8 July 2018

Tomahawk Steakhouse


Food ✪✪ 
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95 Quayside 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 3DH 

0191 222 1122
Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes

www.tomahawk-steakhouse.co.uk 

I rarely order steak when eating out, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it scarcely allows a kitchen to demonstrate its talent; seasoning and heat applied to a lump of protein doesn't really justify all that time spent at catering college. Keep your sirloin and instead show me the daube of feather blade. 

Secondly, steak usually arrives with crashingly dull accoutrements. Chips, a grilled mushroom and a barely warmed-through tomato, you say? Innovators just keep innovating! Sauce Diane is it? Well then, let’s dust off the flux capacitor out and set it to 1972. 

No, for the most part steak is something to cook at home. Buy expensive meat, make an insanely buttery mash, open a good red, fire up the charcoal: enjoy. 

I do make an exception though, when steak is the whole reason for a restaurant’s being. In such cases, one hopes the folks in charge have taken the care to find some dry-aged cow of distinguished lineage and prepare it in a manner that does justice both to the beast and to those who reared it. 

Over the years, I’ve found some really disappointing steak specialists in our region: like The Rib Room at Ramside Hall (which took three goes to get me one medium rare), or the chain restaurant Miller & Carter, where just about everything was poor. 

Nowadays for good steak in Newcastle I rely on Terry Laybourne’s Porterhouse in Fenwick, with its Glenarm beef and heat-belching Josper grill. But now there's a new option, also named after a nice piece of beef on the bone: Tomahawk.

2 July 2018

Route


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35 Side 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 3JE 

Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? Yes

0191 222 0973 
www.routenewcastle.co.uk 

I eat my way through a lot of mediocre to middling food in order to bring you these dispatches. And for what? Completeness, I suppose. There’s a bit of text at the top of my home page declaring this site to be “The definitive guide to restaurants, gastropubs and cafés” across the North East. 294 down so far. It’s a heavy cross to bear. 

As a result, I hope for the best, but all too often find myself set against “tempura” squid, some lazily reheated ribs or yet another so-called sticky toffee pudding that is in fact micro-pinged sponge with bought-in sauce and dud of ice-cream. 

So, you’ll forgive me if I get a bit excitable when I catch wind of what promises to be somewhere genuinely good; when I see a list of slightly off-piste wines that I really want to try and a fun set of dishes to go along with them. If what follows comes over a little bit fanboy, then sorry, but Route, the new place on Newcastle’s Quayside by The Staith House’s John Calton, is exactly my kind of place. I really liked it, and that’s just how it is.

23 June 2018

Kiln

Food ✪✪✪ 
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Service ✪✪✪✪ 

Unit 4 
Hume Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE6 1LN 

0794 956 5013 
www.kiln.cafe 

Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? Yes 

As the years skid past, painting my hair in ever lighter tones of grey, I become increasingly aware that I must be losing any credibility I may have had in the past to pronounce on what is, or isn't, cool. Unless, of course grey hair itself is cool (Lord knows, fashion is so daft that it might be), in which case I’m getting cooler by the minute. 

Anyway, forgetting how uncool I really am: every now and then I find myself somewhere in Newcastle that is so clearly, unambiguously cool (or hot, as I used to say back in the day) that it might as well be in Dalston, Kreuzberg, Williamsburg or wherever. It fills me with no little civic pride to note that Newcastle is able to see such places survive and maybe even thrive. And, usually, they’re in the Ouseburn. 

Whether it’s Anna Hedworth’s soon-to-be-moved-to-larger-premises Cookhouse, the ever-dependable Ernest, The Ship Inn with its riotously bright, tasty vegan food or any one of a few first-rate boozers, there is more good food and drink per square metre in Ouseburn - and always at wallet-friendly prices - than anywhere else I can think of outside the city centre. To this list you can now add the subject of today’s review: Kiln.

10 June 2018

The Granby Inn @ The Dyke Neuk


Food ✪✪✪ 
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The Dyke Neuk 
Meldon 
Morpeth 
Northumberland 
NE61 3SL 

01670 772 662 

http://thedykeneuk.co.uk 

I’ve got quite a mouthful for you this week, both in the name of this restaurant, and also in the vast portions that we ate on your behalf. I’ll get round to the latter shortly, but first let’s start with the Who’s Who. 

I’ve visited The Dyke Neuk several times before, as the Wansbeck Valley in which it sits is one of my favourite parts of Northumberland. Despite its undulating hills and sparkling river, this area between Morpeth, Belsay and Kirkwhelpington is a bit of a culinary desert, and sadly the food the Dyke Neuk was never worth writing home about – let alone on these pages. Despite its location right next to Meldon Park, which used to have a decent garden café, it eventually found itself without anyone to take on its lease. In stepped a pair of local businessmen, George Bowman and Craig Taylor, regulars both. 

So far so laudable, but as anyone in the rural pub game will tell you, a solid food offering is what brings that vital, spendy stream of townster folk out at weekends and evenings. Bowman and Taylor hit upon the idea of sub-letting the kitchen operation to an established business and persuaded Michael Hall, head chef at The Granby Inn in Longframlington (3 stars in my book) to be that business. And that’s why for couple of months, we’ve had the geographically confusing but nonetheless accurate moniker: ‘The Granby Inn @ The Dyke Neuk’.

29 May 2018

The Bluebell


Food (no stars) 
Ambience ✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 

Jesmond Vale 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE2 1PH 

0191 232 1774 
http://the-blue-bell.com 

There are several good reasons to grant anonymity. Journalists and police officers need to look after their sources if they want them to remain useful; in the world of counter-espionage revealing an identity could put an informer at risk; in my case, I stay secret because I don’t want any special treatment – no freebies or backhanders for me. 

However sometimes it’s best to grant someone anonymity just because you’re a generous-hearted sort of chap and you want to spare them embarrassment. That’s why I won’t mention the name of the person who suggested visiting this pub, or the chef responsible for the meal I endured as a result. 

I love getting recommendations for new places. It’s one of the perks of this job, and so I don’t want to put anyone off from getting in touch with a hot tip from the culinary underground. Many a culinary diamond has been unearthed after a solicitous email or DM. Sadly The Bluebell proved not to be one of these.

23 May 2018

Langley Castle

Food ✪✪✪✪
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 

Langley Castle Hotel
Langley-on-Tyne
Northumberland
NE47 5LU 

01434 684 019
Accessibility? Yes
Gluten free? Yes

www.langleycastle.co.uk 

Castles are cool. From an early age this is something we just sort of know, probably because it was drummed into us through fairy tales. And we still just sort of know it, helped by the fairy tales they make for grown-ups: Game of Thrones, Meghan Markle, that sort of thing. 

These islands, and this region, are littered with the things, in various states of repair. They’re fun to visit, but the idea of ever owning one is not one that many of us, as grown ups at least, spend much time thinking about. 

Dr Stuart Madnick, a professor of information technology at MIT, apparently did spend time thinking about it. In 1985, a friend spotted an advert for Langley Castle and, aided by a favourable exchange rate, Madnick snapped it up and set about transforming the place into a luxury hotel. Which means that while neither you nor I are likely to possess a castle of our own, we can at least stay and eat in his.

14 May 2018

The Curing House

Food ✪✪✪✪ 
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Service ✪✪✪✪ 

21-23 Bedford Street 
Middlesbrough 
TS1 2LL 

01642 802 232 
www.thecuring.house 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

Everyone knows that good cooking starts with great shopping. Top-name chefs are always saying stuff like that, which is curious; you’d think their egos would demand that they give themselves a little more credit, and less to the farmer or the butcher. What a magnanimous demographic they are, these top-name chefs. 

I thoroughly agree of course, although I would also maintain that it is quite possible to make something delicious out of even the cheapest can of tomatoes if one employs judicious seasoning, lively spicing and thoughtful cooking. I speak here very much from experience: I was a student once. 

The point I’m lurching towards is that sometimes the most enjoyable restaurant dishes can involve very little cooking on the part of the chef at all. I’m thinking of good caviar with blinis. Open the tin - and your wallet - and away you go. Or of the sensational (bought-in) bread and butter we had that time we went to the Fat Duck. Or, more recently and less predictably, of the wonderful plate of Italian charcuterie we had on a trip down to Middlesbrough.

7 May 2018

Stable Hearth

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

33-35 Duke Street 
Darlington 
DL3 7RX 

01325 730 400

Accessibility: No
Gluten Free?: Yes
www.stablehearth.com 

Strange things, food trends. How do they happen? 

Take Balsamic vinegar, for example, which has been around since at least the Middle Ages. However Britain was largely untroubled by it until the 1990s when all of a sudden it - or at least a product that imitates the real stuff - was dribbled over just about everything we cooked. Why? Was it Ready Steady Cook’s fault?

29 April 2018

Branches (Jesmond)


Food ✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

9 Osborne Road 
Jesmond 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE2 2AE 

0191 239 9924
Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 
www.branchesponteland.co.uk/jesmond

Normally food takes precedence over interior design in my reviews, and rightly so. Fixtures and fittings are lucky to get half a sentence towards the fag end of the page. I’m simply more interested - and good deal more qualified – to assess what’s on the plate. If the food's amazing, I’ll happily eat it standing up, or outside, or wherever. 

But sometimes not to discuss the do-out of the dining room is to ignore the elephant in the room. Especially when that elephant is a honking great fake tree. This is the second outpost of Branches; the first one, in Ponteland, also features a big lump of pretend woody perennial in similarly perpetual blossom. Now they have a second branch, and a second tree. They’ve got a theme and they’re sticking to it. There can be no Branches without trees, I suppose.

22 April 2018

The Forge


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

The Avenue
Washington
Tyne and Wear 
NE38 7AB 

0191 908 7621
www.theforgefood.com 

Halfway through my main course of pearly hake with gloriously crisped nuggets of chicken wings I felt compelled to fire up Google Maps to see whether or not I could get away with finally sounding the “Sunderland has a great restaurant!” klaxon. Believe me, it’s primed and, as they say on Wearside, Ready To Go. 

People in Washington may send their council tax to Sunderland, and they're certainly nearer the Wear than the Tyne, but many are proud of the fact that the town - especially the rather lovely, leafy old villagey centre I strolled through on the way to dinner - is a thing-in-itself. 

Certainly one of my two companions for the night, very much a native, insisted on it. Mind you, football-wise, he’s of the black and white persuasion. Sorry Sunderland (on this most painful of relegation weekends). 

It should be some solace to SAFC fans that The Forge is close enough for a consolation dinner; it's really doing some excellent things. Our own meal was full of good sense, fine ingredients, deft cookery and just enough creative flair to keep things interesting.