16 September 2017

Döner Haus

Food ✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

116 High Street 
West Sunderland 
SR1 1TX 

0191 514 0508 
www.donerhaus.uk 






And now, as John Cleese used to say from behind his Monty Python desk in the middle of nowhere, for something completely different. 

I occasionally get accused of favouring gilded, highfalutin places. That’s nonsense, obviously: I’m in favour of good food, wherever it’s found. So, just to ring the changes, I went to Sunderland for a kebab.

9 September 2017

Porterhouse Butcher & Grill

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

Fenwick Food Hall 
Northumberland Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE99 1AR 

0191 239 6612 
porterhousencl.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

The fewer component parts a dish has - or anything else, for that matter - the greater the potential there is for it to be fretted over and fetishised. Just look at the amount of (bearded) chin-strokery that now goes into producing beer, a product that in most cases consists of just four things: water, malted barley, hops and yeast. 

A cooked steak essentially consists of just one thing: a hunk of dead cow. But from which breed did the beast originate, where did it live, and what did it eat? And, once it met its maker, how was it hung, and for how long? Most important: which bit of the cow did it used to be? Finally, what did the chef use to cook it? There are people who take a geekish amount of interest in these minutiae. Guilty as charged. 

Which is why it’s really important to any foodie (other than veggies, of course) when there’s a new place in town where they really care about the details. Porterhouse, Terry Laybourne’s new place in Fenwicks Food Hall, is one such place.

2 September 2017

The French Quarter

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

Arch 6 Westgate Road 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 1SA 

0191 222 0156 
www.frenchquarternewcastle.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

Despite the fact that almost every decent chef in the world cut his or her teeth on basic French cooking techniques, and despite the huge numbers of Brits every year who jet off to holidays in the Dordogne or the South of France, I’ve always thought it a bit odd that Britain has so few real French restaurants. 

Plenty of high-end gaffs are sort-of French of course, what with their extensive wine lists, long-reduced sauces and occasionally terrifying service, but that’s not what I’m thinking about. I’m talking platters of meats and cheese reeking of farmyards, with bread and good wine. I’m thinking of simple, satisfying dishes such as pot-au-feu, choucroute and properly made coq au vin or boeuf bourguignon. I’m talking real French food, like you get all over France. And which I love. 

Is it some kind of oh-so-British reverse snobbery, or is it a lack of good ingredients, or sufficient skill and time in the kitchen? I guess it’s a lot less hassle to open up some half-arsed “Italian” or “Asian” place, slinging duff pizzas, gloopy sauces and similar crimes against decency. Or maybe it’s the recent but pervasive suspicion that French food isn’t what it was, that these classic dishes have kept it mired in ossified tradition (a view which, on the whole, prompts me to exclaim “C’est des conneries!”). 

Whatever. Suffice to say I was more than excited to learn that Hexham’s reliably good Bouchon Bistrot is no longer the region’s only thoroughly francophile restaurant. The fabulously named Cedric Boc-Ho and his partner Catherine Metcalfe have opened up The French Quarter in the railway arch that used to house the awful Sausage Emporium.

26 August 2017

Walwick Hall Hotel

Food ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 
Ambience: inside ✪✪ 
outside ✪✪✪✪✪ 

Humshaugh 
Hexham 
Northumberland 
NE46 4BJ 

01434 620 156 
www.walwickhall.com 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

“You’re impossible to please, I think it’s perfectly nice,” I said to my friend. “Didn’t you clock the combo of Elemis handwash and taxidermy in the loo? That’s impressive!” 

My friend sniffed and looked around the bar. 

“Nah, it’s all just a bit try-hard”. 

We were talking about interiors, as modern chaps do these days, because it seems the owners of Walwick Hall have invested quite a lot on theirs and it would have been churlish to pretend not to notice. Refreshed and orders placed, a waitress fetched us to the dining room. The moment we walked in the debate ended. My friend had won hands down. 

If you’re a fan of highly decorative wallpaper, massive prints of stags heads, velour and gold - I’m talking lots of gold – the dining room at Walwick Hall will be right up your straße. It left us speechless. My friend recovered first.

[picture: www.walwickhall.com]
“Hell’s teeth. If Louis XIV had owned an Audi dealership, it would look exactly like this”.

23 August 2017

Colmans Seafood Temple


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

Sea Road 
South Shields 
NE33 2LD 

0191 511 1349 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes

colmansseafoodtemple.co.uk

It was once the grandest public toilet in the world. Gandhi’s Temple, they called it, perhaps as a tribute to Gandhi’s trip to the UK in 1931. 

 

With carved pillars and ornate balistrades and overlooking the sea, the upper level was first a seaside shelter against the rain and later a bandstand. By the end of the last century it had had its chips. Which is appropriate, because now it’s the place for some of the best chips you’ll ever taste, and fish, and lobster and all manner of seafood. For Gandhi’s temple has become Colman’s.

12 August 2017

Colonel Porter's Emporium

Food ✪✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

Milburn House 
Dean Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 1LF 

0191 261 7600 
www.colonelporters.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

I think it was Will Rogers, the American actor and wit, who observed: you never get a second chance to make a first impression. I agree: for me, my first impression of a restaurant affects the whole tone of the meal. If I walk into something that looks like the reception of a Marriott hotel, any poor chef is going to have an uphill battle to convince me I’m going to like anything I’m served. 

I know I should be more tolerant, but we’re all programmed the way we are, right? It’s evolution’s fault, not mine. So let me admit to you one of my own, deep-seated bigotries: I’m really not keen on themed restaurants. I know, I know: I should give them a chance. But just one look at a menu that features needlessly odd “ye olde” spellings, over-use of the word “curious”, or prolonged and irrelevant stories to justify the fit-out of the place, and my hackles start levitating. 

In my defence, this intolerance does at least result from painful personal experience. Time and again I’ve found that the amount of effort a restaurant puts into its theming is in inverse proportion to the care it takes over its cooking. A recent visit to The Botanist in Newcastle bore this out (nice decor, shame about the lunch), as did a less-recent one to the ironically named Dr Feelgood in Sunderland (since closed, unmourned). 

All of which preamble serves to underscore what a pleasant surprise was in store when I tried the food at Colonel Porter’s Emporium, a place so rammed with theme I half expected the desserts to arrive on a log-flume.

5 August 2017

Pizza Express

Food (according to them) ✪✪✪✪✪ 
Food (according to me) barely ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

7 St George’s Way 
Eldon Square Shopping Centre 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 7JD 

0191 232 3228 

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

Full list of branches in our region here

I don’t recall ever having started a review by saying you should pretty much ignore my verdict. Call this page a special “collectors edition” if you like, but the opinions that really matter aren’t mine: they belong to the two Junior Diners we took to lunch. 

You see, it’s the summer holidays which, if you’re young enough still to be on the receiving end of a school education, stretch out in front of you like a delightful dream. For parents, however, it’s a never-ending dilemma of how to keep kids amused. Apart from developing urchins into citizens and all that jazz, the real purpose of school is to provide free childcare. When it stops, your world is turned upside down, and anything that the whole family can enjoy together suddenly become wildly valuable. So, having been entrusted with Mrs Diner’s London-based nieces, aged 10 and 5, for an afternoon in the city centre, they enthusiastically accepted the suggestion of a trip to PizzaExpress.

Pizza Express

Here's a list of the 10 PizzaExpress restaurants currently in the North East.

29 July 2017

Beadnell Towers

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

Beadnell 
Northumberland 
NE67 5AY 

01665 721 211 
www.beadnelltowers.co.uk 

Accessibility? Yes 
Gluten free? Yes 

Have you ever claimed to know an area like the back of your hand, and then accidentally locate a hidden gem that’s been there, undiscovered, all the time? That’s one of the joys of this job: seeking out good places to eat often involves a trip down a road less travelled, at least by me. This week’s case in point is Beadnell. 

Mrs Diner and I must have scooted around the corner of the B1340 which brushes up against but ignores Beadnell a hundred or more times. The Beadnell Bypass, we call it, as we storm along to Seahouses for fish and chips or Bamburgh for the beach. In all my years I’ve never tried turning right into the village itself. But after several letters from readers telling me what I’ve been missing, the other week we finally checked it out. 


They were right: it’s a gorgeous, peaceful little spot. They were also right about the lunch.

22 July 2017

The Botanist


Food ✪✪ 
Ambience ✪✪✪✪ 
Service ✪✪✪✪ 

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.