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 canap├ęs, 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.