20 May 2017

Little Italy


Food ✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

Unit 12-13 
Grainger Market 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 5QG 

07783 858 033 
www.facebook.com/abrootsolimited 
Accessibility? Yes
Gluten free? Yes 

I remember a time, and perhaps you do too, when the Grainger Market was far from being a gastronaut’s delight. Now it’s an essential destination on Newcastle’s foodie map. When Mmm… opened in 2008, selling posh olive oils and precociously tasty condiments, I feared that they were too far ahead of the curve and would never last. As it turns out, I was bang wrong and they were in fact just the vanguard of a whole brigade of food start-ups that would take advantage of the central location and reasonable rents offered by this fabulous Regency-era covered market. 

A couple of years ago I reviewed many of the excellent street-food vendors who have made the place their home, but recently I felt had to return just to check out what I reckon is probably the market’s first fully fledged restaurant - plates, wine, proper service, that sort of thing. I’d heard that simple Italian food was being done very well. I’d heard right.

13 May 2017

The Black Horse

Food ✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

Rectory Bank 
West Boldon 
Tyne & Wear
NE36 0QQ 

0191 536 1814 

Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? Advise when booking 

I confess I hadn’t really done my homework properly. Someone told me that there was some rather good cooking in a West Boldon pub and that it was worth checking out, but that’s all I knew. So I was quite unprepared for the gloriously spectacular and completely idiosyncratic scene that greeted us as we shuffled in. 


The menu is headed “Zulu @ The Black Horse”. Were we going to be in for a night of ethnic South African cuisine? Nope: Zulu is Pete “Zulu” Robson, one-time front man of punk outfit The Toy Dolls, latterly a chef, pub-owner and avid collector of...well, just stuff. Lots and lots of stuff.

6 May 2017

Coop Chicken House


Food ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 

25 Collingwood Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 1JE 

0191 261 1542 
www.coopchicken.co.uk 

Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? Yes 

If you just do one thing, do it brilliantly. It’s a modus operandi that, for restaurants, has a lot going for it. 

A limited menu means fewer stock lines to control. You can train your staff to be master of one trade, rather than Jack of all. You can get people served and tables turned fast, as you basically know in advance what they’ll be ordering. From burgers to tacos, you can see why some restaurants, especially those that make the cosmic leap of faith from street food stall to bricks and mortar, are attracted to the idea of the box-basic menu. 

For customers too, it can work out equally well, but everything depends on the execution. If my menu is pre-ordained by my choice of restaurant, then what you’re thrusting my way had better be a paradigm-shifting, Platonic ideal of the form. All of which preamble brings us neatly to Coop Chicken House where - guess what! - they serve chicken; and not a great deal else.

29 April 2017

The Morritt Hotel


Food ✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 

The Morritt Hotel & Garage Spa 
Greta Bridge 
Nr Barnard Castle 
Co Durham
DL12 9SE 

01833 627 232 
www.themorritt.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Advise when booking 

Unless you’re Raymond Blanc, not everyone who rocks up to a hotel’s door is there for the food. Indeed, many of them won’t have the first clue about cooking. And yet here they come, paying good money to stay under your roof, full of expectation. How does a talented chef write a menu for this type of customer while also satisfying the gastronauts, not to mention scratching the itch of his own creative ambitions? Not easily. 

Lee Stainthorpe, head chef at The Morritt Hotel, just a dash southeast of Barnard Castle, has had a damn good stab at it. There are steaks, triple cooked chips and hearty sounding puds. But there are also gels, powders, puddings involving veg, and the odd ingredient that might have you scuttling off to Google, just to be sure. It was this latter fact, not to mention the two AA rosettes, that piqued my interest and saw us zooming down the A1 for an early evening dinner reservation.

22 April 2017

The Grind @ No28


Food ✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

27-29 Nelson Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 5AN 

0191 447 5590 
www.no28.co.uk 

Call off the search party! Inform the authorities! Stand down the dogs and reassure the fretting relatives! I’ve found Newcastle’s best burger, very much alive and well, in an unlikely spot: a bar just above the Grainger Market. 

I realise that such an audacious declaration may result in tuts, raised eyebrows and worse. You may think you have found patty perfection elsewhere and, yes: everyone is entitled to their opinion. It’s just that in this case I’m right, and, unless you agree with me, you’re not.

16 April 2017

The Fork In The Road


Food ✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 

133 Linthorpe Street 
Middlesbrough 
TS1 5DE 

01642 243 552 
www.theforkintheroad.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? On request 


It was with some relief that I found this restaurant looking, and tasting, much like any normal place. 

This isn't like your average restaurant; it's a not-for-profit set up by Andy Preston, chair of the CEO Sleepout charity, to be a place where ex-offenders, recovering addicts and the long-term unemployed can get a second chance through employment in catering. Hence the name. 

Thankfully, they avoided any schlocky fit-out and plating opportunities this back-story offered. Would the room be done out like a jail cell? Would we be shackled to the table? Would there be sauces served up in hypodermic needles? You may laugh, but we live in a world that includes cereal cafés and chefs that think it a cracking wheeze to serve dishes directly onto the back of diners hands. When restaurateurs offer not just a nice meal, but an “experience”, strange things can happen. 

Thankfully, there was not a jot of that sort of thing. The fit-out is one of the loveliest and most impressive I have seen for some time. It feels new and fresh, but not awkwardly so. There’s a whole raft of seating options, from Chesterfields and armchairs to banquettes and bar stools. We took a table in the window, the better to indulge in a spot of people-watching. 


The restaurant has been given a thorough lick of a nice shade of greenish-blue, with outbreaks of richly stained wood and brass. There’s a splash of that same blue on the menus and their website, together with a simple but effective fork logo. I don’t usually comment on branding, but whoever is responsible for The Fork in the Road’s corporate identity has done a fine job; it’s consistent, and clean. This is an outfit that has thought about what it's doing. But how was the food? 

When a restaurant has such a commendable reason for being, I always fret that the cooking won’t be as compelling as the purpose; after all, I can’t taste a set of ethics. Happily, there was plenty to enjoy during the meal we cobbled together from a set menu priced at £19.95 for three courses, a lunch à la carte and an additional menu of specials to celebrate “British Pie Week”.

8 April 2017

The Merchants Tavern


Food ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

1 St Peter’s Wharf 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE6 1TZ 

0191 275 9000 
www.facebook.com/merchantstav 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

We might only be in April, but unless someone wants to open a restaurant where you don’t have to pay at all, I think we can probably close down the “Best Value” category in my 2017 awards. 

After my all-you-can-eat fest at Tenji, I moved on to The Merchants Tavern in St Peter’s Basin. Here, at lunchtime, they will serve you three courses from a short but appealing menu and hewn from good ingredients, together with a glass of house wine for - wait for it - twelve quid. Or they were when I visited a few weeks ago. 

I’ve no idea how they could do this, but I’ll leave the mark-up percentages to the chef. All you need to know is that if you’re looking for a meal out in a picturesque setting without having to raid a bank, this is the place. If the cooking had matched the prices, I’d have been raving about it. Sadly, it didn’t.

1 April 2017

Tenji


Food ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪ 
Service ✪✪ 

Barrack Road 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE2 4LA 

0191 230 3888 
www.tenjijapanesebuffet.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? No 

I don’t usually spend a great deal of time reading the comments under my reviews on the Facebook page of chroniclelive.co.uk (where these reviews are also published online).  People can be so cruel. 

However, one caught my eye the other week. Its writer seemed to be upset that I’ve travelled a bit, and thus occasionally compare a local restaurant to one I’ve visited abroad. Apparently this makes me - brace yourself - “elitist”. 

Elitest? Moi?! I very nearly spluttered my 1947 Cheval Blanc (an acceptable vintage for everyday drinking) all over my gold-plated iPad. Clearly something had gone wrong with my PR. I had to act quickly to reconnect with these Facebook followers. Only one thing for it: an ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet.

25 March 2017

Omni Café


Food ✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

12 Front Street 
Monkseaton
Whitley Bay
Tyne & Wear
NE25 8DF 

0191 251 2819 
www.facebook.com/omnionthecorner 

Accessibility? Yes-ish. 
Gluten free? Yes 

Sometimes you just know everything’s going to be fine even as the front door clicks shut behind you and you scan the room for the first time. It’s a nice feeling. There are enough reasons to fret in these troubled times without the quality of one’s dinner being added to the list. 

As we left a sullen late winter night outside and stepped into the warm, spice-scented fug of Omni, I knew we were onto a good thing. The fact that at 6.30 on a Wednesday evening we only just managed to snare the last table for two was a strong hint. The warm welcome, the lovely decor and the chatty buzz made by people who are really enjoying themselves, all confirmed that this is a place where they really know what they’re about. And what they are about, in the evenings at least, is Asian tapas.

19 March 2017

Lollo Rosso

Food ✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪✪ 

61 Bridge Street 
Morpeth 
Northumberland 
NE61 1PQ 

01670 514111 
http://www.lollorossoitalia.co.uk 

In the nineties and noughties, The Ivy in London was every major celebrity’s favourite haunt. It wasn’t the food that made it so popular (the cooking has never been that special), its success was down to the extraordinarily warm atmosphere generated by its two restaurateurs Jeremy King and Chris Corbin, and their charming maître d’ Fernando Peire. From Beckham to Biggins to you and me, everyone was always made to feel at home. 

The ability to make strangers feel like guests or even friends is an essential and priceless gift for any restaurateur. And that’s what Giovanni Marabini has in abundance. 

OK, so let’s admit it – Morpeth has never had a lot going for it, restaurant-wise. As Newcastle has transformed its culinary reputation over the past five years, this pretty market town has remained a backwater of indifferent dining. Aside from Nadon Thai, which produces some quality Asian dishes, I reserved one shiny star (well, four, actually) for Marabini's, then a modest Italian above a shop in New Market. A modest Italian with a terrific atmosphere.

A couple of years ago Giovanni fell out with his business partner, so Marabini’s was no more and the town mourned. Happily, Giovanni (and his Cuban partner Miguel Perez) landed round the corner in Bridge Street with Lollo Rosso. Readers have been urging me to visit for ages. I’m sorry I waited so long.