25 March 2017

Omni Café


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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

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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.

11 March 2017

Chaophraya


Food ✪✪ 
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Service ✪✪✪ 

15 Grey's Quarter
intu Eldon Square
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 7AP 

0191 731 4719 
www.chaophraya.co.uk

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

Welcome to the final part of my trilogy entitled ‘Chain Restaurants of intu’, in which I review the glossy chain eateries that have been packed into the new Grey’s Quarter development at Eldon Square. 

I confess I only plumped for the three more interesting openings. I should really apologise to Giraffe World Kitchen, Ask Italian, George’s “Great” British Kitchen and TGI Fridays - especially TGI Fridays. Some other time, yeah? Or maybe not. 

Reviewing restaurants that are part of established chains requires a slight shift in focus compared to writing about the cool new indie place down the road. There should, in theory, be fewer teething problems, as they can sort out any opening week issues on their existing sites.

One of the key criteria I certainly use when looking at a new chain specimen is whether it offers the city something that it doesn’t already have. Red’s True Barbecue does not, which was factored into its modest rating. On the other hand, Tapas Revolution really does, which certainly helped its rave review a few weeks back. 

And so to Chaophraya, the 8th link in a Thai chain. Does it have sufficient tingly-fresh ideas going for it to make the conclusion to this triumvirate of reviews triumphant? Well, not really.

4 March 2017

Shilling


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Service ✪✪✪✪ 

17 Sandhill 
Quayside
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 3AF 

0191 230 5229 
www.shillingnewcastle.co.uk 

Accessibility? No 
Gluten free? Yes 

As my friend and I staggered out of Shilling, which occupies what used to be Rumpoli’s, right underneath the world’s best bridge, we reflected upon the fact that if it had opened just a couple of short years ago I might have raved about it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a decent restaurant serving some very nice things cooked with no little skill and even a whiff of flair and humour. It’s just that where once this would have stuck out like the shy one at an orgy, the whole strip along the Quayside is now a veritable shrine to Bacchus and Ceres. 

Right now, from the fine dining at House of Tides to the informal Barrio Comida, from the gastropubs of the Broad Chare and The Bridge Tavern to the subcontinental style of Ury, via the high-class cafés Violets and Quay Ingredient, not to mention reliable stalwarts such as 21 and Caffe Vivo, Newcastle’s Quayside is a remarkably rich and delicious stretch of real estate. And yet: still they come!

25 February 2017

Tapas Revolution


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

Unit S3, Lower Level 
Greys Quarter 
intu Eldon Square 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 7AP 

0191 261 4948 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten-free? Yes
www.tapasrevolution.com

There must be people who like going to the intu Eldon Square. There may even be people who know why intu spells its name with a lower case i. I am not one of those people. 

For me, the ‘i’ in ‘intu Eldon Square’ stands for impersonal, inadequate and inelegant. An uninspiring, cramped space, with low ceilings to match the ambition of some of its chain retailers, it is one of the least glamorous shopping malls in the UK, and yet also one of the busiest. 

It’s not intu’s fault, of course. Why did Newcastle’s glorious frontage of beautiful Georgian architecture have to get in the way of modern commerce so we’re left with a rabbit warren of tiny shops behind the facades? 


Mind you, despite its drawbacks, the intuitive people at intu (that was a guess) are doing something right. For they sure know how to extract our pounds. They’ve recently spent gazillions on a new section called Grey’s Quarter, and filled it with chains like Ask Italian and Giraffe, George’s Great British Kitchen and Smashburger. Fast food to revive flagging spirits. 

When this gastronomic lineup was announced, those of us who favour independent restaurants sighed and tutted. But it’s not all plastic menus and pre-packaged sauces. They have a decent barbecue place called Red’s True Barbecue, which I reviewed quite generously the other week; and now it has Omar Allibhoy.

18 February 2017

The Duck House


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

2-3 Town Hall Buildings 
Princes Street 
Corbridge 
Northumberland
NE45 5AD 

01434 634 368 
www.duckhousecorbridge.co.uk 

How long does it take a dish to travel from the best restaurant in the world to Corbridge? Thanks to my recent meal at the Duck House, I can tell you precisely: 14 years.

11 February 2017

Central Oven & Shaker


Food ✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪ 

8 Neville Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 5EN 

0191 349 9187 
www.centralnewcastle.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Pre-booked only 

The development of the area bang opposite Newcastle’s Central Station has raised many an eyebrow and furrowed no shortage of brows over the last couple of years. August figures of no lesser standing than Dame Vera Baird and the Reverend Nicholas Buxton voiced concerns that the planned opening of a “Gentlemen’s” club (were air-quotes ever more justified?) would give visitors to the city, fresh off the train, the wrong idea about our fair city. 

As it happens, their fears have gone unrealised. The entrance to the basement dwelling called For Your Eyes Only is, to use a word that I imagine was extensively deployed in planning applications, discreet. Making a far louder noise about itself, and of rather more interest to this column, is what is on the ground level: a shiny new Neopolitan-style pizza and cocktail joint called Central Oven and Shaker

Unless Aperol spritz and soupy pizzas are going to give people the wrong idea about Newcastle - and if so, I’m not sure what constitutes the right idea - then the City’s image is intact.

4 February 2017

The Patricia


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

139 Jesmond Road 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE2 1JY 

0191 281 4443 
www.the-patricia.com 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes – but pre-book 

At the beginning of these reviews, I usually try to only hint at the verdict, keeping full disclosure to the end. It probably comes from some vain idea that if I’m going to spend time writing it down, I’d quite like you to actually read all the way through. It’s what TV people call “jeopardy”. But then there are times when the restaurant in question is either so wildly good or honkingly bad that there’s just no point in beating about the bush. This is one such occasion. 

The Patricia, Jesmond’s latest addition, recently served me the most flat-out enjoyable meals I’ve eaten for... well, for ages. It was brilliant. I loved it. We had a great time. If that’s all you needed to know, fine, you’re done. If you want to know why, you’re welcome to spend the next 800 words in my company while I shout about it.

28 January 2017

Red's True Barbecue

Food ✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪ 

Unit 6, Grey’s Quarter 
Intu Eldon Square 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 7AP 

0191 673 0073 
www.truebarbecue.com 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

In these troubled times of #cleaneating, #gettheglow and who knows how many other wheezes designed to inspire guilt and remorse, especially in January, there’s something delightfully transgressive about sitting down with the sole intention of eating as much meat and fried food as possible in a single meal. And then ordering dessert. Through this prism, our recent trip to Red's True Barbecue can be seen not just as a meal, but as a politically informed act of resistance. So come brothers and sisters! Man the barricades! Comrade, pass me the hot sauce! 

That’s my only excuse for the sheer gluttony we indulged in over a couple of hours in this recently opened outpost of the small but growing barbecue chain – 8 restaurants at the last count. Newcastle doesn’t lack home-grown protein-centric joints, with Longhorns and Bierrex doing very capable things with their smoky lumps of cow and pig. So what does Red’s bring to the table? 

A whole liturgy of mock-Christian branding, for one thing. 

“The pearly gates of your new church of worship have been flung open in Eldon Square. Come forth and worship at the altar of meat,” preaches the website. 


This branding, from Warm, a design company housed in a decommissioned church in Gateshead, features a knife and fork formed into a cross. The menu is referred to as “The Good Book” and a popup on the web page urges you to “join the flock (enter email address to receive updates and offers)”. 

This theme-park approach to catering gets very annoying very quickly when the food isn’t good enough to distract you from it. I’m sure some may find it offensive. Fortunately, what turned up on our trays almost justified it. Almost.

21 January 2017

Barrio Comida


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

Wesley Square 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 3DE 

No telephone number
No bookings 

www.barriocomida.com 

As Mrs Diner and I wandered along the Quayside, reflections of the Sage Gateshead and the Millennium Bridge all twinkly in the ink-pool Tyne, I must admit I was genuinely excited. Over the last few years, the fates and my diary had somehow conspired to prevent me from visiting any of Shaun Hurrell’s Barrio Comida pop-ups, so the news that he was moving into Adam Riley’s fish shack on the Quayside was very welcome indeed. 


This is the converted shipping container with the second best view in the world (the best being the outlook from Riley’s fish shack in Tynemouth). Anticipation can be the enemy of enjoyment, but in this case it was well placed.