighbourhoods' (note plural, more on this later) at the absolutely lovely Axel Guldsmeden Hotel, which the windows proudly told us was 90-100% organic - where the 10% of uncertainty came from I'm not sure. Complete with four poster beds, polished wood floors and persian carpets it made a perfect base for exploring.

Axel Guldsmeden, Copenhagen

Our eating and drinking, with day time exceptions, largely feel into the Vesterbro area, between Kødbyen and Vesterbrogade. In an area known for its prostitutes and butchers, there was meat of all varieties on sale. The red light district starts from just behind the train station and down the main strip of Istedgade, but after Gasvaerksvej it is a lot less seedy.

Before I get into the who/what/where I'll note that *everything is expensive*. We knew this before going, and had done adequate research into affordable yet good places to eat, but even in the best value of places a beer was never less than 40 dkk, which is around £4.50, coffees around 25-35 dkk and food was anything from 120 dkk to 300 dkk for a main course in the mid-level restaurants we visited.

The beery: Mikkeller Bar, Vesterbro and Fermentoren 

I don't think it was coincidence that we ended up staying in a hotel one street away from the Mikkeller bar, but it was certainly advantageous and became our little neighbourhood bar for the trip, making it our first and last point of call.

With around 30 taps of beer on, everything on offer was chalked up and served in a range of sizes. I'd try and recall everything we drank but not having taken notes it's difficult to remember; the Norrebro pils, Norrebro wit, Norrebrown ale, Pale Ale, Dim Sum as well as selection of guest beers from Toccalmatto were all sampled and all enjoyed. Drinks started from 25 dkk for 20cl.

It was the sort of bar I dream about opening one day, a little hidden away basement of beery goodness and charming, clean design. It was friendly, knowledgeable without being pretentious and we spent most of our money there.

Just down the road we also popped into Fermentoren, which was excellent if a bit more rough around the edges. It was also slightly cheaper, so a trip is definitely recommended, especially when it's a bit warmer as it had a large outside seating area.

Eating Danish: Dyrehaven Cafe

I really loved Dyrehaven Cafe, and although I'm sure it's inundated with hopeless visitors looking for a corner of 'authentic' copenhagen, it felt like a locals' hangout, with all day food, the best value beer we found, lots of wood and a laid back atmosphere.

I got a very plump pork chop, pepper sauce and sweet potato type thing for the relatively bargain price of 155 dkk and the other half had some lovely fish with braised fennel, apple and a lightly creamy sauce which was marginally cheaper. The menu was (obviously) in Danish but the staff translated it for us without (justified) evil stares, to say my only source of Danish comes from obsessive viewing of The Killing, everyone spoke perfect english without so much as a grumpy huff face.

Meat Packing Eating: Mother and Nose2Tail

Kødbyen, the meatpacking district, just to the east of the main Vesterbro area, has low white buildings, wide empty streets and eerie open spaces. It looks like somewhere Sarah Lund should be finding a gruesomely disfigured body and thus, was clearly the perfect setting for some of the trendiest restaurants in town.

An old Bosch show room had been transformed into an organic cafe, an the old meat packing rooms now housed anything from raw fish bars (which I wanted to try but sadly was slightly out of our price range), sourdough pizza bars and underground nose to tail restaurants.

I'll be writing more on Nose2Tail in its own post, but Mother, which we were directed to by two chatty British guys in Mikkeller who ran a start up (5,000 hipster points), did extremely good pizza in a vast, warehouse space. Obviously popular and at around 110 dkk, good value, after a day of travelling and an early evening of empty stomach boozing it was pretty perfect, simple good food. Chewy, charred dough with a proper sour kick was topped with freshly sliced Italian meats, rocket and homemade pesto.

Copenhagen manages to make the 'cool and hip' aesthetic that so many cities try and recreate look totally effortless. Sure everyone is on a bike and has a beard, but then it's very flat and beards are a good way to keep your face warm. All our dinners gave us something different, from pizza to pork to horse liver (as I say more on that later) but were all within walking distance of one another with plenty of bars in between. 

Part two of eating in Copenhagen features organic dogs, bakeries, coffee and the best breakfast.