21 November 2015

The Cook and Barker Inn

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NE65 9JY

01665 575 234 

“I quite enjoyed it. The first time at least,” said Mrs Diner wearily, waving a fork in the general direction of the piped music. Jamie Lawson’s ‘Wasn’t Expecting That’ was doing its second lap of the dining room’s CD player. 

The music wasn’t the only thing that gave me a sense of déjà vu. Our whole meal was turning into the kind of underwhelming, old-fashioned dining experience I’ve encountered all over Central Northumberland.

14 November 2015


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Fenwick Food Hall 
Northumberland Street 
NE99 1AR 

Mon-Fri 9am-7pm (last orders) 
Sat 9am – 6pm 
Sun 10.30am – 4pm 


“I think we’re going to need another couple of minutes,” Mrs Diner said to our waitress, by way of apology. 

It was for the best of reasons: being spoiled for choice makes a refreshing change. These days some of the trendiest restaurants just focus on doing one thing well, which takes all the fun out of ordering; so many other places, particularly in Newcastle, over-pack their menus with things I’d happily never see again, like tempura prawns. 

“I could happily eat all of this,” I nodded, from behind a furrowed brow. Over the next hour and a half I did my level best to do just that.

7 November 2015

The Bank Bar & Restaurant

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516 Durham Road 
Low Fell 
NE9 6HU 
0191 487 9038 


You love steak! You want steak! You crave for steak! 

So, slightly creepily, read the menu, making it less like a list of things to choose for dinner and more like a brainwashing session from an evil butcher. Normally I’d prefer not to be hectored by inanimate pieces of card, but in this case, the menu actually seemed to know my mind. I ordered the rib eye.

31 October 2015

Saltwater Fish Company

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Fenwick Food Hall 
Northumberland Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne
NE99 1AR 

See www.fenwick.co.uk

It will have escaped the attention of nobody with even a passing interest in Newcastle’s foodie scene that the venerable old girlthat was Fenwick’s food hall has been subject to a pretty full-on vajazzling. 

Where things had become a bit fusty, this new-look venue feels modern and classy, a culinary centrepiece befitting a city that has seen massive improvements in gastronomic standards over the last few years. Everyone involved can afford to feel rather pleased with themselves. 

Just as interesting as the look are the new product lines and concessions. Sayonara to the revolvingly mediocre chain sushi, hello to the excellent Ouseburn Coffee Company, premium cheese from Neal’s Yard Dairy, “clean” food from The Naked Deli and several others. For those of us who take our eating a tad more seriously than we probably ought, a trip to Fenwick has become an adventure. 

24 October 2015


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104-108 Grey Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 6JG 

0191 261 2277 

I’m not quite sure what the connection is between a romantic roué/poet, who had affairs with men and women, and reputedly even slept with his half-sister, and a simple hamburger from Providence, Rhode Island. Tom Byng, the founder of Byron, clearly thinks there is, even referring to his own “misspent nights” of youth in his restaurant’s blurb. 

Apparently Tom discovered perfect, simple burgers (“the ultimate comfort food, and so satisfying in their simplicity”) during a four-year stint in America and was determined to bring them to the UK. Launched in 2007, the Byron chain changed hands in 2013 for the nice neat sum of £100 million. Mr Byng, roué or not, clearly knows his burgers.

17 October 2015

Cook House

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20 Ouse Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 2PF 

No telephone number – no bookings 

It’s not easy to define good taste, but we all like to think we know it when we see it. 

There is of course the gnarly issue of subjectivity. I’m sure Donald Trump thinks his hairstyle is the height of fashion, whilst I, and the rest of the world, would beg to differ. Time is another factor. Not so ago that it was considered just the thing to squiggle balsamic glaze over any food in sight; now, not so much. Not that many of our region’s chefs have realised it yet.

10 October 2015

Saigon [CLOSED]

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6 Bigg Market 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 2UW 

0191 233 0766 
No website currently 

“What’s your favourite food?” they used to ask me at primary school. 

Back then it was chips and Walls pork sausages (mine was a simple childhood of modest pleasures). Now, the list has grown a bit, but most of the items are still pretty straightforward: a creamy risotto with white Alba truffle, a single slice of sourdough adorned with fresh crab, almost anything involving crispy pig. But up there in my gastronomic Mount Olympus there would definitely be one seriously good noodle soup. 

Vietnamese pho, when done well, is a seriously good noodle soup. The trick is to produce an all-healing broth that is both light in body and singing with flavour. Bones are simmered for hours while onions and ginger are blackened into rich, caramel flavours. Add cloves, cinnamon and star anise to lend the thing its sing-song top notes, and I’m in soup heaven. 

There are regional variations, of course, and various meats may be used, but when pho is good, it’s phab. Which is what I was hoping for when I met a visiting friend off the train and we headed for dinner at Saigon, the revamped Vietnamese restaurant in Newcastle’s Bigg Market.

5 October 2015

Bealim House

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17-25 Gallowgate 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 4SG 

0191 221 2266 

It’s amazing how something that feels a bit quirky today becomes the norm tomorrow, then descends into cliché the day after that. 

I can’t remember the last time I walked into a new gastropub that didn’t have a wooden floor, exposed brick, visible air vents and “funky” lighting. I admit that there are bigger problems in this world than the homogenisation of pub interiors of course, but are there really no renegades out there willing to hide their bricks behind a nice bit of plasterwork, or their floors under a comforting carpet? I get the feeling that there’s only one interior design firm working in the entire restaurant industry, and they’ve been churning out the same idea for the last 10 years.

26 September 2015

The Man Behind The Curtain

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68-78 Vicar Lane 
Top floor Flannels 
LS1 7JH 

0113 243 2376 

“You’ve got to review The Man Behind The Curtain,” Kenny Atkinson wrote to me. 

Who am I to disagree with the man who’s just won Newcastle’s only Michelin star? He didn’t have it then, of course – this was months ago. The buzz amongst chefs about Michael O’Hare’s extraordinary, mad, flamboyant, exquisite cooking, just on our doorstep in Leeds, has been going round chefs’ circles ever since his restaurant opened last year.

19 September 2015

The Bridgewater Arms

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County Durham 
DL2 3RN 

01325 730 302 

I confess that spending an entire morning looking at dresses isn’t my idea of fun. But this was different. 

The Bowes Museum, the imposing French-style chateau that’s one of our region’s most stately assets, is currently [September 2015] playing host to the UK’s first Yves Saint Laurent retrospective. Despite my reluctance, Mrs Diner wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I’m really glad she dragged me there – even though she complained all the way down about my outfit. I thought: if double denim is good enough for Jeremy Clarkson, then it’s fine for Barnard Castle. Apparently it’s not.