30 April 2016

Cal's Own

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

1-2 Holly Avenue 
West Jesmond 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE2 2AR 

0191 281 5522 

Usually I go, eat, write the truth as I taste it, and that’s about it. My job is simply to judge each restaurant on a single meal, just as any customer would. 

Sometimes the owners and chefs are happy with what I write, and sometimes they are upset, but the world continues to turn and, as Del Amitri said, the needle returns to the start of the song. 

However some of my reviews, I confess, come with a side order of apprehension. These are the places which, privately, I really wanted to be good, because I know the story behind the menu, about the sweat and tears that have been invested by an owner or chef committed to perfection. But you can’t review a chef’s dream, you can only report the reality. So you just sit at your table, pick a few dishes, and hope for the best. 

Cal’s Own falls squarely into this latter category.  Here is someone who is not just fanatical about what he’s doing, he has committed his life acquiring the knowledge and skills to create a product that’s up with the very best in the world. That’s a tall order, when that product is as ubiquitous as pizza.

23 April 2016


  Food ✪✪ 
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30-32 Grey St 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 6AE 

0191 261 8111 

If this were a review of a bar rather than a restaurant then what follows would be a good deal more positive. Dacantus in Newcastle’s Grey Street is a really nice bar. 

Gin menu
They serve good wines by the glass and a dizzying array of carefully made gins and tonics. The interior is a dramatic contrast of hefty dark woods and bling-y gold textured wallpaper. The bar itself is a vast chunk of marble and the nice people who tend it really know what they’re about. 

I would go as far as to say this is an excellent bar. However, they also offer a full food menu, which means that they are a restaurant. And I’m a restaurant critic. Oh dear: nice bar, shame about the food.

16 April 2016

Turtle Bay

Food ✪✪✪ 
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117 Newgate Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 5RZ 

0191 386 3395 

I know several fooderati who reckon that nothing worth eating ever comes out of a chain.  

Jonathan Meades regularly - and amusingly - held to this during his days as restaurant critic for The Times. For him Café Rouge was a “Harvester for the indiscriminate middle classes” which “proceeded from the self-fulfilling presumption that no-one will come back anyway”.

9 April 2016

The Garden House Inn

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Framwellgate Peth 
DH1 4NQ 

0191 386 3395 

When Terry Laybourne’s Bistro 21 suddenly closed last year, Durham mourned the loss of one of its few good restaurants. Of all the places in the Laybourne empire, this was probably my favourite, with well-prepared bistro cooking in an attractive, calm atmosphere; in 2014 it won my Bistro/Brasserie of the Year award. 

Last month I tried to fill the gap on my Durham listings page by reviewing Finbarr’s, whose food I also enjoyed. A few short weeks later, it also shut down without notice. 

What is going on in Durham? To misquote Oscar Wilde: to lose one good restaurant may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness. It left a city in crisis, with only one serious eatery left: DH1, the excellent but tiny fine dining place. Or so I thought.

2 April 2016


Food ✪✪✪ 
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82 Pilgrim Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 6JN 

0191 447 7720 

What is it about the barbecue that appeals so much to the male psyche? There has to be more to it than the primal draw of the flame and the hunger-inspiring aroma of rendered animal fat on hot coals. 

There’s something almost masonic about the secret world of rubs, brines and marinades. There are fierce competitions based around the cuisine of the barbie, with grown men fighting for bragging rights over the best pulled pork. I guess that’s why it’s colloquially known as “dude food”. 

And yet, even as someone who is quite openly male, I’ve never quite “got it” when eating at smokehouses, at least on this side of the Atlantic. Despite all the hushed talk of meat provenance and special woods, and the number of days that a piece of cow has spent over low, slow heat, I’ve always thought that the results were, at best, not so much better than what I could achieve myself with a decent marinade and a few bits of charcoal in my Weber. Or at least that was the case until our recent meal at Bierrex.

26 March 2016

The Town Wall [RE-REVIEWED]

Food ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 

Pink Lane 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 5HX 

0191 232 3000 

Food served:
Mon-Thur 12-9pm
Fri-Sun 12-7pm only

This was the first place I ever reviewed for The Journal, and although I wasn't particularly generous back then, I was given little reason to be. That was in March 2011, exactly 5 years ago. I found the meat chewy, the salad dull and the "artisan bread" of the burger looks suspiciously like a bun.  Worst of all, not only did you have to order everything from the bar, you couldn't leave a credit card as deposit, so, rather ludicrously, every trip for a refill of wine or water took an age.

Things are definitely better now.

19 March 2016

Mog On The Tyne/CatPawCino Cat Cafés

Mog on the Tyne 
Food ✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Cats ✪✪✪✪ 

24 Pudding Chare 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 1UE 
07470 262 685 

Food ✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 
Cats ✪✪✪✪ 

77 Quayside 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 3DE 
0191 903 5085 


"Whatever happened to that “Dare the Diner” competition?” asked Mrs Diner one February morning. 

I buried my head in my Journal, pretending not to hear. 


“You remember, it was Christmas, and you asked your readers to vote for an unlikely place for you to review in 2016. There were all those terrible takeaways and burger joints. And those cat cafés.” 

The look of terror must have given it away. My wife knows me too well. 

“Oh, so that’s why you didn’t mention it — the cats won!” 

I nodded sadly: “By a landslide.”

“Fantastic. I can’t wait to go.” 

It’s alright for her: she adores the creatures. For me, I just have to look at one and my nose starts to twitch and my eyes water. I’m allergic to cats. Badly.

12 March 2016

Pleased To Meet You

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

41-45 High Bridge 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 1EW 

 0191 340 5137 

Of all the places I had expected David Kennedy to resurface, Ladhar Leisure’s Pleased To Meet You was the least likely. 

The chef’s name has been erased from the doors of his restaurants at the Biscuit Factory, Vallum Farm and River Café on North Shields’ Fish Quay. I half expected Kennedy would re-emerge to launch some tie-in project with superstar veg-grower Ken Holland, perhaps at a destination site in Northumberland. They are the pioneers of grow and eat local in our region. But no: here he is instead in the newly extended restaurant section of one of the first bars in Newcastle that sussed out how lucrative gin and craft beer could be when set against a backdrop of exposed brick and air duct.

5 March 2016

Bistro FORTY6

Food ✪✪✪✪✪ 
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46 Brentwood Avenue 
NE2 3DH 

0191 281 8081 

The residents of Jesmond are going to be fuming about this review, I’m afraid. I’m really sorry everyone, but I’m blowing the gaff on your secret treasure. 

I know you’ve been keeping it to yourselves, this precious hidden gem, and I don’t blame you, for it’s quite special. But this is a local restaurant that deserves to be shouted about, because the cooking here is very good indeed. There are precious few good bistros in the region, and this one is up with the best.

27 February 2016

The Bottle Shop Bar & Kitchen

Food ✪✪✪ 
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Waterloo Square 
St James Boulevard 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 4DN 

0191 261 4193 

Pity the hipsters. Already fretting over whether their vintage specs and organically grown taches (the men anyway) are sufficiently post-ironic, and now they’re having to take brickbats of invective from the media, social and otherwise, poking fun at their Cereal Cafés and fixed-gear unicycles.  

You’ll have seen them: 20- and 30-year-olds with liberal arts degrees and clothes that look like they come from charity shops or Grandad’s attic, urban bohemians into indie rock and witty banter, the men with shaggy hair so long it’s wrapped in a bun at the back, the women with their side-swept bangs and their hipster men. There’s a very funny (but not for the narrow-minded) Twitter account called @getinthesea that pours scorn on these latter day folk-devils. 

Well, eager to swim against the tide of reactionary opinion, allow me to offer them some support. A welcome byproduct of their never-ending search for the retro-novel, is the creation of markets for better-quality, more interesting products for un-hipsters like me. They may have deconstructed cultural norms in Williamsburg, and turned the fashion world back to the past, but they’ve also given us craft beers.