22 July 2017

The Botanist


Food ✪✪ 
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Monument Mall 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 7AL 

0191 261 6307 
thebotanist.uk.com 




“I’m a bit disappointed,’ said our friend. “I thought we’d be drinking out of watering cans and eating from wheelbarrows”. 

And then, right on cue, a white chocolate and peanut butter mousse turned up in a garden trowel. Her face lit up. 

“That’s more like it!” 


The Botanist, you see, is pretty much the ground zero of the whole food-not-necessarily-served-on-plates thing. Of course they didn’t invent it, but they can sure take a lot of the credit/blame for keeping the trend going into 2017. They have hanging kebabs, watering-can cocktails and those trowels, all the better to fit in with their wistful gardening and flora theme. 

Normally this sort of pretentious nonsense would set my teeth right on edge, if not send me tailspinning off into some violent rant. If that’s what you’re here for, then I’m sorry to disappoint. Blame the service, which was unerringly charming, or the view, which was Grey Street, but, in spite of myself, I rather liked it here.

15 July 2017

Elder and Wolf


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171 Whitley Road 
Whitley Bay 
Tyne and Wear
NE26 2DN 

07599 833 611 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes
www.elderandwolf.com 



How many good restaurants does it take to make a scene? Definitely more than one, but where’s the tipping point? How do we know when a critical scene-defining mass has been achieved?  So, I’m calling it. It’s official: Whitley Bay has got itself a proper restaurant scene. 

The grim stag and hen sessions that used to besmirch its streets are largely a thing of the past and in their place have sprung up an interesting range of food and drink businesses, places like Hinnies, The Roxburgh and Omni (yeah yeah, I know, Omni is actually in Monkseaton). Incidentally, it’s worth noting that The Roxburgh has now reinvented itself as a proper evening restaurant, rather than the casual but fabulous dog-filled café I first discovered. This means it justifies another Secret Diner visit – I hope the food will be just as good as my earlier experience. 

Elder and Wolf, open for about a year now, is a very nice place to eat, although not quite on the same level as its aforementioned neighbours on account of one troublesome issue: its bread. You see, pretty much their whole menu consists of things being served on, in, or near some form of flatbread.

8 July 2017

Zucchini Pasta Bar


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55 Degrees North 
Pilgrim Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 6BL 

07921 919798 
www.zucchinipastabar.co 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Available on request 

Another week, and another gaping hole in Newcastle’s food scene is plugged, this time by a modest new restaurant run by people who really deserve our custom. 

There have always been plenty of places to get bowls of pasta in town, but many of them come accompanied by The Godfather theme and illuminated by flickering tricolour candles stuffed into empty chianti bottles. There’s a time and a place for that sort of thing - birthday meals in the 1980’s, mostly - but for those of us who prefer our carbs served with a little less cliché, I bring good news. Newcastle now has its own fresh pasta bar.

1 July 2017

Saltwater Fish Company


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

Fenwick Food Hall 
Northumberland Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE99 1AR 

0191 239 6613 
 www.saltwaterfish.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

Like some petulant pop star, I don’t do requests. It’s not for the lack of opportunity. Every week I get an invite from some PR or other asking me to cover the “VIP Opening” of their new breathlessly described culinary outpost. This might sound like fun but, believe me, it’s not. 

You stand around with a glass of wine waiting for some food, and then have to feign appreciation when a few platters, primarily designed for the camera, are paraded around. There is a peculiar sub-culture that loves this sort of thing – perhaps you’ve seen them about? They’re called bloggers. Open a restaurant, send out some invites and you’ll soon have blogfuls of them, eulogising about their latest freebie. But you won’t catch me there. 

I’m way more interested in how a restaurant works under the normal run of things and I think my readers are too. How’s the service, the menu, the ambience? You won’t get answers from a frothy press night, which is why I never visit a restaurant just because I was asked to. Well, almost never. 

When you get a personal request from Terry Laybourne, you have to pay attention. Mr Laybourne has done probably more than anyone to improve the standards of eating out in this region. We all owe him one. Some time ago he messaged me that he felt the cooking at his Saltwater Fish restaurant in Fenwick’s food hall was now better than the review I’d given it in 2015. Would I consider trying it again?

24 June 2017

YOLO - You Only Live Once


Food ✪ 
Ambience ✪✪ 
Service ✪✪

14 High Bridge Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 1EN 

0191 230 3002 
www.yolotownhouse.com 

YOLO Townhouse is set over three floors and is part of a terrace, hence: Townhouse. As I climbed the stairs to the top floor I caught myself thinking “yep, this is a townhouse”.   But YOLO? 


Five or six years ago it was bang on-trend for kids to have this acronym emblazoned over their baseball caps after, if memory serves, the rapper Drake, who released a track that coined it. 

YOLO stood for You Only Live Once: time is short, so go on, get another large Chardonnay down you. That kind of thing. So why would a brand new bar and restaurant in a smart townhouse in 2017 want to name itself after a stale yoof slogan from 2011, especially one quite so butt-clenchingly, teeth-grindingly empty and awful? Good question. 

Of course, I don’t really mind what a restaurant is called as long as the cooking is up to scratch. But when, as here, it’s a grim imitation of better dishes available elsewhere far cheaper, an annoying name becomes the awful cherry on a cake of woe.

18 June 2017

Chefs' Academy


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

The Lifestyle Academy 
Newcastle College 
Scotswood Road 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE4 7SA 

0191 200 4602 
www.ncl-coll.ac.uk/lifestyle/chefs-academy 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

Note: only open during college term

I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to review this meal until I tried the rabbit. The place looks like a regular restaurant, smells like it too. However, this is a live-action training ground for Newcastle College’s NVQ level 2 and 3 students. 

On the way there, Mrs Diner had warned me: the food is bound to be, well, amateur at best, so if you are going to review it, go easy on them. 

I wondered how I could refrain from throwing my usual pot of snarky put-downs at them, and yet remain honest. Then, as I say, the rabbit arrived, smelling absolutely delicious, and the review wrote itself.

10 June 2017

Meet & Treat


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

41 Bath Lane 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE4 5SP 

0191 261 0636 
www.meetandtreat.weebly.com 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

Not so long ago there was a time when eating Asian food in Newcastle meant a trip to Stowell Street for baskets of prawn crackers, candle-powered dish-warmers (don’t touch, kids!) and bright orange or muddy brown sauces. 

Part of me misses the bland, sugary gloop of this strange, anglicised version of Cantonese cooking, as it’s the taste of innumerable childhood family celebrations, and who could forget the shock arrival of a platter of sizzling beef or the first taste of deep-fried ice cream. 

But of course the foodie in me is thrilled by the recent explosion of Asian restaurants in the city that try, with some success, to bring us the flavours of Chiang Mai, Georgetown or Chengdu. Inoodle, La Yuan, Thai House Café, Osaka and the recently re-located Chilli Padi are all well worth a look. And now there’s another, with the sweetly named Meet & Treat.

3 June 2017

Kaltur


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

8 High Bridge 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 1EN 

0191 447 4464 
www.facebook.com/kalturofficial 



Let’s do this the other way round for a change, and talk first about the wine. Or, to be specific, the sherry. I knew I was going to enjoy my evening the moment I clocked the list. Seven were listed, all available by the glass. I tried three, and I’ll be back for the others shortly because they were, like almost everything about this diminutive newcomer on High Bridge, life-affirmingly first-rate.

27 May 2017

Wylam Brewery


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

Palace of Arts 
Exhibition Park 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE2 4PZ 

0191 650 0651 
 www.wylambrewery.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

There can’t be many City centre pubs that boast such an agreeable location – alongside the lake in Newcastle’s Exhibition Park – or such a splendid building, a grand lump of Art-deco brick and glass called the Palace of Arts. 

 

Of course, to call this place a pub is rather underplaying things; since Wylam Brewery moved here from its previous home at Heddon-on-the-Wall last year, this ‘palace’ has functioned as both brewery and rather grand events space. On the western side of the building is the brewery’s tap room – thus, it’s a pub too. This is where they serve, from Thursday to Saturday, a menu of small, interesting plates.

20 May 2017

Little Italy


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

Unit 12-13 
Grainger Market 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 5QG 

07783 858 033 
www.facebook.com/abrootsolimited 
Accessibility? Yes
Gluten free? Yes 

I remember a time, and perhaps you do too, when the Grainger Market was far from being a gastronaut’s delight. Now it’s an essential destination on Newcastle’s foodie map. When Mmm… opened in 2008, selling posh olive oils and precociously tasty condiments, I feared that they were too far ahead of the curve and would never last. As it turns out, I was bang wrong and they were in fact just the vanguard of a whole brigade of food start-ups that would take advantage of the central location and reasonable rents offered by this fabulous Regency-era covered market. 

A couple of years ago I reviewed many of the excellent street-food vendors who have made the place their home, but recently I felt had to return just to check out what I reckon is probably the market’s first fully fledged restaurant - plates, wine, proper service, that sort of thing. I’d heard that simple Italian food was being done very well. I’d heard right.