30 August 2014


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Aspers Casino
The Gate 
Newgate Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 5TG 

0191 255 0400 
5-11.30pm daily 
Accessibility: Yes

Sadly you won’t see Freya in here. The daughter of TV presenter Donna Air and Aspers owner Damian Aspinall turns 11 in a few days’ time, but children aren’t allowed into casinos until they’re 18, even if they have restaurants named after them. 

It’s on the first floor of The Gate: past the slot machines, roulette wheels and poker tables. 

“Where on earth have you brought me this time?” said Mrs Diner with a heavy sigh. “It looks like one of those cafés at the airport.”

24 August 2014

Cena Trattoria

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85 The High Street 
TS15 9BG 

01642 780088 
 Mon-Sat 12 noon - late 

Yarm is a town that wants to move. It’s been part of Stockton-on-Tees since the 70s, but earlier this year 1,465 residents voted to move it into North Yorkshire – that’s 89% of those who voted. 

A principle cause of discontent is the parking. Yarm, which is as attractive as most Yorkshire market towns, has very nice shops and cafés in a lovely Georgian High Street, down the centre of which is a marketplace that doubles as a car park. 

I tend to measure parking time in courses. If you want a starter and dessert you need at least an hour and a half. Parking here used to be free for the first two hours, allowing enough time for coffee and petit fours, but back in April Stockton Borough Council imposed charges – the first hour is free, but after that it costs £1. No wonder the locals are complaining: Cena, which sits right in the centre, has excellent pannetone bread and butter pudding.

16 August 2014

Brasserie Hudson Quay

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Winward Way 
TS2 1QG 
01642 261166 


Accessibility: Yes 

Breakfast (Sat/Sun): 9-12pm 
Table d’Hôte lunch: 12-2.30pm 
Dinner: Mon-Sat 5-10.30pm 
Sunday: 12-5pm 

You don’t need to travel the continent to taste a slice of Europe – come to Middlesbrough. “Brasserie Hudson Quay”, according to its own publicity, “is a European style destination restaurant, designed to recall the Grand European Cafés of France, Spain and Italy”. Really? 

OK, I may sticking my neck out, but, on the international culinary scale, I reckon the town of Middlesbrough is about level with Gdansk.

9 August 2014

The Mizen Head

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Lucker Road 
NE69 7BS 

01668 214 254 
Accessibility: Yes 

I must congratulate owner Alex Watson. The pure white sand of Bamburgh has always been a desert for foodies. His restaurant with rooms now offers a decent meal after a long walk on Britain’s best beach. 

I love Bamburgh, and the lack of good food has always been an embarrassment when I recommend the area to visitors. Now it can have a Secret Diner Recommended sticker on its door.

2 August 2014

The Town House Durham

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34 Old Elvet 
DH1 3HN 

0191 384 1037 

Lunch 12-2.30pm 
Dinner 5-9.30pm 
Accessibility: Yes 

Take a deep breath before you enter – nothing can prepare you for the interior. 

It’s as if Boy George and Elton John had set up home together in Durham and opened a B&B. Camp doesn’t begin to describe the combination of red, gold grey and black, faux pillars, statues and fake leopardskin carpet. Chandeliers, purple chairs with tassels: chintz and kitch clash in a triumph of absurdity over taste. It’s hysterical.

26 July 2014


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The Biscuit Factory 
Stoddart Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE2 1AN 

0191 260 5411 

Mon - Fri 12-2pm, 5.30-9pm 
Sat 12-2pm, 7-9.30pm 
Sun 12‐2pm 
Accessibility: Yes 

This is art without a capital A. I assume they named it artisan (note the creative underline in the title) because it’s now been integrated into its Ouseburn gallery home The Biscuit Factory, which shows some excellent artisan craftwork. 

In fact, the blurb boasts that the restaurant is “influenced by its cultural location, with creative flourishes of originality in the furnishings”. I rather hoped for creative flourishes of originality in the food.

20 July 2014

Café Lilli

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83-85 High Street 
TS20 1AE 

01642 554422 

Closed Mondays 
Tues-Sat 11am-11pm 
Jazz Sundays: 
1st Sunday of the month, 2-6pm 

Norton village, in Stockton-on-Tees, is a pleasant surprise. 

It’s a bit like a rural market town, with a duckpond, village green, Victorian memorial cross, pretty almshouses and a long wide tree-lined high street – a contrast to sprawling Stockton and the stark industrial Teesside landscape surrounding it. 

It almost has the feel of a French village, with its shaded villas and rows of cars parked either side. Maybe that’s why the owners of Café Lilli chose this spot to open what is a very continental café. 

12 July 2014

The Northumberland Arms

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West Thirston 
 NE65 9EE 

01670 787 370 

12pm-9pm daily 

Something big is happening in Northumberland. 

Jesmond Dene House’s new Morpeth gastropub St Mary’s Inn is now awash with builders, and its smart new front doors, installed this week, are likely to open on 1st November with a menu by Michael Penaluna. Also, this week I heard on the grapevine that the talented head chef of award-winning Caffè Vivo, Glen David Robson, has left Terry Laybourne and is now recruiting staff for an overhaul of the food at The Blackbird Inn in Ponteland. 

Meanwhile, beside the river in Felton, another Northumbrian pub has been quietly building a reputation with no distinguished chefs in the kitchen.

5 July 2014

The Orangery, Rockliffe Hall

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Rockliffe Hall Hotel 
Hurworth Place 
DL2 2DU 

01325 729999 

It’s three years since I last visited Rockliffe Hall. Back then, it was to try Kenny Atkinson’s food. Sadly, he was off that night (although the restaurant pretended otherwise), and it showed. As a result, the cooking only deserved 3 stars from me and Kenny was cross. 

I hope he has forgiven me, now that I’ve given his excellent new House of Tides 5 glowing stars. It should be on course for a Michelin gong, once it’s sorted out its front of house. But what of the place he left behind? 

Rockliffe Hall is an important venue for the North East, a place to take clients or the inlaws. But a 5-star hotel with a 3-star restaurant? Surely that’s wrong – it was time to set the record straight. 

28 June 2014


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11 Market Street 
Newcastle upon Tyne 
NE1 6JN 

0191 244 2513 

Sun-Thu 11am-midnight 
Fri-Sat 11am-2am 

There’s nothing like a bit of bragging to get my attention. Anywhere that boldly claims to have “the best burger in the world” deserves a visit. 

That’s what ‘dAtbAr’ (that’s how they write it) asserts on its Twitter and Facebook pages: the best burger in the world, with a cool, punky, urban vibe. Now forgive me for spoiling their party, but whoever wrote this nonsense clearly doesn’t get out much.