28 March 2015

Jesmond Dene House Hotel

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Jesmond Dene Road 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE2 2EY 

0191 212 3000 

Two weeks ago I stabbed a razor-sharp steak knife into Newcastle’s Miller & Carter restaurant, comparing their béarnaise sauce to Dulux emulsion paint, and castigating the baby food mush that came with their overcooked scallops, the tasteless risotto and wet, iron-tasting steak. Readers were quick to approve. 

“Ouch!” they went, followed quickly by “Reckon you saved us a few bob”. 

Quite a few bob, in fact, as a Twitter follower of mine called Sprocket Man pointed out: “Not cheap for what it was. Plenty of local places are better for the same money.” 

He’s right. £40 for a terrible meal is a ripoff. £40 for a brilliant dinner in a local restaurant could be worth saving up for. It can buy you an excellent meal in some of our very best eateries, including almost anything from the à la carte menu at Peace & Loaf. I'm grateful to him for inspiring this week's review - my task: find a meal in Newcastle that's infinitely better than Miller & Carter for the same price.

I chose Jesmond Dene House because I’d already re-reviewed Peace & Loaf earlier this year, and I haven't written about Jesmond Dene since 2013, when I gave its tasting menu 6 stars. To be honest, I feared it had gone off the boil and I didn’t want new readers of www.secretdiner.org being misled by an inflated rating.

21 March 2015

The Roxburgh

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4 Roxburgh House 
Park Avenue 
Whitley Bay 
NE26 1DQ 

07794 554 020 

It’s not exactly our region’s culinary capital. In fact, this is the first time a Whitley Bay establishment has made it onto these pages. 

Hidden away behind the main drag, set back from Park Avenue in a tiny parade of shops (upholstery, blinds and furniture), is a miniscule café called The Roxburgh. It’s unlicensed, only open in daytime, apart from Saturdays, and it’s fantastic.

19 March 2015

OK Diner

OK Diner, captured by Emma Phillips
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A1 Southbound 
New Fox 
nr Grantham 
NG33 5LN 

01572 768 458 
Daily 8am-10pm 

I find my monthly drive to London exceptionally tedious. Which makes me curious about why there's nowhere decent to eat enroute: surely it's a terrific opportunity for small-scale street food establishments to offer quick, well-made dishes that can be speedily prepared and consumed, like the roadside snacks you find along highways in India? Instead, this 300-mile-long street is a culinary desert.

14 March 2015

Miller & Carter

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Mosley Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 1DF 

0191 261 2028 

The name sounds like a music hall comedy duo: “Miller & Carter”. Or perhaps it’s supposed to evoke an image of rustic charm: the miller and the carter, dropping in for a tankard of ale on their way home from the harvest. 

In fact, harvesting is pretty close to the truth. Miller & Carter is part of the megacorp responsible for the Harvester chain, with its “iconic Harvester salad cart free with every main meal.” 

Mitchells and Butlers, also culpable for Toby Carveries, Vintage Inns, Browns and O’Neills, have 35 Millers and Carters in their portfolio, serving a million steaks a year. They’ve now taken a building on the corner of Newcastle’s Mosley Street, and kitted it out with red furniture and a cool lighting rig. 

This is a restaurant with ambition: “elegant steakhouses with elegant interiors that are a cut above the rest”, it says on the website. A cut above a Harvester presumably.

7 March 2015

Red Flame

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13-15 Gallowgate 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 4SG 

0191 447 6226 

Legend has it that there was once an imam, whose wife served him a dish of aubergines stuffed with onions, garlic and tomatoes, simmered in a vat of olive oil. When he tasted it, he was so overwhelmed by its wondrous flavour, he fainted. Or maybe it was the cost of the ingredients that made him swoon, the folklore’s not totally clear. 

Imam bayildi means “the imam fainted”, and it’s a classic staple of Turkish cuisine. I have to admit that this restaurant, conveniently close to St James’ Park (I was on my way with a friend to watch our team being beaten by Manchester United) did actually bowl me over. But not in a good way.

28 February 2015

Grainger Market

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(Street Food)

Grainger Street 
NE1 5JQ 

Mon-Sat 9am – 5.30pm 
(Mon/Wed until 5pm) 

Years ago street food meant dodgy hotdog stalls serving drunken revellers, their hygiene even worse than their food. Or maybe greasy breakfast vans in lay-bys and giant trailers at festivals, spewing out the stench of stale onions. 

How things have changed.

21 February 2015

Tyneside Bar Café

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Pilgrim Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 6QG 

0191 227 5522 

Mon-Thu: 9am – 11pm
Fri-Sat: 9am - late
Sun: 10am – 11pm 

The Tyneside Cinema is one of Newcastle’s success stories. 

Formerly a newsreel theatre, it became the headquarters of the Tyneside Film Society, then, later, the Tyneside Film Theatre, before its final transformation into a beautifully restored three-screen emporium. 

Generations of film lovers, myself included, saw their first independent and foreign films here, and, when it was remodeled and relaunched in 2008, we all celebrated the Tyneside Cinema’s arrival. 

It lies at the centre of both the city and our region’s vibrant creative industries scene. So it’s right that the cinema should have a high quality eatery at its heart, somewhere for filmmakers to network and filmgoers to take their families, with really good food.

14 February 2015

Peace & Loaf

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217 Jesmond Road 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE2 1LA 

0191 281 5222 

It’s all change for Newcastle’s fine dining scene. Recently I reported that Kenny Atkinson’s House of Tides has abandoned his tasting-menu-only policy, and introduced a Market Menu option for lunch and dinner. Now I can reveal that two Newcastle restaurants are adding tasting menus to their offerings. 

In March Artisan introduces a seven-course “nose to tail” menu for just £37.50 per person while, later this month, former Masterchef runner-up Dave Coulson adds a tasting menu for his loyal and enthusiastic clientele at Jesmond’s Peace & Loaf. So loyal are Coulson’s customers, that their votes gave it my Journal Readers’ award in 2014. 

It deserves its success. When I first visited, shortly after its opening in November 2013, I gave it five stars, complimenting its modern, complex cooking, ambition and charm. Not resting on laurels, Dave Coulson tweeted that he wasn’t ungrateful, but he hoped that in due course he’d earn a sixth. 

7 February 2015


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104b High Street 
TS15 9AU 

01642 788558 

Mon-Thu 12-2:30, 5.30-9pm 
Fri-Sat 12-2.30, 5.30-9.30pm 
Sun lunch 12:00pm to 4:00pm 
Breakfast daily till 11.30am 

Why are Teesside’s restaurateurs so obsessed with Europe? 

Maybe it’s a longing for warmer climes: there’s Brasserie Hudson Quay in Middlesbrough, “designed to recall the Grand European Cafés of France, Spain and Italy”; there’s Café Lilli in Norton, with its great blend of French, Italian and Greek food; in Yarm there’s Cena, which calls itself a Trattoria, but is more pizzeria; and there’s Muse, which has “continental café” over the door, but is actually a very good brasserie. 

Open for breakfast lunch and dinner, it’s lively, modern and fun, as casual as a pair of ripped designer jeans, and almost as classy.

31 January 2015

House of Tides

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28-30 The Close 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 3RF 

0191 230 3720 
Accessibility: No lift – ground floor bar area only 

This is an important week for House of Tides. The “casual fine dining” establishment, which opened on Newcastle’s Quayside exactly one year ago, is marking its anniversary with a pretty radical change of direction. 

Despite warmly welcoming its arrival, along with everyone else who cares about good food in our City, I was fairly hard on the place in my last review. There was no doubt that Kenny Atkinsons’s cooking is exemplary, but I was worried about how viable the place would be with just a tasting menu. Could he encourage loyalty from local foodies with one menu entitled Winter? – last February seemed an awful long way from Spring. 

I also questioned the depth of talent in the kitchen – when Kenny cooked, everything was gorgeous, but how would the brigade cope in his absence? The third, and most obvious problem, was the breathtakingly inept service. With a cloying maître d’ and poorly trained staff, front of house really let the side down. 

But that’s all water under the Tyne Bridge. At Kenny Atkinson’s invitation, I returned to celebrate the restaurant’s birthday and I’m delighted to report that House of Tides enters its second year in excellent shape.