10 October 2015


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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.

12 September 2015

Dr Feelgood’s Liquor Emporium

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Timber Beach House 
Off Timber Beach Road 
Hylton Riverside 
SR5 3XG 

0191 500 7120 

Where to start with this one? Perhaps, at the risk of major spoilers, right at the end. 

“How did you enjoy your meal?” asked our waitress.

Mrs Diner killed me with a look.  “Just pay and leave, there’s no point,” it said. 

She was right. It wasn’t that there had been a couple of bum notes, this performance had been an entire symphony of discord. It was like spending an hour strapped to a chair being forced to listen to Beethoven played on recorders by 5-year-olds. Sure, it had been torture, but they were only children, and the cool air of freedom was just a step away. 

Besides, if I told our waitress the truth, she might cry. So we nodded our applause, paid and left. But back to the beginning, when we were still hungry and full of hope. 

5 September 2015

Viva Brazil

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42-50 Grey Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 6AE 

0191 260 3533 

“Let me tell you about our concept - we’re different to other restaurants!” 

So began a tableside lecture that lasted long enough for me to begin to question whether actually being fed was part of the concept. I zoned out halfway through, assuming that I’d be able to negotiate the rest of the evening without this primer. 

Our server soldiered on through her script. Several times she mentioned the phrase “accept the meat”. 

Accepting the meat is the whole point of a Churrascaria. This Brazilian tradition has been around in Britain for a few years so I’m surprised it’s taken so long to reach the one city that really understands all-you-can-eat. Or, in this case, all-you-can-meat.

29 August 2015

Longsands Fish Kitchen

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27 Front Street 
Tyne & Wear
NE30 4DZ 

0191 272 8552 
(Closed on Tuesdays) 

My first encounter with fish and chips was in Front Street, Tynemouth. As a child I was sent there every Friday night to fetch the family’s three fish and two chips (salt, no vinegar) from Marshall’s Fish Restaurant. 

I think I still remember a long queue and some wornout black and white floor lino in the long takeaway corridor. There was a window through which you could see the privileged people in the eating-in part, with their white triangles of margarine-buttered Sunblest and cups of tea. 

I can’t actually recall the quality of the fish (a career in food criticism not being on the agenda back then) but I do remember being served by a prodigiously large woman with a short-sleeved blouse, giant flabby wings flapping as she folded up sheets of Evening Chronicle to envelope our meal. 

“Batter, pet?” 

“No thanks, Miss”. 

The smell of frying oil mixed with stale female sweat was a heady combination that probably affected me for life. 

I doubt that Marshall’s, which is now nothing like my childhood memory and I'm told is actually a very good chippy with lovely staff, would have put out the bunting for last month’s opening of Longsands Fish Kitchen, just up the street.

22 August 2015

The Jolly Fisherman

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Haven Hill 
NE66 3TR 

01665 576 461 

The stark beauty of the Northumberland coast is one of our region’s true jewels. However, eating out in these parts has sometimes been a less than beautiful affair. 

It’s almost as if the nicer the scenery, the worse the food. Mrs Diner and I are resigned to expecting a duff meal the moment we pack the beach umbrellas in the car. Sorry, Northumberland. 

But I’m happy to report that that’s all in the past.

15 August 2015

The Joiners Arms

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NE66 3EA 

01665 576 112 

One member of our family absolutely adores The Joiner’s Arms. 

He discovered it a few years ago, shortly after it opened, after a long run on the beach at Embleton. There’s nothing finer, after a Northumbrian beach romp, than rinsing off your sandy tongue in a big bowl of water under a pub table laden with fish and chips. Those chips never fall far from the table when Diner Dog’s around. 

If they gave stars for pooch-friendliness, this place would have five. They even welcome dogs into its 5 star bedrooms. But The Joiner’s Arms has greater claims than being a dog-loving pub serving excellent fish and chips: it also calls itself a gastropub. You can’t judge a gastropub by fish and chips alone; it took us a while to get round to it, but on a warmish Summer evening we returned for a proper test.

8 August 2015

Chilli Padi

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3 Leazes Lane 
Newcastle upon Tyne 

0191 230 1133 
No website yet, no credit cards or alcohol 

At the risk of over-generalising, I’d say that Newcastle’s Asian restaurants could be divided into two categories. 

The first, and largest group, serves up a grim cornucopia of Anglo-Sino standards in which any one of four or five protein ingredients can be draped in any of twenty interchangeable sauces, each tasting much like the last. Newcastle’s Stowell Street is the ground zero of this disastrous cuisine. 

The second category is a bit more interesting. The menu, if in English, is likely to have similar gloop-centric offerings, with perhaps a few more interesting dishes. But this is only half the story, for if you look closely, or ask, there are actually two menus. However, unless you’re Chinese, you’ll be spared the one with all the interesting stuff - dangly bits of animals, steamboat soups, punishing quantities of chilli and sichuan pepper, that type of thing. 

Is it because Asian restaurateurs think we Westerners are gentle creatures who can’t take the heat? Are they worried about our reaction when served meat with a bit of bone attached? Or is this just a cunning culinary revenge for England’s role in the Opium Wars? Let’s deny them the really good dishes, and let them think that sweet and sour chicken is real Chinese food. 

Either way, it has to stop. This is a matter of diplomatic significance: I’ve had enough beef in black bean sauce to last a lifetime. Bring me the proper stuff. 

If you agree, then I have good news for you. Chilli Padi only has one menu. There is a “western” section which neither you, nor I, need pay any attention to whatsoever. The rest of it is chock full of the kind of dishes I’ve longed to see served in Newcastle, by turns comforting, intriguing and arresting. And all cooked really well.